Before I start speculating or guessing or anything of that nature, let's not forget who called the Rockets taking Chase Budinger last season. Now that we've gotten that out of the way, it's time for the mandatory draft post disclaimer.
Anything could happen on draft night. Honestly, the only reason for a draft post is for entertainment purposes, because summer can get boring at times.
Usually, that sentiment can apply to any team in the league, but it especially applies to the Rockets. Morey and Co. are known for their draft day ADHD, since they never seem to be able to sit still. They're always looking for new ways to improve their position as much as they possibly can. If there is an avenue available for the Rockets to take in order to better their roster, they will find it, and they will likely take it.
Sitting at fourteen presents a ton of questions and very little guarantees. It's the Twilight zone, a purgatory of sorts. It's at the end of the lottery, so there still might be some good talent, but it's usually a "risk zone." In theory, boom or bust players are found in the middle of the first round, right around fourteen. However, up until the last few seasons, the fourteenth overall pick had become a landing ground for college veterans with considerably less upside that an ideal "boom" pick might have. Players such as Al Thornton, Ronnie Brewer, Rashad McCants, Troy Murphy, Luke Ridnour, Fred Jones and Mateen Cleaves found an NBA home at number fourteen. It wasn't until 2008 when the Warriors took Anthony Randolph that the 14th pick returned to its status as a hotbed for "potential." Earl Clark was taken at fourteen last season, and he's still looking for an excuse to lace up his sneakers.
Many of the players listed above are good role players, but nothing special by any means. For all of the talk that the Rockets have inspired over the off season, it appears that they may not want to settle with an "average" player, though this year's crop is different and may prove otherwise. In most cases, the Rockets will draft for talent over need if available. All signs, from this standpoint, point to the Rockets moving up. However, if they are unable to find a trade partner within the top ten picks or so, they might attempt to move down, and from there, select a "need" player - most likely a defensive minded center.
If you listened to the Sam Hinkie interview, you'll know that Houston has taken talent over need in the past, when they selected Aaron Brooks with four point guards already on the roster. It may make sense to us, the fans, for the Rockets to take a big body. But, hey, maybe they don't like Jermaine Taylor as much as they thought, or maybe they'll want to stockpile wing players or guards for a trade, and before you blink, they could select a guard or small forward. Covering Daryl is like covering a chess match - you can't come to a conclusion on a particular move too quickly, because there's usually a separate agenda lying behind that first move that, upon revealing itself, ultimately sheds light to why that move was made in the first place. To summarize, anything could happen. I can't emphasize that enough.
If it's up to me, here are the main players that I would be looking at come draft night.
Players That, If Taken, Would Indicate A Second Move Later On
1. Patrick Patterson - University of Kentucky
Patterson is a polished big who has shown, perhaps more so than any other big in this draft, that he is NBA-ready and can bring many tools to the table. He's inevitably being compared to Carl Landry because of his "plays bigger than his height" mentality, and if John Calipari hadn't recruited four potential lottery picks to come steal the show in Lexington, Patterson would have received much more attention. As good as he is, though, I don't see him fitting on this current roster. Perhaps he would be insurance at the power forward position if the Rockets were to come across an offer for Jordan Hill that they liked. And it wouldn't necessarily have to be for Chris Bosh.
2. Al-Farouq Aminu - Wake Forest University
There hasn't been as much buzz surrounding the small forward phenom from North Carolina as there should be. He's an incredible talent, and is currently slated to be taken at number seven according to Draft Express' latest mock. The seventh slot is prime trade territory for the Rockets, and with the Pistons having already selected Austin Daye and DaJuan Summers last season, it's unlikely that they'd close their ears to a trade offer. Aminu wouldn't fall into the Rockets lap, but there's a real possibility that Houston could move up to get him.
Players That The Rockets Would Move Up Or Down To Select
1. DeMarcus Cousins / Derrick Favors - University of Kentucky / Georgia Tech
Obviously, this would be the best-case scenario. The combination of upside, size, and general talent that Cousins and Favors bring to the table is enormous. They are considered to be can't-miss prospects. However, the question remains: just how much would the Rockets be willing to give up in order to acquire one of these players? Ideally, the Rockets will be competing with the league's best next year, so what kind of message would making a move like this send to the fans and to the roster? It would be an exciting deal, but at what price?
