Forget about the NBA for a second, and let's talk COLLEGE.
So selection Sunday came and went, 64 teams will fight for the amateur glory that is the NCAA Basketball Championship. March Madness officially begins this week, but let's be honest, most of us don't really care who wins the tournament in the end. No one knows all 64 teams in the tournament, and no one wants to watch them all. Even the greatest Bracketologist will tell you they probably only saw Western Kentucky play maybe once this season, and god knows who's their leading rebounder. They just know Western Kentucky is going to get stumped. March Madness is barely about quality games, competition, or basketball even; it's about drama, pride, and excitement. It's wearing your school gear while getting drunk, yelling at the TV. It's winning the office pool of 300$ with the best bracket. It's watching some no-name team beat Duke for the Nth time and teasing your Duke graduate brother in law relentlessly. That's what people care about March Madness.
For the NBA fans that do not follow college basketball, it is also a time to see some future NBA players shine or struggle in the big stage. We don't care who leads Western Kentucky in points. We only care about watching Ben McLemore score like the possible #1 pick he is, and maybe a little Jeff Withey (no, we don't really care about Jeff Withey. If you do, you're an idiot). For us Rocket Fans, we don't even care about that. What's the point of talking about Victor Oladipo's Jordan like rise in production, Otto Porter's all around game, and Cody Zeller's weirdly short arms? Ben McLemore is not going to fall into our laps in the draft because all the Rockets have is a 2nd round pick in the mid 30s.
So who do we care about?
First, let's talk need. Morey always drafts talent over need, but the Rockets are at a point where needs should be weighted a little more. Rockets need a bench. Carlos Delfino, Francisico Garcia, Aaron Brooks all have team options that we are likely to decline for the 12 million cap room they create. Patrick Beverley, Greg Smith and Tim Ohlbrecht are not a lock to stay either. By the time we hit free agency this year, the Rockets may be in the market for a major bench reconstruction. Pretty much any player who can come in and be a decent backup will be welcomed with open arms. This actually opens the Rockets up with a lot of flexibility on who they can draft with that Phoneix 2nd round draft pick. Rockets still have 4 power forwards on roster locked up for 4 years, so I think it's a safe bet that we won't get another 6-9 PF in the near future, but otherwise, we can use a quality contributor at any position really.
The Rockets need defense like they need the vaccine to the flu from movie Contagion. The wing positions are particularly important. Chandler Parsons has been a worse defensive player this season as he assumes a bigger role offensively, and James Harden has been a sieve as well. We needed someone else that can lock-down on the perimeter and help offset Harden's defensive woes. In the paint, Asik is a monster on the boards, but we don't seem to trust him to solely cover the back end, often pack the paint with our guards.
Defense is a hard thing to translate from college to the NBA because players are superior athletes in the NBA and team defenses are difficult to grasp; however, players with defensive mindsets and tools often take pride in such ability and often get on the floor faster than players that are better offensively.
Rockets can also use some more players that can make shots and create offense by themselves. Jeremy Lin and James Harden are great, but the rest leaves a lot to be desired. Another offense creator would certainly be welcomed.
Instead of breaking this down by positions, I am going to break this down by what a player can contribute to the team, and understand that I will only be talking about players currently projected in the lower first round and 2nd round that are likely to be available. This is not a comprehensive list, only players that I speculate will be on the Rocket's draft board come summer time.
Andre Roberson of Colorado is, ironically, a PF at the college level, but his body type projects him to be a SF in the NBA level. Standing 6'7" with a 6'9" wingspan, the Pac 12 defensive player of the year is a monstrous rebounder and a nightmare on defense. He's 2nd in the nation in rebounds per game playing for a major conference. This kid just flat out eats glass with his relentless motor and energy, he's such a tremendous athlete that he frequently frustrates guards and forwards out on the perimeter, and he's strong enough to cover power forwards while compiling decent blocks and steals per game without fouling at a high rate. Offensively, Roberson is fairly poor at this point, as neither his scoring ability nor shooting ability progressed in his 3 years in college. He's still a sub-60% free throw shooter, and that indicates he will likely take the next step with his outside shooting. He is only 21, and his defensive abilities make him worth a flyer. Perimeter Defender, Rebounder, Energizer
Reggie Bullock of UNC may be a surprise player that will see his draft stock rise in the tournament. Currently projected to be 44th pick on Draftexpress.com, 75th in the CBS prospect list and no where to be found on the NBAdraft.net, Bullock may be a forgotten man in the NBA circuits. However, he has quietly become Tar Heel's 2nd best player behind James McAdoo, sporting a scorching hot 43% mark from deep. He's an average athlete with average wingspan, but has shown the ability to guard 1 through 3 and do a decent job of staying in front of some of the better scorers in college. He is often tasked to guard the opposing team's best scorer. UNC has not won a lot of big games this season, but they will meet with Kansas in the 2nd round. Reggie Bullock's defense against Ben McLemore will be something that will impact his draft stock greatly. Floor Spacer, Perimeter Defender
