Two weeks ago, the 2020 NBA Draft was an afterthought for the Houston Rockets. They had no picks this year and appeared to be running it back with their current roster. However, James Harden and Russell Westbrook had other plans, as both guards requested a trade, pushing the Rockets on the brink of a rebuild.
To get a head start in what will surely be an eventful offseason, Rafael Stone made his first move as Houston’s new general manager. On Monday, he acquired two first-round draft picks and Trevor Ariza from the Portland Trail Blazers in exchange for Robert Covington. One of the picks obtained in the trade was Portland’s No. 16 selection in this year’s NBA Draft.
The grand prize of LeMelo Ball, Anthony Edwards, and James Wiseman will be well off the board by the time the Rockets are on the clock. The possibility of drafting a generational talent is highly doubtful, but Houston has an opportunity to draft a foundational piece should they be forced into a rebuild.
With the draft taking place tonight at 6:30 CT on ESPN and NBA TV, here are three players the Rockets should consider with their No. 16 pick via the Trail Blazers.
North Carolina | 6-3 Guard | Freshman
If the Rockets move on from both Harden and Westbrook — not only would it signify the start of a rebuild — but their departure would leave a significant void to fill at point guard. To avoid opening the season without a ball-handler, Cole Anthony would be an enormous selection for the Rockets.
After spending one season at North Carolina, Anthony established himself as one of the most explosive guards in this year’s draft class. He showcased his star potential by averaging a team-high 18.5 points — the second-highest scoring average ever by a UNC freshman. During a victory over Notre Dame in November, Anthony put on one of the best collegiate performances of the season scoring 34 points (12-24 FG, 6-11 3PT), 11 rebounds, and 5 assists in a win for the Tar Heels.
If not for a knee procedure that forced him to miss 11 games, Anthony’s stock may have been a lot higher entering Wednesday’s draft. Although he is an exciting, young prospect, the son of former NBA player Greg Anthony is one of the rawest players in the draft.
Any team willing to select the New York prodigy would have to be patient in his development. However, at 19-years-old, Stephen Silas’ experience in developing some of the best guards over the past two decades would give Anthony his best chance to reach his ceiling — a ceiling that has been compared to his idol Westbrook on occasions.
Memphis | 6-9 forward | Freshman
Precious Achiuwa is one of the most gifted players coming out of this year’s draft class. The general perception believes Achiuwa could creep his way into the lottery, but his struggles to shoot the three-ball could leave him available by the time the Rockets make their selection.
His shooting could be a liability, but Achiuwa excels at everything the Rockets need. Standing 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-2 wingspan, Achiuwa is an athletic forward who would add size to a depleted Houston lineup. His high energy on both ends of the floor rivals that of Montrezl Harrell — who is quickly establishing himself as a rising star in the league.
While he would help the Rockets establish an inside presence offensively, Achiuwa’s best attribute comes on the defensive end as a switchable defender who can protect the paint and guard perimeter players.
During his lone season at Memphis, the 21-year-old draftee led the Tigers to a 21-10 record (10-8 AAC) without projected lottery pick James Wiseman. Achiuwa received American Athletic Conference Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors in 2020 while averaging 15.8 points, 10.8 rebounds and 1.8 blocks in 31 games.
Note from the author: In March, I had the pleasure of watching Precious Achiuwa record a career-high 25 points and 15 rebounds in a 64-57 loss against the Houston Cougars. If Achiuwa gets draft by the right organization, he has the potential to become something special in the NBA.
TCU | 6-5 Guard | Senior
From a subpar three-point shooter to arguably the best, TCU’s Desmond Bane could be the most NBA ready player in the draft. At 22-years-old, it is rare to find a senior with as much upside as Bane.
He spent all four years at TCU, where he became one of the nation’s top three-point shooters. Bane ended his collegiate career shooting 43.3 percent from behind the arc while draining 573 threes. During his senior year, Bane shot a career-best 44.2 percent from behind the arc while averaging a career-high 16.6 points per game.
Although he is a lethal three-point sniper, Bane is not a one-dimensional guard who mostly stands around the perimeter. He possesses the ability to attack the basket by using his 6’6” body frame to create enough distance between him and his opponents — although not an explosive athlete.
If not for a global pandemic, Bane’s draft stock might have risen higher if given the opportunity to take part in the NCAA Basketball Tournament.