2017 NBA Draft: Houston Rockets' Last-Minute Whiteboard
The bad news is that they don't get much of a draft.
Their deadline trade for Lou Williams cost them their first-round pick for this year, which would have been only the 28th pick anyway. They don't have their second-round pick, either. They gave that to the New York Knicks on Feb. 19, 2015, as part of the trade for Pablo Prigioni, according to RealGM.com.
However, they do have the Denver Nuggets' second-round pick (as part of the Ty Lawson trade in 2015) and the Portland Trail Blazers' second-round pick (from the Thomas Robinson trade in 2013). So, Houston will be picking in slots 43 and 45.
That's not entirely bad. Daryl Morey has done pretty well with second-round selections in his tenure as general manager. Chinanu Onuaku (taken No. 37 in 2016), Montrezl Harrell (No. 32, 2015), Chandler Parsons (No. 38, 2011), Chase Budinger (No. 44, 2009) and Carl Landy (No. 31, 2007) all had a degree of success in the NBA (or look like they will in Onuaku's case).
We've learned two things from Morey over the years. First, he subscribes to the "best player available" philosophy of drafting. And second, whoever he picks is going to see a lot more action with the Rockets NBA G League-affiliated Rio Grande Valley Vipers than they are with the mother ship next year.
Morey tends to draft for the highest ceiling and then uses the developmental league to develop. That's the kind of outside-the-box thinking he gets paid the big bucks for.
With that in mind, let's look at one player from each position who might be available to the Rockets in the second round of Thursday's draft and who might be Morey's next success story.
PG: Edmond Sumner, Xavier
Edmond Sumner is very much in the mold of Morey's history in a lot of ways. Primarily, he has the potential to blow out his draft status.
Once viewed as a potential lottery pick, Sumner had a very rough couple of years at Xavier. He missed all but six games of his redshirt freshman season due to knee tendinitis; then he missed the last seven games of last season because of a torn ACL, per Josh Riddell and Julian Applebome of DraftExpress, who also explain the upside here:
"Listed at 6'5.5 with a 6'8 wingspan, Sumner has always been a highly impressive athlete in terms of size, length, quickness and explosiveness, possessing elite-level physical tools, even among lottery prospects. He can race down the floor in the open court and is a quick twitch player in the half-court who can affect the game with his physical tools. His ability to regain his full level of athleticism will be very important in his ability to carve out a niche at the NBA level, especially considering some of his limitations as a shooter, finisher and decision maker."
And that's the thing about middle-of-the-second-round picks. They're usually not going to be much of a smash. When second-rounders do have bigger careers, it's usually because there was some downside that scared off all the other GMs. But most second-round picks don't survive anyway. So why not go big?
As in literally, big. Or big for a point guard anyway. What makes Sumner particularly intriguing is that he has very good size and defensive instincts for a 1. That can come in very handy playing next to James Harden where he might have to occasionally defend shooting guards.
SG: Dwayne Bacon, Florida State
What do you do with the bacon after you fry it? You Dwayne the Bacon. (Sorry, I had to get that pun out of my system.)
Bacon can play either the 2 or the 3; he's athletic with good size for a 2 (6'6 ¼" with a 6'10" wingspan). He gets his points either shooting spot-up threes or slashing to the rim. However, Bleacher Report's Jonathan Wasserman cautions that Bacon's defense could be an issue:
"He's already hit 39 threes after converting 32 his freshman year. Bacon has a good-looking stroke and the ability to create jumpers inside the arc, though he's still at his best attacking and slashing.
"Without much passing or defensive potential, he'll look to carve out a role as a scoring and shot-making specialist."
Lou Williams is in the last year of his contract, and the Rockets could be on the lookout for a cheap replacement as a "pure scorer."
There's also the fact you can't coach length. The defensive potential is still there.
If the Vipers can work on the defense and consistency problems, Bacon could become a Trevor Ariza type and work his way up to a gig in Houston. Making shots is what the Rockets are all about.
SF: Jaron Blossomgame, Clemson
If you're going to play small forward for the Rockets, there's a good bet that you're going to be asked to spend some time as the stretch 4. Jaron Blossomgame is only 6'7 ¾" but his wingspan is 6'10", which gives him just enough size to fill that role.
