ATLANTA, GA - MARCH 09: Austin Rivers #0 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on against the Virginia Tech Hokies in their Quarterfinal game of the 2012 ACC Men's Basketball Conferene Tournament at Philips Arena on March 9, 2012 in Atlanta, Georgia (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Cinco De Mayo seems like an appropriate day to drop some draft prospect knowledge. Wait, it isn't? Fine, but since it's 1:30 and the Derby isn't on for another few hours, you'll get some anyway.
The Rockets pick at 14 and 16, but you never know what they'll do come draft night. They seemingly make trades every year, but to our disappointment, they haven't ever made a significant jump forward, at least not into the top ten. We keep hearing speculation every year — it just hasn't happened.
The Rockets could move up or move back, but I think if they do move forward, it won't be further than a few picks. It's just too difficult to jump into the top five, and though this draft is relatively deep, the top five prospects are head and shoulders better than those who are rated after them. I doubt teams would be willing to drop ten spots, even with additional players Houston could package.
So, to the point: I got to thinking about players who will be available between, say, 10 and 20. And I think I've stumbled upon a horribly embarrassing, yet necessary revelation.
I'm having second thoughts about my entire draft premise. The whole goddamn thing. Now, these thoughts could change next week and I could go back to thinking that the Rockets need to take players I had pegged earlier, guys with a great foundation and slightly less upside BUT... for now, I'm going to change my mind.
Holy crap, I can't believe I'm going to type this.
I think the Rockets need to come away with one of two players in this draft: Jeremy Lamb... or... (Christ almighty)... Austin Rivers.
Go ahead. Call me a flip-flopper, a whole two months before the draft. I ripped on Rivers last time, but then I went back to the tape. Hear me out on this, because there's one thing about Rivers that I can't seem to shake, nor can I seem to find in any players outside the projected top five: Austin Rivers really, really WANTS it. And he shows it on the court. And he's only nineteen.
The "killer instinct," or lack thereof, has killed off so many potentially good players. It has also elevated the play of many others who may not have possessed as much talent. I don't think Austin Rivers has the talent or athleticism of a lottery pick, but when I package together his shiftiness, his lethal outside shot, his dribbling ability and his "have-to" (as Chet Stedman would describe it)... I can't say no. I think the Rockets are in a position, as a franchise, that REQUIRES them to take a chance on Rivers.
So let's put it this way: The best case scenario is that the Rockets can land either Lamb at 14 or Rivers at 16 (or, heaven forbid, Lamb at 16). Heck, Chad Ford thinks Lamb could slip to 16. And I like Lamb, but for wholly different reasons than Rivers.
In fact, while we're at it, here's a list of "upside players" that Houston could realistically land within their target range. These aren't guys I would necessarily want to pick (especially if someone like Tyler Zeller falls), but they fit the type of player Houston should grab with at least one of its two picks:
Plus: Fantastic shot-blocker, massive length, can finish around the rim:
Minus: Needs to add a lot to his post game and his offensive arsenal in general.
Plus: Does a little bit of everything, massive length, great defensive potential, can finish inside.
Minus: Jack of all trades, master of none. Needs to improve outside shot and nail down a niche for himself, too much left to be desired.
Plus: Gritty competitor, great shot, can separate off the dribble and create for himself.
Minus: Needs to work on finishing around the rim, not too athletic, can be super one-dimensional and play with his head down.
Plus: Great versatility for his size (6'11). Can shoot from anywhere on the floor and has good quickness.
Minus: Needs to add strength and polish to his inside game, and the Rockets already have a similar prospect in Motiejunas.
Meyers Leonard (ewwww)
Plus: Great size, has a nice hook shot, improving his post game and plays pretty good defense.
Minus: Incredibly inconsistent, questionable motor and often looks like he's pushed around.
Plus: Great height and length for a small forward, good offensive game, can develop into a plus-defender as well. Lots of potential everywhere.
Minus: Knee injury still an issue? Questionable lift, doesn't get off the ground, athleticism somewhat hampered.
Plus: Great size, has gotten into much better shape, incredibly potent shot-blocker and defender.
Minus: Developing offensive game, subpar rebounder at this point, needs to add strength.
Tony Wroten Jr.
Plus: Great size and athleticism for a point guard, can score and get to the basket, Tyreke Evans-like in many ways.
Minus: Pretty bad shooting ability, questionable attitude, doesn't pass too often.
I'll have some more pointed analysis next time, but for now, UPSIDE. COME GET YOUR UPSIDE.