2. Cole Aldrich - University of Kansas
From the perspective of a Missouri student, drafting Cole Aldrich would be like signing Carlos Boozer. Seriously, that's how much I despise Cole as a human being. But as a basketball player, he's kind of good at defense, and that's something that we could use. However, there's no sense in giving up much to move up and take Aldrich when the Rockets can get close to the same value at number fourteen. And, hey, you never know: Cole could slip down to fourteen just like Budinger slipped out of the first round.
3. Ed Davis - University of North Carolina
Just kidding. I really don't see the hype surrounding Davis, other than his size. He looks cool wearing his shirt underneath his jersey, too. Besides that, he looks inept on offense and isn't bulky enough to man up on D. It's going to take a lot of improvement on his behalf for him to shake off the "most likely to bust" label that I'm pinning on his back. He'd actually be good value at fourteen, but his supposed upside will probably land him inside the top ten.
4. Ekpe Udoh - University of Baylor
A few quotes from Draft Express that I really enjoy.
He shows a good feel for the game in general, something that's become more apparent as the game slowed down for him as the year went on.
He has a surprisingly good command of counter moves in the post, and transitions very well from one move to another looking for a high percentage shot.
Good feel. Good command. These are things that you love to hear about a draft prospect. Command. Feel. There's a chance for originality, a chance for this guy to be able to craft his own game and react to defenders and grow and not be generic. You don't see that with projects. Ekpe Udoh does not appear to be a project. And then, suddenly, we hear quotes like this.
doesn't appear to be the most contact loving big man around, getting outmuscled by stronger players and not always fighting back as much as you'd hope.
he will be 23 years old by the time the draft comes around, so teams may have mixed feelings on how much more potential he has, particularly from a physical standpoint.
Outmuscled. Not contact-loving. Not much physical potential. These have to be red flags for a team that added Charles Gaines to the Summer League team last season, not because of his basketball skills, but because of his "toughness." I like Udoh and what he could bring the Rockets, but for a potential top ten pick, there are plenty of questions, far less than Jordan Hill had or ever will have.
5. Solomon Alabi - Florida State University
Check here for my thoughts on Alabi. I'd be happy to take him and plug him in for some added defense.
6. Three Wild Card Picks: Larry Sanders, Keith Gallon, Jarvis Vanardo
Players The Rockets Can Likely Take At Fourteen
1. Daniel Orton - University of Kentucky
I'm sticking with Orton as my number one guy if we stay at fourteen. He's the most polished among the available "purgatory prospects" and still has plenty of upside. On top of that, he has shown ability as a shot blocker and defender. I like him, and that's that.
2. Hassan Whiteside - Marshall
He does a lot of things well. He is versatile, can hit the mid-range jumper, blocks shots, runs the floor, etc. But there's a lot that he needs to work on, namely his post game. His man-to-man defense also needs improvement, and something tells me that a good chunk of those blocked shots weren't all that difficult to make against average competition - you can take a look at the video to confirm. Much of what he excels at appears to be a product of his competition. His post moves aren't that great, and his defense looks incredibly lazy at times. And you have to wonder: when is the last time we saw a player from a decent team with all of this potential last only a season at his school? Why did Whiteside go to Marshall over better schools? For me, there's too much we don't know about this guy to make him a priority pick. I'd take him, but only if our other options fell through.
3. Donatas Motiejunas - Lithuania
Donatas is going to be in Europe for another year, maybe two, so if we take him, we'd better have our eyes on a free agent big. Motiejunas is the kind of guy that seems bred for the open-ended, flexible offense that Rick Adelman runs. But how does he fit into our roster, now and in the future? Don't we want to keep Luis Scola around, and don't we want to develop Jordan Hill, or acquire another power forward? It would make some sense to take Motiejunas, but there would be some shuffling of the roster once he came over.
That's your first look. More to come as we approach draft day.