Once again, the Rockets are picking at the top of the draft. Last year, they took Jalen Green with the second overall pick after finishing the 2020-21 season with the worst record in the league. Last season, they once again wound up at the bottom of the lottery, but this time wound up with the number three pick after Orlando and Oklahoma City.
Most experts believe this is a three-to-four-person draft in terms of legitimate star talent. Beyond that, there are a lot of question marks. In addition to pick number three, the Rockets also have 17 — part of the James Harden trade to Brooklyn — and number 26 after trading Christian Wood to Dallas. Loads of intrigue into the draft. Here are four things to watch.
Early big men options.
The consensus with this draft is that big men Jabari Smith, Chet Holmgren and Paolo Banchero are the top three choices, but hyper-athletic wing man Jaden Ivey has been blowing away scouts with his offensive skills. The Rockets are going to take one of the big men given their needs at that position and the glut of guards they have on the roster, but which one. It appears all but a done deal that Smith will go first to Orlando. But, Oklahoma City is crafty (see more on that below) and could pick Holmgren or Ivey or trade out of the second pick.
All indications are the first three picks seem to be pretty well set with Banchero ending up in Rockets red. Holmgren only worked out for OKC and unless they feel like they can get their big man at the fifth or sixth pick, OKC, no matter what it says, probably isn’t moving.
Trade up, down or even out?
It would be a shock if the Rockets moved the number three pick. They seem perfectly happy to wait their turn there. But both 17 and 26 could be up for grabs. Additionally, there has been talk that the team could move Eric Gordon, KJ Martin (who recently discussed a trade with the Rockets front office) or both on draft night. So, how will it all break down?
The Rockets would like to move higher than 17, possibly to get a legitimate center like Duke’s Mark Williams or to add more athletic talent in general. Combining their two picks or even restructuring the deal to Dallas to move up by including a third team and one of the aforementioned players is all on the table. They could also very well move out of the draft — our money is on them keeping two selections at minimum — to have a shot at the VERY deep 2023 draft.
Never underestimate Sam Presti to surprise.
The Thunder’s GM is known for being extremely cagey around the draft and this year is no exception. The smart money is still on him selecting Holmgren, but if a team wanted to leapfrog the Rockets for a shot at Banchero, who the team is apparently enamored with, don’t count Presti out on making a move that could help his team and hurt a division rival. With Ivey’s stock rising fast, it is conceivable he could entice someone to move up leaving the Rockets with their choice of two of the three best big men at number three.. Whatever happens, don’t count on any option until the Rockets are officially on the clock.
Who should you want if you are a Rockets fan?
Right now, there are doubts about all of the top three players. Smith doesn’t have the polished offensive skillset yet; Holmgren’s size and weight are a concern at the next level; and Banchero hasn’t been a great defender at the collegiate level. But, in truth, they all could be quite good. We aren’t sold on the “unicorn” Holmgren just because of his rail-thin size, but Smith and Banchero seem tailor made for the NBA. And, while he isn’t a fit here because he plays the same spot as Green, Ivey could very well be a superstar at the next level.