Gorgui Dieng of Louisville is probably the best defensive center in the 2013 draft. He stands 6'11" with a 7'6" wingspan, almost perfect size for today's NBA. He's an excellent shot blocker, but perhaps the most impressive thing over his college career is the fact that he has learned to block shots without fouling at a high rate. He's not a strong defensive rebounder, but he is trending positively on his rebounding, improving every year since his freshman year. His wingspan also makes him a formidable offensive rebounder, grabbing nearly 4 a game at the college level. He has long strides and may prove to be a good pick and roll partner. Louisville features a couple of nations' better scoring guards, so you may get to see his impact on offense. He's a sneaky good passer for his position, but does not possess much offensive capability beyond that. He's a hard worker that hustles constantly as well. His struggles to finish around the rim reminds me a little of Omer Asik, but you could do worse than having 2 Omer Asiks. Due to the general scarcity of centers and the overall unpredictability of African centers, Dieng may soar up the draft board and out of our pick range, but nonetheless he is one of the prospects worth your attention. Paint Protector, Rebounder, Screen setter
Dieng's fellow teammate Russ Smith of Louisville is a whole different kind of prospect all together. Russdiculous is a tremendous scorer that plays pesky defense with great lateral quickness and a set of cat quick paws, so why is he considered a second round talent ? Well, for one thing he's only 6 feet tall, and plays mostly off guard. All you have to know is that Jeff Van Gundy thought Russ Smith was related to JR Smith because of their playing styles, which pretty much says it all about Russ. Rockets need a 3rd shot creator, and Smith has the tools to do that. Smith has a tremendous first step and hesitation dribble that pretty much allows him to get to the rim at will. He scores 18 pts a game without playing 30 minutes a night to make him one of the top per-minute scorers in the nation. His slash and bump style also earns him 6.5 trips to the line per game, where he makes 83% of his free throws. Despite his short stature, he is an excellent defender with good anticipation skills on defense. The only problem with Russ is that he is not a point guard. He does not pass and see the floor well, and he has basically zero concept of shot selection, which kills his shooting percentages. However, his numbers do trend upward over the course of his college career and his ability to score more 1 point per possession makes him a good candidate. His aggressive, paint attacking mentality and his skill set fit our offense quite well. Scorer,
Frustration Shot creator, Perimeter Defender, Energizer
Point guards are a dime a dozen these days, you cannot walk through the street without tripping over one. As good of a back court as we have, we certainly can use more play makers on the team to alleviate ball handling responsibilities. Missouri junior Phil Pressey may be the guy that fills the need. His physical profile bears a striking resemblance to Chris Paul, Pressey plays like a pure point guard as well, posting the 8th best assist per game number in the nation. His assist to turnover ratio was 2nd in the nation before big turnover games against Florida and Texas A&M dragged his overall number down. He's an impressive floor general, and very strong ball handling skills coupled with an excellent ability to read defenses and recognize cutters makes him a good lead guard prospect. He's also quite fluid running the pick and roll, maybe the biggest contributor to teammate Laurence Bowers's success. The undersized point guard with a slightly above average wingspan is a sneaky good athlete, able to rise up for unsuspecting dunks off of flat feet. Pressey is not the caliber of defender that Russ Smith is, but he does get his fair share of steals and stays in front of the players well. His shooting, especially 3 point shooting , has trended down over his 3 year career, so it will be something scouts focus on in the tournament. Phil Pressey might be a 2nd round steal candidate. Play maker, Shot creator
Rockets definitely can use a versatile shooting guard, either a combo guard or a swing man would be very useful backing up James Harden and Chandler Parsons. Unfortunately, big dynamic guards are also somewhat of a rarity these days. Tim Hardaway Jr of Michigan is the 3rd head of the Cerberus that is the Wolverine offense. He's not the supreme talent that Trey Burke is or the explosive athlete Glenn Robinson III is, but he has the versatility to compliment them. Hardaway has a very good jump shot off the dribble, that at times has looked as unstoppable as any with his superior length at SG. Oddly enough, he is not the same type shooter off the catch and shoot, however that is something that can be improved in the NBA. He does show a consistent ability to put the ball into the bucket and demonstrate very good ability to create his own offense by slashing and create space for himself. His main weapon is an efficient mid-range jumper. He does show good potential on the defensive end, and the ability to stay with SG's at the college level, though his defensive effort is inconsistent. His progress as a player over the 3 years is limited, so he may be already near the peak of his development. Shooter, Jack of all Trades.
These players are not perfect, if they were, they'd be in the first round lottery list with guys like Trey Burke and Ben McLemore. They are mostly junior player that may have stagnated in their development in college, but they still have solid potential and bring a distinct skill that may benefit the Rockets. I hope this post piques your interest in watching the NCAA tournament a little more in the midst of a frustrating playoff race for the Rockets. Plus, in about 6 months, you can come back to this post and laugh at how horrible I am at scouting players.
Add anything or anyone you like below in the comments.
Possible undrafted NBA players to watch: Shane Larkin, Tony Snell, Zeke Marshall, Ryan Kelly, Matthew Dellavedova.
Most unfortunate name for a basketball player in the tournament : Jason Brickman of LIU, who ironically shoots pretty well.