With the 2018-19 NBA season finally coming to a close Thursday night, it’s officially draft season.
Regardless, even if the Rockets stand pat, acquiring an impact player is certainly still feasible.
In recent years, due to the evolution of the 24-hour NBA news cycle, the draft has become one of the largest exercises of groupthink in existence. Every year teams let rotation-quality players slip through their grasp due to preconceived notions about the flaws that were present in their expanded college roles, and due to the recency bias that comes from seeing “higher upside” prospects cross-up pylons and dunk on 5’10” trainers.
The most prominent example of this comes in the 2016 draft, when all 30 teams passed on Wichita State senior, Fred VanVleet due to his age and perceived lack of upside. Almost three years to the day later, VanVleet received the only Finals MVP vote that didn’t go to Kawhi Leonard.
The undrafted free agent process is no laughing matter.
So, with that said, in recent weeks, the Rockets have worked out ten fringe-draftees. Let’s take a look at the notable prospects:
Shooting Guard, Sophomore, Washington. Aggregate Draft Ranking: 50
At 6’4”, 202 lbs, with a 6’7”wingspan, Nowell is slightly undersized for a two guard. However, what Nowell lacks in size, he makes up for in athleticism.
Although Nowell only played zone at the University of Washington, making it difficult to analyze his defense, his freakish natural ability bodes well for projecting his defensive impact at the next level.
As for offense, Nowell’s most common comparison is the New York Knicks’ Allonzo Trier. Like Trier, Nowell’s best skill is his isolation game. Per Synergy Sports, this past season, Nowell posted solid isolation efficiency despite high volume and mediocre spacing. Although he won’t have anywhere close to the same opportunity to score in the NBA, the ability to break down your man is always a sought-after commodity.
Nowell’s ability to isolate and defend, along with his 44 percent clip from three, make him a natural fit with the Rockets should he fall come Thursday’s draft.
Shooting Guard, Senior, Mississippi State. Aggregate Draft Ranking: 74
At 6’4”, 205 lbs, with a 6’9” wingspan, Weatherspoon faces similar size issues as Nowell. While not near the athlete Nowell is, Weatherspoon makes up for it with his superior shooting ability. Per Synergy Sports, this past season, Weatherspoon finished in the 94th percentile in spot up efficiency. That kind of proficiency as an off-ball threat, theoretically, makes him an excellent ancillary piece to play alongside Houston’s star guards.
Weatherspoon’s main critique, outside of his athleticism, is his decision making. At Mississippi State, Weatherspoon routinely took questionable shots and turned the ball over. However, following a sensational performance at the Portsmouth Invitational, where his poise and patience were on full display, many believe those issues were more a product of circumstance than character, as Weatherspoon had little offensive support in college.
Weatherspoon’s primary comparison thus far is the New Orleans Pelicans’ E’Twaun Moore. Much like Moore, Weatherspoon makes up for his lack of size with a crafty in-between game to complement his smooth outside stroke.
Should Weatherspoon go undrafted, he could be an especially intriguing prospect for the Rockets’ summer league team.
Small Forward, Syracuse, Sophomore. Aggregate Draft Ranking: 77.
At 6’8”, 205 lbs, with a 6’11” wingspan and ridiculous bounce, Brissett is easily the most NBA-ready player the Rockets have worked out from a physique and athleticism perspective. Unfortunately, that’s arguably the only area where Brissett is up to NBA standards.
In his two years at Syracuse, Brissett was extremely inefficient, shooting 31 percent from beyond the arc and posting an abysmal assist-to-turnover ratio. What’s more discouraging is the decline in Brissett’s game from his freshman to sophomore year, as he regressed in every statistical category besides assists and saw his shooting percentages drop significantly despite working primarily on his jumper in the offseason.
Despite all these drawbacks, Brissett is an extremely intriguing prospect. He has the potential to defend at a high level and the mechanics on his jumper are far from irreparable. If the Rockets took the time to develop Brissett, he could be a bargain 3-and-D contributor in only a few years.