Blossomgame shoots the three well, and he's also effective with things off the ball that the Rockets like to utilize. Applebome writes:
"Blossomgame looks the part of a NBA combo forward, as at 6'7, 214 with a strong frame and excellent athletic ability, he won't have any issues holding his own physically. He plays with a great motor, and knows how to utilize his physical tools, flying in on the offensive glass, running the floor hard in transition, cutting actively off the ball, and bullying his way to the rim out of the post. He shot the ball very well from deep last season, hitting 44% on 3.3 attempts per game, but he has a bit of a low release and shoots it from his chest, something he may need to adjust down the line."
He also has the defensive versatility and ability to switch that is almost a must in the Rockets' defensive schemes:
"Given his physical tools he has, Blossomgame can impact the game on the defensive end, especially with his ability to guard multiple positions. He's long, strong, tough, and quick laterally which allows him to guard quicker guys on the perimeter and bigger guys on the block. At times he can get overaggressive on the defensive end, something that should be adjusted with solid coaching over time."
There could be some concern that since he's approaching 24, he's already peaked (and the issues he still has could be entrenched). But Jimmy Butler was drafted at 22 and has shown a four-year college guy can still improve his game at the NBA level. While he was still younger, he won Most Improved Player in his age-25 season.
Obviously, Blossomgame wouldn't need to improve to that level to justify the selection, but it does indicate a player with the right work ethic can still improve in their mid-20s.
And I mean, if there's anyone who seems ordained to have his game blossom...
PF: Alec Peters, Valparaiso
Alec Peters is not the most advanced prospect. He has plenty of flaws. But he does one thing really well, and that just happens to be the most important thing to being a Houston Rocket.
Josh Riddell and Ryan Thompson of DraftExpress break it down:
"Peters' clear cut NBA skill is his shooting potential for his size, as he made 2.7 threes per 40 minutes at a 41.2% clip in his four year career. He's an excellent catch and shoot player who is also capable of knocking down shots on the move, as he is able to square his feet and release his shot in one fluid motion off the catch, giving him added value as someone who can come off screens or pick and pop, in addition to spacing the floor as a spot-up shooter."
The Rockets have Ryan Anderson, who is a very similar pony with a very similar trick. It's not like the Rockets need guys who can shoot the three in a general way. But having another power forward who can do it sure wouldn't hurt.
This might come as a surprise to you, but the Rockets' biggest "impact" based on plus/minus and net rating last year was Anderson, according to NBA.com. They were 5.4 points per 100 possessions better with him than without him.
The reason for that is that often net rating and plus/minus numbers aren't really a measure of "value" so much as the gap between a player and his backup. The Rockets just don't have a second power forward who can shoot, and they need to stretch the court.
Peters is a senior who could be ready to step right into the NBA. He's one of the few players who might be available in the 40s who could instantly contribute to the Rockets.
C: Jonathan Jeanne, France
The Rockets have their center of the future in Clint Capela, and it appears that Onuaku could very well be his backup. He's spending most of his season in Rio Grande Valley where he's averaging 13.6 points and 10.6 rebounds in 40 games there, according to Basketball Reference.
Both he and Capela do the bulk of their work around the rim, though. And with "Daryl More Threes," you can never have enough shooting. So, it's possible the Rockets explore a stretch 5 with one of their picks.
And I do mean "stretch." Jonathan Jeanne is 7'2" with a 7'6 ½" wingspan, which means he'd be one of the few players who could give fellow Frenchman Rudy Gobert a high-five without jumping. He's also shooting 33.3 percent from deep (34-of-102) for his career as a pro in international ball.
ESPN's Chad Ford scouts (via NBA.com):
"Jeanne remains a mystery as a likely late first-round draft-and-stash prospect. He's got the size, athleticism and toughness NBA teams covet, though he's in major need of some serious strength training. Not much real playing time and a lack of strength remain the biggest issues hurting Jeanne's stock at the moment."
"At the moment" isn't a concern for a team that has two centers on their rookie contracts who look like they can quite competently fill the role. But drafting and stashing a guy who might develop into Gobert with a three is just the sort of thing you can see Morey doing, even if the chances aren't great.
Jeanne was diagnosed with Marfan syndrome, according to Shams Charania of The Vertical, which will drop him out of the first round. ESPN's Chad Ford still has him going 49 in his latest mock, though, so I don't think he's off the board entirely.
But that also makes him the kind of upside gamble that Morey is willing to take.