In case you have not noticed, the modern NBA is one where space triumphs over length. With the advent of much more active and sophisticated defenses and the lack of dominant presences in the paint, simply dumping the ball into the post and reacting off the defense is no longer a viable offense. Shooters with the capability to distort defenses are more of a commodity than ever, without which even the most skilled and dominating players will struggle to buoy an offense.
In a way, Rockets exploited a market inefficiency last season, collecting below-average three-point shooters and using the volatile nature of the three-point shot and sheer volume to artificially generate spacing. However, without more consistent contributors from the three-point line, the offense could not achieve the same potency as it had before.
While shooting is something best address through free agency rather than the draft, as shooting in the NBA does require a certain level of experience and adjustment, that does not mean the Rockets should not try to add depth with this particular skill in mind. You never know when you’ll need a Troy Daniels game, but you’ll be glad to have Troy Daniels when the moment comes.
With the Rockets' cap situation, any cheap contributor makes a major difference on their contending window. Finding an NBA-caliber shooter through the draft with a stable rookie deal, even not as an immediate contributor, can have far reaching consequences. In the case that the Rockets miss out on their targeted playmaker in the draft, adding one of many shooters available in this draft may be an agreeable alternative.
Here's a breakdown of some possible targets:
Probably the highest profile shooter of the draft, Devin Booker is the baby-faced assassin out of Kentucky that many compared to Klay Thompson. Devin Booker was the definition of a shooting specialist at Kentucky, shot lights out from 3 as their best and often only perimeter threat, but did very little else on the floor other than be part of an unbelievably athletic defense. To a certain extent, Devin Booker is one of the biggest mysteries of the draft despite his clear signature shooting skill.
As a general rule of thumb, college specialists are automatic turnoffs for me in the first round, as it denotes limited potential to specialize in college. Shooting particularly is an inherently volatile skill that requires constant honing and adjustment, so shooting specialist often can and will struggle with initial transition into the NBA. However, Devin Booker is a special case. He is the youngest player in the 2015 draft, which means he has plenty of potential left untapped, and Kentucky's platoon system and frankly unfair talent depth last season complicates the conventional evaluation of all of their prospects in this draft.
The pros of Devin Booker are fairly evident. He's big for a 2 at almost 6'6". He not only shoots with flawless mechanics, he reproduces the shot like carbon copies from everywhere on the floor. He is very accustomed to playing as an off-ball floor spacer. He shot 41% from 3 last season at Kentucky with the majority of his shots coming from spot-up situations. He is not only the youngest player of the draft, but also one of the most agile. He smoked everyone on the agility drill and shuttle run at the combine, with the fastest time in both tests at 10.27 seconds and 2.7 seconds respectively. He is praised as a high IQ, mistake-free player.
The cons of Devin Booker are at the same time overblown and understated. Devin Booker was conspicuously absent on the box score most nights. Aside from shooting percentages, almost all of his counting stats per 40 minutes were sub par. Much of this has to do with Kentucky's overall talent level, which may have restricted Booker's contribution, but an argument can be made that he's not going to play with worse teammates in the NBA or worse competition, so the lack of floor production is a very real concern. He also has a tendency to disappear in bigger games and moments, which points to the lack of shot-creating ability and aggressive attitude that's more conducive to professional success.
Hyped as the best mid-major player before the fall, R.J. Hunter struggled in his final college season on the one thing that got him on the national radar in the first place: shoot from deep. You may wonder why R.J. Hunter is included in this list when he only managed to shoot 30% from the college 3 in arguably his most important season, against inferior competition at that. The fact is, R.J. Hunter is a fascinating study in contrast to Devin Booker.
Unlike Booker, who played an one dimensional role on a deep and high profile team, Hunter is the star of a team in a conference most people don't even know exists. After winning the Sun Belt Player of the Year over the eventual lottery pick Elfrid Payton, R.J. Hunter ended up a marked man this past season, facing myriad defenses geared specifically to stop him. While his shooting severely dipped, the experience was invaluable, as he made a big leap in his play-making and free throw drawing rate.
At 6'6 with a 6'10 wingspan, Hunter's size is perfect for the wing position in the NBA, the length specifically should serve him well as a shooter and defender. While he is somewhat of a streaky shooter, his confidence in his shot is supreme. You can often see him pull up several feet beyond the 3 point line and still fill it up with ease, even in the midst of poor shooting games. The quickness with which he releases the ball is especially a plus in the NBA with waves of athleticism and length running at you all day. He's a well-rounded player statistically, contributing well in all categories with the exception of offensive rebounding (explained away by his presence firmly behind the arc).
