It’s anyone’s guess as to who the Rockets will take with two first round picks in the twenties for the NBA Draft in less than three weeks’ time.
As a rebuilding team, the Rockets don’t have a specific need to fill nor do they have a set target. After the top tier of athletes are drafted in the Top 5, the draft opens up and the range players go through increases tenfold.
And with two picks, it doubles the chances any of these first-round picks could come to Houston.
We spoke with Dylan Mickanen (@DylanMickanen) of NBC Sports Northwest to break down the draft profile of Oregon guard Chris Duarte, a 6’6” three-and-D wing.
1) Why should the Rockets, or any team for that matter, draft Chris Duarte later this month?
While he is one of the oldest players in the draft at 24 years old, Chris Duarte was one of the best players on college basketball last season thanks to elite play on both sides of the floor. He was the AP Pac-12 Player of the Year over Evan Mobley, a Third-Team All-American and was named the best shooting guard in the nation, winning the Jerry West Award.
In the 2020 NBA Draft, Payton Prichard exited Dana Altman’s program with similar accolades and was a rotation guard for Boston this past season. Duarte projects to be even more NBA-ready than him and thanks to his older age, he will be under team control for his best years as a professional.
At the next level, the 6’6” guard projects as a rotation player on any team thanks to 53.2%-42.4%-81% shooting splits as the team’s primary offensive option. His size and length lets him switch onto smaller and bigger players, too. To end the season, Oregon ran a switch-everything defense that saw the Ducks blow out No. 2 seed Iowa 95-80 thanks to Duarte’s 23 points on 9-12 from the floor.
2) What are Chris Duarte’s biggest strengths?
He will not lose you a basketball game. He can space the floor thanks to 42.4% three-point shooting, create offense off closeouts, and not be targeted on defense. The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie has mentioned several times Duarte was snubbed for a spot on the All-Pac-12 Defensive Team which both the eye test and his Pac-12 leading 1.7 steals per game backs up. He can also switch 1-4 thanks to quick feet and good size.
He will fit into any NBA rotation and can even start for teams with high-usage point guards or wings.
3) What are his biggest weaknesses?
Duarte’s ceiling is limited thanks to being among the oldest players in the 2021 NBA Draft. He will likely be who he is coming out of the draft, a solid three-and-D role player who can run a pick and roll if need be.
He cannot be an offensive engine at the NBA level but can create some offensive on second units and knock down open looks created by his teammates.
4) What NBA player would you compare Duarte to?
Duarte and Danny Green are the same height at 6’6”, can space the floor thanks to stellar three-point shooting, entered the draft older than their peers (Green was 22 on draft night), and can reliably defend. Duarte may be a better finisher than Green was early in his career but the comparison is eerily close.
5) What are his projections at the NBA level? How do you think his career will fare?
Duarte will be a solid rotation three-and-D wing until his early 30s with starter upside. I can see him making impacts during playoff runs as his game is tailor-made for postseason NBA basketball due to his shooting and ability to switch on defense. He is a so-called “16-game player.”
Houston holds the No. 23 and No. 24 picks in the 2021 NBA Draft but I fully expect Duarte to be gone by then. He declined a draft combine invite fueling speculation he has a first-round promise and now he has said he wants to be selected inside the lottery.
Potential landing spots begin with Golden State at No. 14.