Next Thursday, the Houston Rockets will select three of 60 players who will hear their names called inside the Barclays Center during the 2021 NBA Draft. But once NBA Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum announces the final name at pick No. 60, several talented players will be left for the Rockets to sign as undrafted free agents.
If there is anything Rafael Stone taught the fan base during his first year as general manager, it’s not to doubt his ability to find gifted ballplayers who have fallen by the wayside.
Headlined by Christian Wood, who went undrafted in 2015, Stone constructed a roster that featured seven players who went undrafted in their respective class who played a significant role in Houston last season.
Unless Stone trades into the second round, the Rockets will be extremely active searching the market for undrafted free agents at the conclusion of the draft. With the help of NBAMockDraft.net, here is a look at three prospects the Rockets should target if these players go undrafted.
Michigan State | 6’6” Forward | Junior
Aaron Henry flirted with the idea of entering the NBA Draft last year but decided to go back to college to build his stock. Although his status has likely remained unchanged, Henry’s final season at Michigan has certainly improved his chances of joining a team as an undrafted free agent following the draft.
He is one of the best defensive prospects coming out of college this year who can defend positions one through five. If Henry improves his inconsistencies as a three-point shooter, he has the potential to develop into one of the better 3-and-D players in the league.
With the exception of drafting a franchise-caliber player with their top overall selection, the Rockets should focus on obtaining players who could help improve their inferior defense. During the 2020-21 season, the Rockets tied for the third-lowest defensive net rating (114.4) while giving up 116.7 points per game. The addition of Henry would help Houston solve several of their defensive woes in 2022.
During his junior year at Michigan, Henry received Big Ten All-Defensive Team honors after recording 5.6 boards, 1.3 blocks, and 1.3 steals for the Spartans, while scoring 15.4 points in 28 games.
Georgia Tech | 6’0” Guard | Senior
Jose Alvarado is a four-year prospect from Georgia Tech who could fill multiple holes for the Rockets. His acquisition to the team would add much-needed depth at point guard given the uncertainty amidst John Wall and D.J. Augustin, while adding to the Rockets’ necessity for an additional ball-handler. But Alvarado’s most noteworthy contribution he could bring to the Rockets is his defense.
The 23-year-old New York native is a lockdown defender on the perimeter, whose scrappy defensive play forces the opposing team’s ballhandler into committing high turnovers. During a pre draft interview with the Pacers, Alvarado said his play on the defensive side of the ball will be his “gold card” into the NBA.
His small stature at an even 6’0” could be the reason Alvarado finds himself as an undrafted free agent. But joining Houston’s development system could help Alvarado transition his defensive talents to the highest level — despite being undersized when compared to his NBA counterparts.
Alvarado is the ACC’s reigning Defensive Player of the Year after he led the conference in steals (2.8 SPG) during his final season at Georgia Tech. In 106 games played for the Yellow Jackets, Alvarado averaged 13.5 points while shooting 44.4 percent from the field, 34.1 from behind the arc, to go along with 3.6 assists and 2.1 steals.
Iowa | 6’11” Center | Senior
Luka Garza is in an interesting spot ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft. Ten years ago, Garza would have arguably been one of the top-15 players selected in the lottery — given his decorated college resume. But in today’s NBA, there is a chance Garza will go undrafted.
ESPN has Garza ranked as the 55th overall best prospect, while NBAMockDraft.net does not have him drafted. A big reason behind Garza’s lack of esteem one week from the draft is his struggles on defense. Garza’s inability to defend smaller guards when attacked off the dribble makes him a defensive liability at the NBA level, and he is a mediocre rim protector despite standing at 6’11”.
But if the Rockets are looking for a project big to add to their frontcourt following the draft, Garza would make a solid addition should he go undrafted.
Offensively, Garza possesses all of the tools required for a modern-day big man. He has a brilliant touch around the basket to develop into a solid low-post scoring threat and knows how to use his body to fight off his defenders. However, his best offensive quality is his ability to step beyond the arc to knock down the three-ball.
Garza has the potential to entrench himself as one of the better stretch big men if given the opportunity in the NBA, as he ended his collegiate career shooting 36.7 percent from behind the arc. The addition of Garza would give the Rockets two big men — one being Wood — who can continue to create spacing on the floor without giving up size in the process.
During his final campaign at Iowa, Garza received the honor as the BIG-10 Player of the Year for the second consecutive season in 2021. He recorded a career-best 24.1 points per game (55.3% FG, 44.0% 3PT), 8.7 rebounds and 1.6 blocks for the Hawkeyes as a senior.