I was going over titles for this column and could find anything that would jack traffic up but also suit my need for creative titles. I was thinking "I Can See Clearly Now the Rage is Gone" or the overly mundane "Making Sense of the Rockets 2011 Draft". One struck me as dated, the other as too plain, so this is what you get.
I was one of TDS’s most outspoken critics of Morey after the draft and admittedly missing out on Kawhi Leonard is something I think we may come to regret but as I sobered up and things sorted themselves out I began to look at things in a different way. I also need to take this moment to deride Tom for being able to make sense out of the senseless and help in my views of this thing. With that, go work in the PR department for the Rockets or for grief counseling man. After the jump I’m going to explain the way in which I made sense of them and how I can live with sober thoughts.
To properly evaluate the sense in this draft we need to look beyond players, because that is actually only a part of what the draft is about. We need to look at the current climate of the team, the coach, and the position. When it all comes together I started to see the reasoning in these picks.
The 14th pick that set me off, we went for a 6’9" PF widely labeled as a tweener with no true position. In college you can get away with that designation, in the NBA, not so much. His skillset, as revealed by video and interviews, lends itself more to the three with a "power" game. I don’t know if I’m ready to buy a power game because I don’t see him knocking around NBA power forwards but he shows enough to get in the lane if he wants it, his handles are suspect but can improve, and he has a jumper to space the floor. This is a three ready skill set. Defensively I’m on the fence to doubtful since he’s limited by wingspan, strength, and overall athleticism.
Like my brethren here on TDS when Morris was picked and it was reasoned that he is seen as a 3 in this league I was left wondering "Well, if we need defense and you drafted for a 3 then why did you let Chris Singleton and Kawhi Leonard fall through your hands?" For me it became more about the idea that Morris is willing to bulk up and has enough quickness/intelligence that he’ll be able to keep up with threes in this league, which can atone for a lot of sins. I still would rather have taken the less offensively developed Kawhi Leonard on the idea that you can always develop a shot but elite lockdown defense is rare. Chris Singleton would have also fit the mold with offense too. Morris gives us size at the three and allows Budinger to be moved because between Williams and Morris I think we have rounded out the three better than it was before.
If you’re reading this and wondering why I haven’t convinced you or even myself of the pick it’s because none of these truly got me there.
The press conference won me over. I know talk is cheap and results are the barometer but there was something at the conference that just won me over with this kid. He knows they’re going to try to swing him to the three and he hears a comparison to Carmelo Anthony and he said something important for this team. He won’t try to emulate Anthony’s defense but he likes the offensive comparison. To me, that makes a huge difference in an incoming player. If he’s willing to go where he’s needed, have confidence in his game, and know that this team needs defense and he needs to play it to see the floor, I feel good about his opportunities on this team. A lot can be said about swagger and confidence in this league and certainly the introduction of Morris was brimming with it.
The 20th pick in the NBA draft was a 7’0" Lithuanian that we traded Minnesota Brad Miller and the 23rd for. Was he going to be there at 23? I’m not entirely sure. Was it nice to dump Brad? Very. But this is about the draft pick, not the trade. We all know Houston lacks a center and by center we mean a guy 6’10" or taller that can protect the rim and bang inside. What we got in Donatas was a 7’0" guy with a minimal post game, lack of rebounding, and no inclination towards blocking shots. I’m one of the guys around who actually liked Mehmet Okur’s game which I compared Donatas to in his perimeter orientation but I also see a post game that can be used/developed. We got a big guy with more bulk than I expected and we can certainly slot him at the center. I feel like this will be a good split with Thabeet at the position because we can simply rotate an offensive PF with Thabeet and a defensive PF with Motiejunas.
We added a big body to a spot where we needed it so the fit makes sense. He’s a floor spacer and the Rockets love shooting big men (As pointed out abundantly by my fellow writers). I have faith in Motiejunas’s ability to develop a post game and develop defensively. Questions about his motivation and motor are things I take with a grain of salt because paying attention to context will clarify a lot of these questions. It’s the same argument hit with Thabeet and Flynn if it’s motivation or just bad play and the neglect is always paid to the fact that they’re in positions where superstars would find ways to underperform. I’m giving Donatas the benefit of the doubt here.
