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Grading Rafael Stone’s first NBA Draft

How did Houston’s GM do in his first ever draft?

2021 NBA Draft Photo by Kostas Lymperopoulos/NBAE via Getty Images

It was quite the night for Houston Rockets GM Rafael Stone. For his first-ever NBA Draft, the squad was loaded with three first round picks (that eventually became four), meaning he was a busy man both before and during the draft. Stone served under Daryl Morey, so this wasn’t totally his first rodeo, but it’s his first stab at it while being the man.

This was a night that sets the Rockets up for the foreseeable future, so the importance of this class’s success cannot be understated.

We’ll take a quick snapshot look at each pick, grade every selection, then give Stone a cumulative mark at the end of this recap.

Pick #2 - Jalen Green - SG

The Mobley Mob doesn’t want to hear this, but Green was the right pick. Never draft a guy who doesn’t want to play for you and cross your fingers, and when it was revealed over the last week that Evan Mobley didn’t want to go to Houston and didn’t even offer them a workout, that was the final nail in the coffin for his chances in H-town.

But this is about Green and what he can bring to the team, and in my opinion, he has the highest potential offensive ceiling of any player in the draft. At just 19 years old, he’s already an adept and creative scorer, and he has an obvious fire and desire to compete that you want with your top draft choice.

His athleticism, jumping ability, body control, and move set are all off the charts, as he can put the ball in the hole in a variety of ways, whether that’s driving to the cup, hitting step-backs or side-steps, launching the three ball (37 percent in the G-League), or mid-range jumpers. He has an entire repertoire in his bag at this young age.

There will be some development to do on the defensive end and in fitting in with Houston’s motion-heavy offense, but Stephen Silas is likely jumping for joy at his new offensive toy, and Rockets fans should be too.

Pick Grade: A

Pick # 16 - Alperen Sengun - C

Wow, this was the big surprise of the night. Stone traded future protected first round picks from the Detroit Pistons and Washington Wizards to grab an extra pick this year and snagged some much-needed size and skill for the frontcourt.

The 6’10” and 240-pound Sengun was the MVP of the Turkish League (pro) last year, where he averaged 19.2 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.7 blocks per game, and he’s a polished post scorer that should be able to contribute right away despite also being just 19 years old. He’s also got a nice face-up game, has developed into an adept passer, and is considered a strong rebounder.

This was a major value pick for the Rockets, and it’s easy to see why they made the move to jump up and grab Sengun. Many people had him going in the top 10, and ESPN’s Kevin Pelton actually had Sengun ranked as his top prospect in this entire draft. Yes, you heard that right — higher than Cade Cunningham, higher than Jalen Green, higher than Evan Mobley.

He’ll also have some growth to do, as he’ll need to improve on the defensive end (not unusual for a young, offensive-minded big man) and also develop a three-point shot for today’s modern game, but there’s no doubting the Rockets got a guy at 16 that many people had much higher in their ratings. John Hollinger had him ranked at number four and later compared his game style to Kevin Love.

I have him fourth on my board. So you asked about analytics and Europeans before – the one thing that’s been super-consistent is, guys who destroy a good European league as teenagers, the fail rate is zero. Those guys all turn out to be players. You go back to Toni Kukoc, those guys aren’t going to miss.

His age also means he’s on the same development timeline as Green. Stone’s got a plan, folks.

Pick Grade: A

Pick #23 - Usman Garuba - PF

This is another value pick, as some places had Garuba as their top-rated power forward in the draft and is widely regarded as one of the best, if not THE best defender that was available on Thursday night. Most had him as a surefire lottery pick.

He’s slightly undersized at just 6’8”, but he has a ridiculous 7’2” wingspan to go along with superb defensive intelligence, a very high motor, and has already developed some of his man-strength.

He’s also just 19 years old, so say hello to that development timeline, and his defensive prowess should fit like a glove alongside Sengun’s more offensive-minded game. Again, I can’t speak enough about how much of a value pick this was.

In fact, The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie had him ranked in his top 11, which means that the Rockets took three players with that status on Thursday night (two of which they got at 16 and 23).

He’ll have some offensive development to do, as his game on that end needs a little polish, and he’ll likely be relegated to running the floor and cleaning up at least at the beginning, but he’s regarded as having potential for his jump shot, and it’s something Stephen Silas will be looking to unlock.

But this pick was about defense. And value.

Pick Grade: A

Pick #24 - Josh Christopher - SG

This was the only pick I didn’t absolutely love for the Rockets. And that’s not to say it was a bad pick. Christopher went right about when most people thought he would go, and it’s quite intriguing for the Rockets to have another #13 from Arizona State on the roster.

The 6’4” shooting guard is another adept defender that should be able to contribute right away on the wing, solidifying Houston’s draft with a plethora of young, talented 19-year-olds all on the same development path.

His shot selection needs some work, and his three-pointer needs tightening up, as he just shot 30 percent from deep last season at ASU, but his speed, athleticism and explosiveness are off the charts.

My only reservations about this pick is I would’ve like to see Houston snag a point guard here. They already took a shooting guard in Green, and they stocked up on big men with Gaurba and Sengun. I would’ve liked to see a young ball-handler taken here, especially with guys like Jaden Springer, Miles McBride, and Sharife Cooper still on the board. Still a solid pick, though.

Pick Grade: B

They say you can’t truly judge any draft for several seasons, but at least the morning after, from where this writer is sitting, this haul looks like a smashing success for Stone. I love that all of these guys are the same age, and I love that the Rockets took offense and defense. You have to like the move up for Sengun, and it’s evident that the Stone knew exactly what he wanted from the draft. I would’ve liked some ball handling, but that’s a minor gripe with everything else good that happened Thursday night.

Total Draft Grade: A


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