The Rockets now need a big man, that's no secret. They nabbed two young ones in last week's NBA draft, and while both are talented players who could contribute down the line, it's asking a lot of the 19-year-old Chinanu Onuaku and 20-year-old Zhou Qi to step in and get serious run right away.
Both are young, inexperienced and have some development ahead of them before they're ready to pitch in on a team looking to reload for a playoff spot. The 6'9" Onuaku has been touted for his defensive ability and the 7'2" Qi for his shot-blocking potential, but remember, there's a reason both of these guys fell into the second round. And second round picks have a historically terrible record for blossoming into starters.
There are exceptions, certainly, but overall, 94 percent of second-round picks fail to average over 25 minutes in the NBA in their careers. It's not a particularly reassuring fact, even if we can see the the possible upside of both players.
The Rockets then, are going to need to go hunting in free agency or trade if they hope to snag another piece to beef up their frontcourt, and Al Horford from the Atlanta Hawks looks like a quintessential fit in Houston and under new head coach Mike D'Antoni.
Horford is a 6'10" do-it-all center who could thrive in a front line next to just about any other Rocket, and his ability to play both inside and out would make him an ideal compliment in a James Harden-led offense. Horford averaged 15.2 points per game last year for the Hawks and continued to prove his versatility by shooting 50.5 percent from the field and 34.4 percent from beyond the arc. Both numbers are on par with Horford's career percentages.
Oh, and for good measure, he can also hit his free throws, something that would elicit a huge sigh of relief in H-town. Horford is a 74.3 percent free throw shooter, something the Rockets haven't really had at the five since Yao Ming and his career 83.3 percent free throw shooting last hobbled off the court.
Horford's a solid shot blocker, averaging 1.2 for his career and is coming off a career-best 1.5 per game last season, and he's regarded as very good overall defender, garnering a positive defensive-plus minus in every year he's been in the Association.
He's also put up a positive offensive plus-minus in every year but his rookie season, and he's a fantastic and willing pick-and-roll man. Horford was fourth in the NBA with 301 roll possessions, he averaged 1.13 points per possession off the roll, and his pick-and-roll shooting percentage of 54.2 percent was higher than any other player in the top 10 of roll attempts, beating out adept roll men Anthony Davis, DeMarcus Cousins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Serge Ibaka, LaMarcus Aldridge and Paul Millsap.
The only area Horford struggles a bit is with his rebounding, as he's only averaged double-digit boards once in his career and snags 8.9 for a total average.
But despite the-less-than perfect work on the boards, Horford's range, shooting and effectiveness on the pick-and-roll looks like every Rockets fan's dream in the upcoming new Houston offense. And to top it off, the Rockets have long mentioned Horford as one of their primary targets in the offseason, with one source even calling him Daryl Morey's "top-line target."
The Rockets also have over $40 million to spend in free agency and may have as much as $46 million depending on how things shake out, so they have the cheddar to offer Big Al one heck of a big deal. It would, on the surface, appear to be a slam dunk in fit.
One problem, however.
It appears, at least for now, that Horford remains the top priority in Atlanta as well. And the Hawks hold an advantage in that they can offer him a fifth season and additional cash above what any of the other suitors can. The Rockets' cap room may not matter with the Hawks' ability to offer more. And this is likely the 30-year-old Horford's last major deal. That little extra matters.
The Rockets are also dealing with a plethora of outside suitors as well. The Los Angeles Lakers, Orlando Magic, Boston Celtics, Detroit Pistons, Washington Wizards and Brooklyn Nets are all also said to be interested and have buckets of cash to spend just like the Rockets. This will certainly be an uphill battle for Houston.
For now, though, the Rockets are still said to be in the middle of a hot pursuit.
According to a source the Houston Rockets are looking at the following high-level free agents: Al Horford, Kevin... https://t.co/OIKqMBYL1Z— Calvin Watkins (@calvinwatkins) June 27, 2016
But with the market set to be fast and heavy due to the influx of cash, don't expect the team to linger any longer than they have to if they don't sense an "in." This is one of the most important offseasons in years for the Rockets, and they'll be in "upgrade at all costs" mode.
Horford may be a fantastic fit, but Houston will have to beat out a long list of other teams with both cash and opportunity to make it happen.