I don't want just an OK point guard, something Jerian Grant or Tyus Jones — statistically speaking, as post-lottery first-rounders — are more than likely going to be.
The Houston Rockets made it to the Western Conference Finals last year with 37-year-old Jason Terry and Pablo Prigioni playing admirably adequate minutes. Heck, Terry was flat out good a lot of games (he kind of imploded against Golden State, but who didn't?). But it's not enough to lift the Larry O'Brien Trophy like the Warriors just did.
I want a great point guard, and Murray State's Cameron Payne has that type of potential. He's 6-2, but has a 6-7 wingspan and is a 185-pound 20-year-old, meaning his mature playing weight is likely somewhere north of 200 pounds. That's very good point guard size, especially the more we learn that arm length is likely more important than body length (see: Warriors, Golden State).
Murray was an efficient scorer and phenomenal distributor (he led all major draft candidates in assist percentage, according to Draft Express). Jones and Grant do both pretty well, but neither were outstanding. Grant is most effective as a playmaker with the ball in his hands, and while Jones is a superior deep threat, so was Jimmer Fredette. If you don't have the athleticism to get open, it's really tough to knock down three-pointers in the NBA. Especially if you're 6-foot-nothing, like Jones.
Payne looks like he's just a better player than either of the two players the Rockets are consistently linked to.
That much seems pretty obvious. After all, Payne isn't expected to fall to the Rockets with their No. 18 pick. DX's Jonathan Givony has him going No. 14 to the Thunder, and the NBA's pre-eminent mocker, Chad Ford, also has Payne going to the Thunder in his latest mock draft, a drop from No. 11 (Pacers) in his previous mock. It seems the tea leaves indicate the Pacers want a big man.
So the Rockets have options. They have the ammunition to move up 5-7 spots in the draft, if they so choose. But what path should they go down?
The idea of giving up Donatas Motiejunas to bank on an unproven player is a no-go. Donuts, with a full offseason of the Josh Smith Shooting Plan, could be even better next year and a natural fit next to Dwight Howard at power forward (he could stand to lose a couple pounds to get a little nimbler, but the thought of him being outmuscled on the glass even more than he was last year makes me throw up a little in my mouth).
However, it's no secret that Terrence Jones is a fungible asset. His cratering in the playoffs after a promising regular season and newfound expendability (assuming Josh Smith comes back, and indications are that he wants to) make him the most logical candidate to be moved. Any trade up would almost surely have to be packaged with the No. 18 pick.
Is Jones plus the No. 18 pick enough to move up to, say No. 12 and Utah's pick? The Jazz have Dante Exum, Trey Burke and Alec Burks at guard, but probably want a better third big man than Trevor Bookers. They could be a trade candidate. At No. 13, the Suns probably don't fit because they have the Morris twins and no need for another power forward who can't shoot threes (the Rockets have been there).
At No. 10, the Miami Heat could be looking to deal, although this is the highest pick they've had in half a decade and might just want the young talent. Daryl Morey doesn't have a history of doing moves with Pat Riley, and Jones and No. 18 might not be enough to get it done (Jones, Nos. 18 and 32 and Kostas Papanikolaou might do the trick, but would Payne be worth all that?).
After reviewing the tape and doing the research, I'm ready for the Rockets to take the plunge on a rookie point guard. They have the roster flexibility to fill holes elsewhere. Nick Johnson will never be an NBA-level starter, at best an athletically souped-up Patrick Beverley. The Rockets need one of those if they want to beat the Warriors, Clippers, Grizzlies, Thunder, Spurs, Cavs or Blazers next year. All of those teams have All-Star level point guards.
Ty Lawson's name is out there among those outside the circle only. Morey has been known to drop an out-of-nowhere bombshell trade (hey, Beard), but he's also known to be VERY OPEN about who he likes, especially last year when the Rockets were closely tied to Brewer and Josh Smith months (in Smoove's case, years) before Houston acquired them.
If you're with me and think Payne is significantly better than Grant or Tyus Jones, and think that Terrence Jones is more valuable in a deal than on the court, then the Rockets have to pursue this deal. Whether they find a taker is another matter altogether.