The Houston Rockets, for the second straight year, entered the NBA Draft with two picks and a desperate need for depth at point guard and outside shooting.
For the second straight year, they got neither using their two picks. Unlike last year, Daryl Morey wasn't content to stand pat with the roster entering Summer League; he made a move that could pay huge dividends right away.
At 37, the Rockets picked Chinanu Onuaku, the 6'9" center out of Louisville with little offensive game to speak of, other than how much everyone will be speaking of his free throw shot.
Onuaku is a big body with great athleticism. So is Montrezl Harrell and so is Clint Capela. Unlike the Rockets' second pick — more on him in a bit — there's no chance to stash him overseas. The Rockets either sign him to a contract or let him walk. The logjam of centers with no range and little experience only grows.
Six picks later, with Demetrius Jackson, an experienced, athletic, can-shoot-a-little-bit point guard who would be perfect for Mike D'Antoni's high pick-and-roll sitting available some 20 picks after he was expected to go, the Rockets selected Zhou Qi, the 7'2" waif from China, as a draft-and-stash.
This pick makes a little more sense after the initial selection: having four roster spots devoted to Harrell, Dekker, Onuaku and another second-rounder doesn't make much sense for a team competing for a championship. Plus, we know how much Les Alexander loves that the Rockets are the No. 1 team in China, and selecting Zhou certainly bolsters their position at the top.
As I was writing this post voicing my frustration with another head-scratching draft — not that Sam Dekker and Harrell weren't values last year, because they both were at their draft slots — mere minutes after the 60th pick was reported by Woj, Morey made his move, signing Gary Payton II to a three-year contract.
What looked like a draft sure to get C's and D's from around the league now looks like a stroke of genius. Payton had been pegged as a possible selection for the Rockets at 43. Instead, they get a useful big at 37, a valuable draft-and-stash player at 43 and the backup point guard they needed, all without giving up any future picks, players or cash.
Onuaku told reporters after the draft he had minor surgery to repair a heart condition, which is a little scary but has proved to be nothing NBA players can't come back from (Ronny Turiaf, Chuck Hayes). Zhou Qi is thin as a rail. GPII can't really shoot. That's the thing about losing your first round draft pick: any rookies you get are going to be inherently flawed.
But Morey did well with what he had before him. The NBA's silly season has already begun, with Serge Ibaka, Jeff Teague, George Hill, Derrick Rose, Robin Lopez and Victor Oladipo all trading teams in the last few days. It's hard to imagine Daryl Morey sitting out of the fray for very long, and I don't think many folks would be shocked if one or more of the three players taken last night were suiting up somewhere else come October.
The players under contract for the Rockets next year already are: James Harden, Trevor Ariza, Patrick Beverley, Corey Brewer, Sam Dekker, Harrell, K.J. McDaniels, Capela and Andrew Goudelock. Donuts and Terrence Jones are restricted free agents and there's no way both come back, with a possibility neither do. Michael Beasley has a very cheap team option.
That's 11 guys, assuming Donuts and Beasley are back, before the draft picks are signed. Depending on GPII's contract terms, that's 12. Assuming Onuaku signs, that's 13. Chances are the 11 listed above won't all be back. But the Rockets now have depth and youth backing up every position. Morey did well with what he had.
Draft grade: B