Welcome to NBA Draft Day.
It’s a whole new Houston Rockets era when they find themselves holding three first-round picks. To put this into perspective, the Rockets have had a grand total of two first-round picks combined in the past eight NBA Drafts.
With the game-changing #2 pick and consecutive selections at #23 and #24, the Rockets are about to shape their future tonight. Let’s dive in.
Green vs. Mobley
In hindsight, we should have known that Jalen Green would be the pick the moment the Rockets hired Matt Bullard in the front office. He wasn’t going to go another day without the Green-House Effect in Houston.
The thing about the choice between USC center Evan Mobley and G-League Ignite guard Green is there really isn’t a bad choice. They’re both great prospects. I spent the first week after the lottery wondering how the Rockets could acquire the #3 pick outright to select both of these guys.
In my opinion, the only justification for Green over Mobley is something that can’t be found on a stat sheet. Talk of his work ethic, drive and will to win bring out comparisons to Kobe Bryant. That may be unfair, but that’s something that is almost impossible to pass on.
But Mobley is the kind of guy who impacts winning even on nights he doesn’t have an offensive game going. His ceiling, as Michael Jordan would say, is “the roof”. The Rockets are passing on a big man who may prove matchup-proof — a terrific rim protector who fits ideally in smallball lineups because of his quick feet, switchability and ground coverage. That, too, is incredibly hard to pass up.
It’s possible neither pans out as big as we hope — Green becomes JR Smith and Mobley Jarrett Allen — but that’s unlikely. They both have the look of special prospects. The two-way impact says Mobley. The intangibles say Green. It’s moot because the Rockets are going to go Green, but in the same way that Luka Doncic and Trae Young are connected, these two will be linked throughout their careers.
Players I would love to see the Rockets trade up to get
1. Moses Moody
The Rockets were the worst team in the league in 2020-21 and should be looking for prospects with superstar potential, so it may seem odd that a player with a limited ceiling is my top trade-up target. Yet here we are. Moody is a legitimate two-way player. He checks all the boxes for me as a highly-coveted role player: Good size/frame, length (nearly 7-foot-1 wingspan), touch, shooting, switchability, defensive IQ. Unfortunately, in the days leading up to the draft, it appears he won’t slide past #10 and that’s likely territory the Rockets can’t trade up to.
2. Corey Kispert
The Rockets will have playmakers. What they need is shooting and defense. Kispert can stretch the floor like nobody else in this draft as he shot nearly 44% from deep on almost 400 attempts as a junior and senior. His form is outstanding and release very quick, which should translate well to the league. Shooting is at such a premium in the league that I can’t see any way Kispert falls to 23.
Players I would love to see drafted ahead of the Rockets at 23/24
These are not necessarily bad picks for the Rockets, but they’re less than ideal and I prefer they bump others down to Houston.
1. Sharife Cooper
Sharife Cooper looks like a legit Chris Paul clone if you took away all of his defense and shooting. And if you take away his defense and shooting, how good really is a Chris Paul in today’s NBA? If you could bolster his shot I might have interest, but I would prefer Miles McBride over Cooper.
2. Cam Thomas
You hear “walking bucket” a lot about players, but Cam Thomas is definitely that. He can score in a variety of ways and that should translate to the league. But there are legitimate knocks against his defense and passing — or at least willingness to pass. It may be unfair but I get Dion Waiters vibes. His ceiling seems like a 6th man spark to me. If you’re taking Green at #2, I want some kind of defensive potential.
3. Joshua Primo
Primo is super young (just 18 years old), has good size at a legit 6-foot-4 and he can shoot. There is upside here that is interesting, but I prefer others. It’s unlikely that Primo will go ahead of the Rockets, so I would consider this a huge bonus if he does.
Players I would be ecstatic to see available to the Rockets at 23/24
1. Jaden Springer
I overlooked Springer initially because I didn’t see the athleticism, but the 6-foot-4 Tennessee point guard was impressive at the combine, finishing with the fifth-best standing vertical (34.5 inches). He’s 18 years old, was a top prospect out of high school (#17 on ESPN 100), shot 43.5% from three (albeit on just 46 total attempts) and he has good defensive potential. That’s what I’m looking for if I’m the Rockets.
2. Jalen Johnson
There are enough knocks on the 6-foot-9 forward out of Duke that he just might slide on Draft Night. The fact that he shies away from contact, as big as he is, concerns me the most. But there’s so much to work with here, on both sides of the ball, that this is a flyer worth taking. I consider it a huge win if he slides to 23.
3. Usman Garuba
What Garuba brings to the table — elite post defense and switchability — is huge in today’s game. He’s 6-foot-8 with a 7-foot-3 wingspan and just 19 years old. He’s starting to develop an outside shot and if he does, I could see him as a (much) bigger PJ Tucker in his ability to guard threes, fours and fives and anchor a defense while spacing the floor on the other end. I wouldn’t draft for fit, but he could be a good fit next to Christian Wood.
4. Ziaire Williams
If it wasn’t for an underwhelming freshman season at Stanford, the Rockets wouldn’t have a chance at Ziaire Williams at #23/#24. He averaged just 10.7 points on 37.4% from the field and a paltry 29.1% from three. But he’s a legit 6-foot-8 and very smooth and fluid. This is a boom-or-bust pick, no question.
Ziaire Williams said the Houston Rockets were actually his first workout. “Loved it. John Lucas ran the workout. I met Rafael. I met the head coach. Great organization. I loved the feel that they had.”
— ClutchFans (@clutchfans) July 27, 2021
Others I like but aren’t necessarily “home runs”: Florida guard Tre Mann, Baylor guard Jared Butler, Kentucky center Isaiah Jackson
Sleepers I like
1. Isaiah Todd
I would love to see the Rockets pick up an early second-round pick and select G-League Ignite forward Isaiah Todd. The knock on Todd is his defense, but he’s got very good size at 6-foot-9 for a wing (actually measured bigger than Ziaire Williams and has an over 7-foot-1 wingspan) and he has the look of an outstanding shooter. His form is so smooth. I don’t know if choosing him at #24 is too early, but I’d be happy to see the Rockets come away with his rights.