The 10 Draft Picks That Could Help the Houston Rockets Take Off
While the Rockets have outperformed preseason predictions, undoubtedly the players are disappointed they have landed in the lottery for the first time in four years.
Missing a dominant center for a whole year can put you in that position, but the team's general lack of consistency can also be to blame.
However, with a bad season comes hope. Hope of a great draft pick, of a resurgent Yao Ming, of a fruitful free agency period.
While the Rockets will likely draft too late to pick the league's next superstar, they can do almost as well with the 14th pick in this year's draft.
From Carlos Boozer, Manu Ginobili, and Michael Redd to Tony Parker, the list of successful players taken after the lottery is staggering. Certainly, the Rockets will be disappointed if they do not find a player they think can be a difference maker in this league.
Although they would like an athletic big man who can cover for Yao's defensive liabilities on the weak side, it will be important to select the best player available because restricted free agency rules after rookie contracts expire make it important to get a franchise player.
Thus, here are the players that can help the Rockets in their bid to go from a lottery team to a contender in one year.
If you compiled a list of players that polarized scouts, Daniel Orton would definitely be a top pick. Some love his potential, and others point out few players that average less than four points in college turn into solid players in the Association.
However, despite the debate regarding his future, there are positives working in his favor.
The first is his size, and size always seems to float to the top as draft day approaches. Players such as B.J. Mullens, Hasheem Thabeet, Kosta Koufos, and Robin Lopez have all been drafted in the first round in recent years mostly because of their height.
Orton does not have the elite height that those guys have, but he has a legit 6'10" frame. More importantly, he has a massive wingspan that allows him to play much bigger than he is. He has shown an ability to be a ball hawk while rebounding, and his physicality will be an asset in the tough NBA.
If he were drafted by the Rockets, the Rockets could pair him with Jordan Hill to form a tough, physical front line for the second unit. They could try to groom both as Yao's potential successor if Yao doesn't return from injury as hoped.
While certainly questionable, if he can harness his talent and size, he will be a very effective player in this league.
NBA comparison: Kendrick Perkins
Gordon Hayward is a white, skinny forward with a silky smooth jumper who has drawn comparisons to everyone from Mike Dunleavy, Jr. to Larry Bird (only as a comparison of their strengths, not their talent). Sound familiar?
No, Gordon Hayward is not Adam Morrison.
Sure, their games are very similar, but he is not even close to Adam Morrison. Morrison had problems with heavy legs and a lack of any defensive fundamentals, while Hayward has shown that his well-documented lack of athleticism has been blown out of proportion.
He is no LeBron James physically, but he has the necessary physical tools to make it in the NBA.
He does need to put on 10 to 15 pounds to compete in the paint in the NBA, but that is possible with the help of any NBA trainer.
Whether he can defend at the NBA level will be the more important question.
Many players have struggled going from college star to sitting on the bench in the NBA during their rookie season, and that may be especially tough on Hayward. If he can make the leap, he projects to be a starter in the NBA.
With the Rockets, he would provide flexibility to package either Trevor Ariza or Shane Battier in a possible sign-and-trade deal and provide much of the same attributes that Chase Budinger brings off the bench, only with a higher upside because of his fantastic court vision.
NBA Comparison: Matt Harpring
Patrick Patterson has always been an intriguing NBA prospect, but before this year had never been thought of as a can't-miss prospect. After a full year under John Calipari, executives and scouts alike are starting to fall for Patterson.
The Rockets organization has never been one to discriminate based on height, but his 6'8" frame is not ideal for a power forward in the NBA. However, he makes up for his lack of height with impressive hops, which allow him to be an impressive rebounder and shot blocker.
With a couple of years with the Rockets' coaching staff, Patterson projects as an athletic power forward much like Carl Landry was before his shooting (side note: I'm not saying Landry was better before being shot, but he jumped off springs before the shooting).
The man has the makings of an impressive player in the NBA, and will surely make an instant impact wherever he goes.
NBA comparison: Carl Landry
Few players have had draft stock as inconsistent as Xavier Henry. He looked to be as high as a top five prospect, but as a mid-season slump hit, his prospects looked to be as a late first-rounder.
Lately, he has rebounded, improving his chances of being a lottery pick, but even that is not a certainty.
The 19-year-old shooting guard has shown flashes of star potential all year long, but when he struggled, it became apparent that he relied on his jump shot far too often, limiting his consistency in the middle of the year.
Towards the end of his freshman season, Henry slowly became more comfortable in the paint, driving more often and showing off his NBA-ready body.
To become the star he can in the league, he will have to continue to improve his driving abilities, as few players in the league can rely on their jump shot for all their points.
For the Rockets, Henry would be a perfect fit for the team. He could make defenses pay for double-teaming Yao and has the ability to play either wing position because of his good size. As his defensive intensity increases, he has the potential to be a great two-way player in the NBA.
NBA comparison: Michael Redd (with better defense)
In the NCAA Tournament, Ekpe Udoh showed the nation he was a legitimate NBA prospect. He impressed with length and shot-blocking ability and surprised some people with his vastly improved offensive game.
After floundering a bit two years ago with Michigan, it is clear that the year he took off to transfer paid dividends.
His game is so much more polished and smooth than it was two years ago, and yet he still seems like he has much untapped potential left. He is not an explosive athlete, but he has a 7'3" wingspan that NBA scouts absolutely fawn after.