However, one of his major knocks is that he played very sub-par competition in the Sun Belt conference. While Elfrid Payton also played in the same conference, Hunter is not quite as unique of a player to quell the same doubts. His wiry 185-pound body is a far cry from NBA-ready and could end up being a major hindrance defensively in the NBA. He also played in a very zone heavy defense his entire college career which, in combination with the talent gap between his conference and the NBA, could mean major struggles adjusting to NBA level defense.
Michael Frazier II
Perhaps the most overlooked shooter of the draft class, Michael Frazier II is strictly a 2nd round prospect with the potential to drop out of top 60 all together. However, Michael Frazier II also has a chance to be an absolute steal as an undrafted player, à la Troy Daniels.
Frazier holds no delusion about his ability on the offensive end. He is a 3-point shooter through and through. Over 70% of his shot attempts in college were 3-point attempts, and he finished his college career making 43% of those shots. While he didn't always put together consistent floor production, he was a very consistent shot maker off the catch. His free throw percentage was also in the high 80s all three years he was in school, which, in combination with his excellent 3 point percentages in high volume attempts, has led some to project him as the best pure shooter in the draft in the vein of Kyle Korver and Steve Novak.
Frazier is an extremely one dimensional player, and if 3 seasons under Billy Donovan never got him to change, he's not likely to change in the NBA. He's an undersized shooting guard that really only shoots 3s off the catch. He is an adequate NBA athlete and his Florida pedigree and 1.6 steals per game suggests 3-and-D potential, but that's really his ceiling.
Can you say combine warrior? Pat Connaughton recorded a combine high 44 inch max vertical, top 10 in both speed and agility and shot 70% in the shooting drills, along with an 18-point performance in the 5 on 5, going 4 for 8 from 3 in 26 minute. The former baseball prospect greatly raised his standing with an impressive weekend in front of the scouts.
As a teammates of Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton's sharp shooting from outside played a critical role in raising Grant's profile. All those great assist number would not look nearly as great without guys like Connaughton and Vasturia shooting over 40% from 3-point land. Connaughton was actually one of the best catch-and-shoot player in the draft, scoring 1.36 points per shot in catch and shoot situations and 1.28 points per shot on jump shots overall. He's also a deceptively good passer, posting an assist to turnover ratio over 2 for 2 seasons before settling back into the traditional floor spacer role his senior year.
Pat Connaughton doesn't project to be a great defender. Despite his athleticism and fundamentals, he doesn't seem to have the ability to lock down players one on one. The suspect ball handling skill, which is probably one of the hardest skills to hone in the NBA, really hurts his versatility as an offensive player. However, he is very competitive and tenacious, maybe even a little dirty sometimes. You could do worse in the second round than drafting a jumping bean sharp shooter that's a little dirty.
Rejoice, Canaanites, for I have found the second coming. If the Rockets draft Joseph Young with the 32nd pick, I'd be the least shocked person in the room. Not because Young is the best pick, but it's the Morey-est of draft picks. Undersized gunners that masquerades as PGs like current Sixer Isaiah Canaan are right up there with the 6'9 tweener forwards in the Daryl Morey addiction list. Mighty Joe Young fits the profile to a T, and that's before you realize he's from Houston.
To be fair, Joseph Young can really score. Twenty points a game with 1 point per play as the primary scorer his senior year. He only shot 35% from 3 his senior year, but he shot over 40% the two seasons prior. He was one of the best at hitting pull-up jumpers last season, averaging almost a point per shot. You don't really have to go far to find evidence of his great mechanics, as his 88% career free throw percentage should tell you all you need to know. Unlike most of the players on this list, Joseph Young can shoot in various different way due to his much more advanced ball handling. He even finishes very well at the rim. He may not be much of a passer, but he can certainly get a good shot off when you need one.
If Joseph Young was 2 inches taller and 2 inches longer, the NBA would be all over him as a two guard, but since he is only 6'2 with a 6'5 wingspan, he's cursed with the one position. The problem is, Joseph Young is an uninspired play-maker. His career high mark of 3.7 assists a game is at best mediocre, and over his four-year career, he never posted an assist to turnover ratio over 2. To make matters worse, he has been an inconsistent defender throughout his college career which doesn't bode well for his chances for playing time if he gets drafted by a contender.
Honorable Mentions: Anthony Brown, 3 and D specialist, killed it at the combine shooting drills. Tyler Harvey, might be the best shooter in the entire draft, like an older, slower, not as good at passing or dribbling Steph Curry. Corey Hawkins, undersized SG, 49% from 3 his last season in college. That's right, 49%!