The press conference sealed it for me again on this pick. I got a chance to see him amongst everyone that was brought in and he certainly has some bulk to him, which I like in my centers. Add to it his cool demeanor lets me think he’ll be collected in the crunch. It makes me wonder how he’ll react if we do poorly but definitely a relaxed guy in the locker room ready to take his shot and not afraid of competition (Telling Dwight Howard to catch me if you can) is something we need here in Houston. Something else that allows me to give him the benefit of the doubt on motivation is that McHale had said Donatas has already asked him to teach him "some old moves." I got my laugh because McHale responded that "That’s all I know are old moves." This is huge to me because I was concerned about a post game and he’s eager to learn from (arguably) the best post player in NBA history.
Looks like a douche.
OK, seriously, looking him over I see D-League or foreign play for a bit because I’m getting the vibe of a Steve Novak style pick only without love from Tom and with the ability to handle the ball. I have a fundamental problem watching draft footage and tape almost entirely consisting of jump shots (Or just dunks or just layups, need to have more than one dimension guys). I don’t think he sees many minutes on the team if he sticks around. He's a second round pick so his contract isn't guaranteed and he fills our roster to 15 if we bring him over now.
Brad Miller, a future first, and the 23rd pick for Johnny Flynn and the 20th pick.
We dump our point-center so I’m not 100% sure where our answer is for that anymore. I mean, how many other NBA players can throw a game into bullet time only rivaled by that of the Matrix? We traded Neo for what? A huge potential point guard who wasn’t used properly in any way, shape, or form, and a 7’0" PF/C? You’d think Daryl Morey was a GM or something.
Like I said, I’ve come around to our draft picks so I count this as a win. We shed dead weight and age in Brad Miller, gain a guy we can slot at center who is willing to learn his post game and given everyone we have kicking around in Houston, can most likely develop into a legitimately well rounded center able to do a decent job on defense and a great job on offense. If we’re talking ceilings I see him as the Anti-Thabeet, strong offense, mediocre/adequate defense, Thabeet going the mediocre/adequate offense strong defense mold. Before anyone starts knit-picking I said ceilings and nothing to do with contracts or nationality or what color underwear he’s got on right now, so don’t start.
The Flynn acquisition gives us three point guards. We like having third point guards in Houston. Unfortunately this third point guard is a very talented lottery pick point guard who will give Kyle Lowry a run for his money, I swear it. Kyle will have to continue to play in second half form if he truly wants to hold on to that starting job. Flynn, I think, has developing court vision (Not as good as Kyle’s) but has a game similar to what Kyle had before he broke out. Not much of a jumper but a hell of a slasher and he’s willing to make the risky pass to get the job done. I think Dragic is our most well rounded point guard if I’m honest. I love Lowry in the starting point guard spot because he has become reliable in knocking down critical shots and his passes are well received. Dragic to me does it all but doesn’t come through as well as Kyle in a couple areas. Flynn, I could easily see cracking into the rotation and shocking us if he’s not traded.
When the draft concluded the Rockets faithful collectively mourned now having 6 power forwards on a roster that needed a three and a five. Some argued that we did draft just that but the overwhelming feel on Morris was that he’s going to be better off as a four rather than forcing a position change. I’m seeing the ability of Morris to play the three and I hope the fact that I’m drinking the Kool-Aid means my faith will be rewarded. Our power forwards upon first impression looked to be:
Scola, Patterson, Morris, Hayes, Hill, Motiejunas
Then I got to thinking, let’s tweak this into a general lineup where I think everyone can fit/the front office sees them fitting.
PG: Lowry, Flynn, Dragic
SG: Martin, Lee, Williams
SF: Budinger, Morris, Parsons
PF: Scola, Patterson, Hayes
C: Thabeet, Hill, Motiejunas
That lineup goes three deep at every position, provides a pretty good mix in my opinion and with Hill and Motiejunas all being 4/5 guys I think we can steer clear of a lot of the rotational problems we’re all expecting because there’s versatility here and McHale, unlike Adelman, will use it. So, position-wise, I’m not so disturbed by it all.
Listening to McHale talk about these players and to watch the confidence they all exhibited was something inspiring to me. They just had this collected look of "We’re your new Houston Rockets and we’re going to make a difference." I think that’s huge when you consider that this draft, like all "weak" drafts tends to produce a few surprise gems and even more rotation players. I think we got some rotation players and I feel if McHale can unlock some defense and post moves in Motiejunas we may have walked away with a gem. The most important thing about McHale’s press conference is building faith in the young big men, which I feel we should have all seen coming once he was hired as the new coach. He specifically stated he’s worked with Jordan, Patrick, and Thabeet. Three bigs with a lot in the tank are getting their one on one work with a legendary big man. This speaks volumes about the commitment of both the players and McHale. Motiejunas seems excited to work with Kevin and this draft, this coach, and this organization has managed to earn my faith.