He can shoot the midrange shot and even reached the three-point line at times last year, a far cry from the layups and dunks he served up exclusively at Michigan.
With the uncertainty regarding Luis Scola and Yao Ming, the Rockets likely need to draft a big man. Udoh would be a perfect fit. He could play center with Scola if Yao is out, or could space the floor and help Yao out with blocking shots on the weak side if Yao is able to return healthy.
Either way, Udoh is a projectable guy who is sure to give good, starter minutes for a long time.
NBA comparison: Andrei Kirilenko
This was supposed to be Ed Davis' year. His coming out party. His time to dominate the NCAA and secure a top-two draft selection after passing on a top five selection last year.
It hasn't exactly worked that way. He played very well all year but never dominated, putting up excellent numbers but not the numbers scouts had hoped for. Then, things went from bad to worse when he broke his wrist, ending his season and taking North Carolina's tournament hopes with it.
Despite all his troubles this year, he still projects to be a top 10 pick, likely gone before the Rockets select. However, as it has been shown the last few years, the Rockets' draft spots are not always set in stone, and Morey may be tempted to move up to draft him.
With his low-post scoring and fantastic motor, Davis has the tools to dominate at the professional level if he adds strength in the post. He can block shots and rebound well, and he boasts an NBA pedigree complements of his father's lengthy career.
With Davis in the fold, the Rockets could potentially have one of the deadlier front courts in the league, with the added bonus of making everyone around them better. If Davis can continue to improve at the offensive end, he will give the second unit a post scorer that can create double teams and free up open shooters, someone they have needed all year.
NBA comparison: PJ Brown or Marcus Camby
Is Jan Vesely more Dirk Nowitzki or Nikoloz Tskitishvili? Is he Pau Gasol or Darko Milicic? Actually, Vesely is truly unlike most Europeans.
While he can shoot the ball well, like the stereotypical European big man, he is an athletic and tough big man who has a fantastic motor. He has impressed in Euroleague play, especially of late, scoring 27 points in 23 minutes against Union Olympia. This makes the debate more interesting as to whether he or Donatas Motiejunas is the best international prospect in the draft.
While his numbers are modest, it is important to take into consideration the fact that he is 19-years-old and playing against other professional players, many of them former NBA players and some more than 10 years his senior.
His position is undecided, and it is unclear whether he can be quick enough to stay with other small forwards or if he can add the strength needed to bang in the post. But this much is clear: He is not the next soft, non-athletic European big man to come through the draft.
NBA comparison: Yi Jianlian (a better version)
Another international prospect, Motiejunas will be an instant mismatch magnet in the NBA. When his huge size is coupled with his ability to work off the dribble, Motiejunas will consistently beat his man either with his good post moves or his dribble penetration.
Much like other Europeans, Motiejunas' game is very diverse. His aforementioned post game is excellent because of his impeccable footwork. He can shoot the midrange jumper well. He is an impressive passer. And, to top it all off, he is a tremendously smart player.
He would work perfectly in Rick Adelman's cerebral offense that relies on smart offensive players to create shots for each other within the offense.
He would fit in with other sharpshooters, such as Aaron Brooks and Kevin Martin, to spread the floor around Yao much like the Magic do with Howard, and would work especially well as his three-point shot improves.
While he looks like a skinny, unimpressive basketball player outside his height, his skills any basketball team can use, especially with the recent injection of "face-up" power forwards in the league.
NBA comparison: Andrea Bargnani
There are many questions surrounding Greg Monroe. Is he tough enough to make it in the NBA? Is he going to rebound enough to pull his weight? Does he have the athleticism that is required of NBA power forwards these days?
Amid all these questions, a pretty good basketball player lies. In fact, among the big men in the NCAA, Monroe is likely the most skilled, combining shooting touch, passing, and basketball IQ to form a very nice player. But will he ever be a star?
That answer will probably not be answered in the next two or three years, but will likely depend on his work ethic. If he can put in the work and become the tough, gritty competitor that he is capable of being, he will become a star. But if he doesn't, he will be a nice contributing forward that can start without any problem.
It will all be up to him.
The Rockets would certainly love to have him. Most projections have him being drafted before the Rockets' slot, but given how volatile his draft stock has been, anything can happen.
He would feast on the open looks that Yao would give him, and would be in a situation where he would not have to carry the load, probably a good thing early in his career.
NBA comparison: Lamar Odom
When looking at partners for Yao Ming, Donatas Motiejunas, Ekpe Udoh, Patrick Patterson, and Ed Davis are all intriguing, but perhaps none would fit better than Hassan Whiteside.
Invisible to the casual fan because of Marshall's lack of visibility on the national level, Whiteside has quietly moved into the top 12 on a lot of teams' draft boards. He has lit up the Conference USA for three triple-doubles this season, and has captivated scouts with his shot blocking and rebounding.
Offensively he is still miles away from being a low-post presence, but can make a living on put-backs and layups as he improves his offense.
For the Rockets, he fits so well with Yao. He would be what the Rockets envisioned Eddie Griffin to be: A long, athletic big man who can help Yao recover if he blows a defensive move, providing much needed weak-side defense to a team that has seemingly given up more layups this year than they have the past three years combined.
While he will frustrate fans with his free throw shooting and his lack of offensive polish, there is really no better player for the Rockets to draft where they are.
NBA comparison: Marcus Camby