Ranking Houston Rockets' Most Realistic 2014 NBA Draft Picks
The Houston Rockets fancied themselves a title contender heading into the 2013-14 season. They were wrong.
After being ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Portland Trail Blazers, it became clear that the Rockets need help if they want to break through in the brutal Western Conference.
Luckily, even though they have the 25th pick in the draft, the 2014 class is strong enough that they could grab a meaningful piece with a late first-rounder.
Houston has multiple areas of need, which are clear based on who the team has met with.
According to Michael Scotto of Sheridan Hoops, the Rockets have already worked out UConn's Shabazz Napier, Florida's Patric Young, Denver's Chris Udofia, SMU's Nick Russell and Wichita State's Kadeem Coleby.
Still, only Napier and Young are realistic first-round picks, and it's important to consider other options for Houston.
The Rockets have long been praised for nailing late first- and second-round picks, so there is always plenty of pressure on Daryl Morey and company come draft time.
Let's take a look at seven of the most likely players to don Rockets red on draft day, starting with perhaps college's best point guard.
1. Shabazz Napier, PG
Napier is a crafty but undersized point guard who could be a long-term piece for Houston if available.
Napier worked out for the Rockets already, as Scotto noted, and he would give the Rockets another offensive weapon in the backcourt alongside James Harden.
The senior averaged 18 points, 5.9 rebounds and 4.9 dimes while leading his UConn Huskies to a national championship.
He also shot 40.5 percent from three and showed a penchant for clutch shots like few other guards in the nation.
Napier is definitely a score-first guard and a limited defender, but he’s fearless attacking the paint and draws plenty of fouls (six free throws per game).
His ability to bend defenses and get in the paint would fit well with the Rockets offense.
Napier may not be the ideal playmaker to pair with Harden and Dwight Howard, but he runs the pick-and-roll well enough and is a solid three-point threat.
Factor in his experience, and Napier could potentially be a big contributor for the Rockets as a rookie.
NBADraft.net notes Napier’s competitiveness and improvement, saying, “Napier is a gamer. He has a knack for making big plays and raising his game against great opponents…This season, he's become more of a distributor and has been less concerned with scoring.”
Since Dante Exum is such an unknown, there is a real shot that Napier emerges as the best point guard in the class. But his age may scare off some potential takers.
He’d be hard to pass up if Houston can snag him at No. 25.
2. Tyler Ennis, PG
Houston has two very adequate point guards but may need a better option if it wants to contend for a title.
Napier is certainly one option, but he's not the only one who could be in the Rockets' draft range.
Patrick Beverley is an asset defensively but doesn’t move the needle on offense.
Jeremy Lin has occasional moments as a scorer but can’t defend or shoot consistently.
Enter Syracuse freshman Tyler Ennis.
Ennis averaged 12.9 points, 3.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists in his only season with the Orange, guiding them to a 28-6 record.
He shot just 41.1 percent from the field and 35.3 percent from three but showed incredible leadership for a young player.
A thin 6’2”, Ennis makes up for his lack of size with length and quickness.
He’s excellent at driving the lane and is a pest guarding the ball, averaging 2.1 steals per game.
Ennis is also deceptively athletic. He can change directions easily and make tough finishes in traffic.
Additionally, Ennis is far more of a pure point guard than Beverley or Lin.
According to HoopsHype, “Although he lacks elite level athleticism, he does a good job of changing speeds and getting by defenders into the paint. He's very good at finding teammates for baskets while on the move. His command of the PG position and decision making were advanced for a college freshman.”
He runs the pick-and-roll well and should be a force alongside Howard. He could also be great at collapsing a defense and kicking out to the Rockets’ open shooters.
Ennis doesn’t possess star upside, but his poised demeanor means he could slide into a meaningful role immediately.
To thrive in Houston’s system he’ll need to develop a more consistent three-pointer, but with Lin coming off the books after the 2014-15 season, the Rockets could certainly use some backcourt depth.
There’s a chance a team reaches on Ennis, but he isn’t an elite talent and should be a realistic late first-round selection.
3. Cleanthony Early, SF
The Rockets bench lacks an offensive punch, but adding Wichita State forward Cleanthony Early would definitely patch that up.
Early burst onto the scene during the Shockers’ 35-1 season, establishing himself as one of college’s most gifted scorers.
As a senior, Early averaged 16.4 points, 5.9 rebounds and 0.8 assists.
He also shot 48.6 percent from the field and 37.5 percent from three-point range.
Though Wichita State fell to Kentucky in the third round of the NCAA tournament, Early dropped 31 points on 12-of-17 shooting.
He hit a number of tough shots, including four huge threes that kept the Shockers in the game.
Houston has gifted scorers in Harden, Howard and Chandler Parsons, but it needs someone to carry the second unit.
Lin is too inconsistent, and playing Harden extended minutes makes his already poor defense even worse.
Playing 18-20 minutes per game, Early could step in and provide a burst of scoring from the 3-spot.
He’s deadly from mid-range and is also a threat with his back to the basket.
Early is also a gifted athlete capable of running the floor in transition and playing above the rim.
However, as NBADraft.net notes, “To occupy the 3-spot at the next level, Early needs to beef up his off-the-dribble dimension. ... [His] ball handling and willingness to attack are on the incline, but he’s far from secure.”
