Ever since Daryl Morey took over as general manager in Houston, the Rockets have been regarded as one of the top drafting squads in the NBA. Despite consistently going against consensus opinions on players, the Rockets have managed to add Aaron Brooks, Carl Landry, Chase Budinger, and Patrick Patterson into the fold over the last four years, helping to build a strong young team with cheap talent.
This year, with multiple picks in the first round and an early second rounder, the Rockets have yet another chance to make a splash and add some quality talent to a team that failed to reach the playoffs for the second season in a row this year. However, because of labor uncertainty, a number of top prospects such as Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, and Perry Jones have dropped out of the draft, making this draft one of the weakest in recent memory.
While many are quick to label these picks useless because of the perceived lack of talent in this draft, if history is any indication, Morey will find a way to exact as much value as possible from each selection, likely coming away with a number of quality players.
There is also a very strong possibility that Morey moves up to pick a player he values more, as the Rockets' already crowded roster may not have room for three more players to come to training camp next year. Morey has reportedly tried to move up every year he has held the spot as general manager but if he is ever going to pull it off, this will likely be the year as he has multiple picks for the first time.
Without further ado, here are five prospects who would look very good in a Rockets uniform next year.
Draft Projection: Top 5
NBA Comparison: Taller Kevin Love
- Talented center who can do it all offensively
- Extremely fundamentally sound
- Developing post game with a Luis Scola-like craft
- Tough, hulking center
- Dominated top prospects at Nike Hoop Summit in 2010
- NBA Ready
- At 6'11", he'd be giving up a couple of inches every night to opposing centers
- Hasn't played competitively in nearly a year due to eligibility issues
- Is not the swiftest of feet
- Needs a little more focus defensively
With the Rockets drafting at 14, getting a guy like Enes Kanter would likely necessitate a trade up. However, given Daryl Morey's propensity for moving around in the draft, a move up to the third or so spot in the draft, which is what it would take to get him, would not be a shock, especially with the Rockets' inability to secure a legitimate center over the last few years to replace Yao Ming.
Standing at 6'11", Kanter lacks the ideal height for an NBA center and does not make up for it with elite athleticism. With that said, his long reach and huge body makes calling him undersized like calling Ron Artest undersized. Simply put, he's a big man and should have no problem with the physical game in the NBA.
Outside of his relatively short stature and lack of athleticism, Kanter is an absolute slam dunk. He's extremely crafty in the post, can shoot the mid-range jumper with ease, and even flashed a nascent three point shot in the last few years. At just 18 (he'll be 19 by the time of the draft), Kanter is already an extremely polished product and will contribute from day one.
While he hasn't logged a minute of competitive basketball in nearly a year, he's flashed enough in the time he had in front of scouts to make them believers. Watching him dominate fellow top prospects Jared Sullinger and Patric Young certainly made his case that he could be the top player in this draft.
He likely will not be a star but he will be a solid center who has potential to be one of the four or five best players in the league at that position. With time, he could develop into an Al Jefferson type player or better. While the price the Rockets would have to pay might give them pause, in all likelihood Kanter would be worth every penny they pay.
Draft Projection: Late lottery
NBA Comparison: Gerald Wallace
- Freak athlete with impressive wingspan and huge hands
- Elite rebounder from the wing position
- Plays hardest on every play
- Potential to be stellar defender
- Much improved offensively over the last year
- Great teammate
- Doesn't move well laterally
- Not a great jump shooter
- Somewhat of a tweener
- If he were two inches taller, he'd likely be a top five pick
While the trade of Shane Battier to the Grizzlies helped propel the Rockets to second half success because it injected offense into the starting lineup and shortened the rotations, it became clear as the season went along that the team was in serious need of at least one more solid wing defender. While Kevin Martin and Chase Budinger have improved somewhat defensively since joining the team, neither is capable of slowing down top scorers in the league and Courtney Lee can't guard everyone.
Leonard, though not a "lock-down" defender at this point, already has solid defensive skills and has the potential to be nearly as good as anyone in the league defensively with some work. He's extremely athletic, runs like a gazelle, and has an impressive wingspan. If he can work with a coach on harnessing his athletic ability to its fullest potential, he could become the kind of defender that can transform a defense.
Apart from Leonard's defensive potential, it is his rebounding from the forward position that will likely be his calling card, much like Gerald Wallace's rebounding skills. Despite playing on the wing, Leonard is capable of securing 10-15 rebounds on any given night as he combines his athleticism with monstrous hands to rebound the ball.
Offensively, Leonard is still a work in progress but flashed some impressive moves as the season progressed this year. He's an excellent slasher, can work in transition and showed off a much-improved jump shot late in the season. He was a well-kept secret for a while, his emergence as well as San Diego State's strong play has made him a likely lottery pick. If he is available when the Rockets are picking, the Rockets have to consider him as he has nearly as much potential as any wing in this draft class.
Draft Projection: Top 10
NBA Comparison: Emeka Okafor
- NBA-ready body with extreme wingspan
- Freakish athleticism
- Best shot-blocking prospect in the draft in years
- Decent touch around the rim
- Fundamentally sound, especially on defense
- Plays with fire on the court, mature off the court
- Has only been playing for 4 years competitively, has room to learn
- Raw offensively
- Likely a little undersized to play center in the NBA
- Could be older than his rumored age of 18
- Would likely require a trade up in the draft to get him
Like Enes Kanter, Biyombo will likely require a trade up in the draft to get him as he will presumably be gone by the time the 14th pick of the draft rolls around. With the Rockets already having superior depth at nearly every position, perhaps packaging their two picks would be worth it for a player of his caliber.