Because he played four years in college, Early likely won’t be higher than a mid-first-round pick, meaning he should be available when Houston chooses.
Though they have needs elsewhere, it’d be a shame if the Rockets passed on such a gifted scorer.
4. Jerami Grant, SF
If Houston decides it needs to get Parsons some insurance, it could do a lot worse than Syracuse’s Jerami Grant.
Grant averaged 12.1 points, 6.8 rebounds and 1.4 assists as a sophomore and is the prototypical small forward physically.
He’s an athletic 6’8” and has a massive wingspan that will be a factor on both ends.
Parsons is overrated as a defender in many ways, but Grant has the chance to be a true stopper at the next level.
He has the quickness to cover 2s and 3s, as well as even some point guards if need be.
The real issue with Grant is going to be his offense, as Marc D’Amico of Celtics.com notes.
His offensive game is very raw right now. He does have a good handle on the ball and is solid off of the dribble. He has a go-to spin move that he likes to use on the regular. He’s stronger than he looks. He can handle contact and uses his lower body strength to maneuver past defenders. Grant will need to develop his shot at the next level.
Grant is a gifted finisher and driver, but to thrive in Houston’s offense, he needs a more consistent jumper.
He shot 49.6 percent last season but did not make a single three, attempting just five all season.
Still, there’s no denying his athleticism, and Grant has the potential to be a very good rebounding small forward in the NBA.
On a fast-paced team like the Rockets, he could get easy buckets just by running the floor and cleaning up in the paint.
5. Patric Young, PF
Terrence Jones was a revelation for Houston this season, but there's always a need for more frontcourt depth.
If the Rockets want to secure their 4-spot, they could do a lot worse than Florida star Patric Young.
Young averaged 11.0 points, 6.2 boards and 1.1 blocks per game while shooting 54.1 percent from the field as a senior.
Like most older players, he doesn't possess tremendous upside, but he has an NBA-ready body and is an elite athlete.
The 6'9" Young is a force defensively. He can push opponents off the block and also protect the rim.
If Omer Asik leaves, Houston could use another shot-blocker when Howard is on the bench.
He is also a dominant pick-and-roll defender, switching out onto guards and dropping back at the right times to corral drives.
Young isn't tall or long enough to play much center in the NBA, so he needs to work on the finesse aspects of his game.
Offensively, he doesn't have much of a jumper and needs to mix in some post moves beyond just catching the ball and dunking it.
Still, Young should thrive running the floor in transition and finishing on lobs from Harden and Lin.
He likely won't supplant Jones as a starter, but Young could be a solid backup from the jump and a potential bargain for a team used to striking gold late in the draft.
Additionally, Young has already worked out for Houston, so we know there's some interest.
6. Jusuf Nurkic, C
The Rockets’ center situation is secure for now, but if Asik leaves or is traded, they could be in desperate need of a competent backup.
Howard really shouldn’t be playing more than 36 minutes per game, meaning Houston needs a solid 5 off the pine.
As a European prospect, Jusuf Nurkic is a bit of an unknown quantity, but he has nice upside.
Nurkic averaged 11.7 points, 5.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals per game playing in the Adriatic League last season.
He’s only 19 years old but stands 6’11” and weighs 280 pounds.
Despite his age, Nurkic is already well-developed physically, which is a huge asset.
As Joe Gabriele of the Cleveland Cavaliers’ official website notes, “He’s got a big body and he knows how to use it. But Nurkic also possesses excellent footwork with good lateral movement, and he has very quick hands – making him very effective in pick-and-roll situations.”
Gabriele does comment on Nurkic’s overaggressive defense and tendency to get into foul trouble, but those things can be fixed.
With a season to learn from Howard and Asik, he could become a more disciplined and effective rim protector.
Nurkic isn’t much of a shooter, but he has good hands around the rim.
In time, he could emerge as a legitimate post threat that the Rockets could dump it down to.
If he slides, expect Houston to consider snapping Nurkic up, especially with Asik’s orneriness.
7. C.J. Wilcox, SG
Perhaps more than any team, the Rockets value shooters. And if there’s one thing C.J. Wilcox will be able to do in the NBA, it’s shoot the ball.
As a senior at Washington, Wilcox averaged 18.3 points, 3.7 rebounds and 2.5 assists while hitting 39.1 percent of his threes.
NBADraft.net says Wilcox has “great mechanics as a shooter, gets up high on jumpers and shot at a very high level from both mid- and long-range during his time in college.”
However the site also notes that “Creating offense is not his specialty.”
Still, his ability to shoot off the catch will help open up driving lanes and room down low for the Rockets’ other offensive weapons.
Outside shooting is key for Houston’s high-powered attack, and the team could potentially lose bombers Francisco Garcia, Omri Casspi and even Parsons this offseason.
Picking up Wilcox would be a cheap form of insurance to keep the Rockets' perimeter attack strong.
However, while shooting is Wilcox’s main strength, he is not just a one-dimensional player.
At 6’5”, Wilcox has good wing size, and he moves well enough to be a defensive asset.
The Rockets could use another perimeter defender besides Beverley, and Wilcox could certainly play that role.
In his junior and senior seasons, he grew more comfortable handling the ball and is capable of attacking the basket and making plays for his teammates.
He’s not going to be a star and would not see huge minutes behind Harden, but Wilcox could be a solid shooting option off the bench for the Rockets.