Often compared to Oklahoma City big man Serge Ibaka, Biyombo is a raw, athletic forward with tremendous upside but lacks any semblance of an offensive game. He is adept at getting put-backs and putting them back in but otherwise he is going to struggle to score at the next level.
Despite his offensive inadequacies, he has as much potential as anyone in the draft because of his extreme athleticism. As previously mentioned, he's often compared to Serge Ibaka, but even Ibaka had not shown the shot-blocking prowess that Biyombo has demonstrated in the ACB, the second best league in the world. Playing against competition significantly better than that of an NCAA Division I squad, Biyombo averaged 5.4 blocks per 40 minutes, an impressive figure that leads the league.
Unlike prolific shot-blockers like Javale McGee who came into the league trying to block every shot and falling out of position as a result, Biyombo is fundamentally sound and helps anchor a team's defense by staying in correct help position. He needs some work on how to use his body to his advantage in the post defensively, but he's already an exceptional defender, a remarkable feat for someone who has only been playing competitive basketball for four years.
While he stands just 6'9", his wingspan and strength might allow him to play center in the NBA, but wherever he plays, he'll make an impact. With some work offensively, Biyombo could become the shot-blocking force the Rockets have been lacking for years and could pair with Patrick Patterson (and potentially Jordan Hill) to form a strong combination of youth in the frontcourt for the future.
Draft Projection: Late first round or early second
NBA Comparison: Monta Ellis
- One of the best athletes in the class
- Scoring machine
- Has a decent jumper but also excels at attacking rim
- Top-notch defender
- Has a nice pull-up jumper
- Had a horrible freshman year at Kansas
- Not a great passer, may have to become combo guard at next level
- Horrible shot selection
Over the last few years, the Rockets have taken a somewhat conservative approach to the draft, selecting older, more proven players who are unlikely to fail but may not have a tremendous upside. They've been successful with this strategy, netting quality players in Patrick Patterson, Chase Budinger, Aaron Brooks, and Carl Landry, but in a weak draft, such as this one, they may need to be more inclined to take a risk or two.
Josh Selby would certainly be a risk. A top five prospect out of Lake Clifton High School in Baltimore, Maryland, Selby was expected to go on to more success at Kansas this year. However, after a nightmarish season that started with a suspension and continued with him plagued by injuries (most notably a foot injury), Selby has been falling down draft boards and could fall to the Rockets when the draft at the 23rd spot or even the 38th spot in the beginning of the second round.
He's a premier athlete who excels at attacking defenders and has the tools to become a solid NBA shooter but struggles with his identity as a point guard. As a younger player, Selby was accustomed to scoring at will and never developed the passing abilities that elite point guards require and this lack of dishing ability, combined with a perceived selfishness, has driven him from being a likely lottery pick to a potential slider into the second round.
For a team that has so rarely picked players with any red flags in terms of attitude, the selection of Selby would be a departure from the norm but one that may be needed. While they might be able to find a potential rotation cog with each of their later picks in the draft, Selby could become one of the ten best players in this draft if he figures it all out.
NBA Comparison: A bulkier Trevor Ariza
Draft Projection: Late lottery or mid-first round
- Very good athlete
- Extremely long for a wing
- Best defender in the class
- Versatile, can guard shooting guards, small forwards, and power forwards
- Has developed a post game in recent years
- Settles for jumper far too often
- Streaky from outside
- Struggles to finish at rim
- Generally uncoordinated offensively
After suffering through the Trevor Ariza era for one year, the last person Rockets fans want to hear is that their draft selection is an uncoordinated offensive player who settles for outside shots too often and struggles to finish at the rim. However, for a number of reasons, Chris Singleton would be a tremendous fit for the Rockets and their best option with the 14th pick if Kawhi Leonard is gone by that time.
On a team with Kevin Martin, Chase Budinger, Courtney Lee and potentially Terrence Williams entrenched on the wings, it is difficult to imagine the Rockets selecting another small forward with their selection. However, if they are serious about winning, they must concentrate on drafting the best talent available and Singleton is likely to be that top talent.
A fierce defender, Singleton would help lock up the long, scoring forwards that so victimized the Rockets after Shane Battier's departure. On a team that lacks a shot-blocking force in the middle and will likely struggle to fill that void this summer, strong perimeter defense will be essential if the Rockets want to reestablish themselves as a top defensive squad. While Chuck Hayes is a tremendous post defender, when he is forced to cut off penetration, his lack of size and lift is exposed and the Rockets defense looks like Swiss cheese.
For this reason, adding a player that will likely be the draft's top perimeter defender would be a blessing to the Rockets. Playing alongside offensive-minded players in Luis Scola and Kevin Martin, Singleton's offensive inadequacies could be minimized and he can thrive in a role Ariza never fully embraced—an off-ball slasher and shooter who doesn't create offense but can feed off others.
Daryl Morey often preaches about the importance of being a top ten offensive and defensive squad, and Singleton can help the Rockets, who are comfortably a top ten offense, to regain their status as an elite defense.