The Houston Rockets are now in year two of the rebuild, which has seen its highs-and-lows. As I saw on Twitter, the Rockets’ fan base has grown tired of losing. But rebuilds do tend to deal with a ton of losing, it’s the nature of the beast, especially with a young team, and the averaged team age in Houston is 24.
Although Stephan Silas has received some of the blame for this season, spectators should give him more of a chance for next season. Silas won’t be on the hot seat until after the conclusion of his third season, as well as Rafael Stone. But the eyes could be on Silas and Stone next year, as the development should be better. Although the Rockets are 15-43, Silas has proven he can beat the big dogs of each conference.
The Rockets’ goal for next season is to compete for the 10th and 11th seed and maybe a play-in spot. What player from the draft can provide a right-now impact? My favorites are Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey, Johnny Davis, Keegen Murray, Nikola Jovic, and Ochai Agbaji. Each of those players provide defense, offense, and sudden impact to their selected teams. I’m not the biggest fan of Chet Holmgren because of his weight at 7’0 ft (195 lbs).
I brought some draft experts in to help out with the selection for the Rockets. And if they like my picks or not. Tobias Bass is an excellent high school basketball scout who is also connected with over 40 Division I programs when it comes to recruiting. Rafael Barlowe is in charge of the NBA draft boards for Locked On NBA and the Director of Scouting at Circuit Scouting and NBA Draft Junkies. They could have other players in mind for the Rockets.
Zach Allen: Tobias, Rafael, what is going on my guys? Who is ready to talk hoops? I got some interesting prospects that the Rockets could grab. Raf, I do like Nikola Jovic at the 16th pick on your big board. The Rockets received that pick in 2020 from the Brooklyn Nets in a blockbuster trade that involved Jarret Allen, Caris Levert, Rodions Kuruc and draft capital, which included James Harden leaving Houston. This pick could alternate soon because of the Ben Simmons-Harden trade and Kevin Durant returning from his injury hiatus and the vaccine mandate that could be lifted in New York City, as Kyrie Irving could become a full-time player again for the Nets. Hopefully, the pick could stay before the mid 20s, as I saw Ochai Agbaji drop on your board, Rafael.
Just to emphasize on Jovic and Agbaji: Both players are serious weapons for their selected teams. Agbaji is easily the best 3-and-D player in the draft. He does a phenomenal job of guarding one through five for the Kansas Jayhawks because of his incredible wingspan at 6’10”. His lateral quickness allows him to push players to whatever direction he wants them to go.
Agabji is also good in zone coverage, which allows him to play the passing lanes. Bill Self has used defenses like the triangle and 2-3 zones to defend the passing lanes and perimeter shooting. Having Agbaji on your defense betters those chances for deflections and steals. As a Senior, his defensive rating is a 99.8 per 100 possessions on SRCBB stats. And Agbaji also steals the ball at 1.4 steals per game at 100 possessions.
Agbaji has been at Kansas for four years, and it has allowed his offensive game to be more polished as a shooter, as he is versatile off the dribble, in catch-and-shoot, and in the open court. His point production has increased every year for the Jayhawks. Agbaji has gone from averaging 8.5 to 10.0 to 14.1 to 19.9 points per game because of his shooting. On the season, Agbaji is shooting 43.5 percent from three and 56.2 percent inside the arc. He does a great job at finding his own shot on the court when his team needs him.
His biggest issue with me is not understanding how good he is. Agbaji cannot scurry away from pressure or get discouraged when his shot is not falling. I really do like him for the Rockets.
On to Nikola Jovic– Do not get him confused with Nikola Jokic, as they both are 6’10” and Serbian. What can Jovic not do? Jovic is athletic, fast, quick, smooth, and has great agility. At his height, he can do it all while playing the guard or forward position.
Jovic is mobile around screens and in pick-and-roll as a ballhandler. While playing in the ABA Adriatic league in Europe, his shooting career splits are 42/34/76.8. Jovic is an incredible player in transition and has the prettiest passes and finishing ability at the rim. He uses his impressive speed to push the ball in transition. For a 6’10” player with a floater and ball handling skills, he could become a dominating force in the NBA.
Jovic did have a career average of 10.6 points per game, and although that’s not a high number, he’s and unselfish player. Jovic averaged a career 3.2 assist per game as an international player. If Rocket fans love Alpern Sengun, they’ll love Jovic. What do you guys think of my two possible selections with the Nets pick-swap?
I really like Jovic for the Rockets. I see him as a versatile connective tissue that does a little bit of everything that contributes to winning basketball. He has the size to play multiple positions and he’ll be a much-needed ball mover for a Rockets team that is ranked near the bottom of the league in assists per game.
Although the numbers may not reflect it, Jovic has a scorer’s aura. 10 points per game may not sound like a lot, but in Europe, it’s rare to find a player averaging 20 points per game. For example, Luka Doncic averaged 12 points per game in Spain’s top division his last season in Europe. Luka came into the league scoring 21 a night as a rookie. I’m not saying Jovic will be a big-time scorer early in his NBA career, but I do like how he’s got the team aspect AND has the mindset and ability to get his own shot and score in isolation. He really showed his scoring chops last summer at the Under 19s.
Agbaji is having an impressive senior season and shooting lights out from three. I’m kind of torn on where to rank him. The numbers look great, and he’s done everything you want out of a player as far as improving every year, but as a senior, he’s supposed to look good. The top prospects in college basketball are mostly a year removed from high school or sophomores, and he’s got a two-year advantage at the minimum, so I expect him to put up gaudy stats. But I do believe he has a defined role in the NBA and could help a team right now. But you never know, teams slept on Desmond Bane because they didn’t think he had much upside, and he’s been a real steal for Memphis.
Tobias Bass: Jovic is one of the more versatile prospects in this year’s class. If the Rockets draft him, I would like to see them trade Christian Wood down the line to free up more minutes for him. The Rockets are young and need to commit to being young. In a few years with good development, they could be a powerhouse in the Western Conference when LeBron James, Steph Curry, Chris Paul, and others retire. The Rockets are one of the worst passing teams in the league, and drafting a guy like Jovic would immediately make an impact in that category. Green has only been used as a cutter 14 times, a very low number for an above-the-rim player. Adding a player that can be a playmaker on the wing would allow Green to score points easier. Silas was a big part of Luka Doncic’s success in Dallas, maybe he can do something similar for Jovic.
Agbji gives me a Terrence Ross or a poor man’s version of Malik Beasley, as he could be a nice role player off the bench. As a senior, he’s putting up big numbers, but I expect him to do that with a big experience gap over most players. He is playing a bit out position as the Jayhawks typically have an NBA point guard, but with Remy Martin struggling/hurt, Agbaji is asked to be more of a playmaker at times and hasn’t been great. He currently has more turnovers than assists and is an average playmaker according to his Synergy numbers (9 for 19 as P&R Ball-Handler).
ZA: Fair… Now, let us get to the fun part. Lottery picks. If I’m the Rockets front office, my main interests are Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero, Jaden Ivey, and Keegen Murray. Johnny Davis would be an interesting pick if the Rockets had the number five pick. Murray could be good at that five pick too. I’m not a fan of Chet Hologram because of weight. I know he is the so-called ‘Unicorn’ and that is fine. That shit doesn’t matter in the NBA. It could take him three to five years to gain weight. NBA bigs will use the ‘weight room’ phrase all the time when matched up on him. He will be the number one target because he is an almost seven-footer and skinny. Everybody will want to dunk on him.
Besides not being fond of Chet, Smith has proven all season he can guard one through five one defense, as he is versatile at 6’11”. He is an excellent defender in drop coverage on the pick-and-roll aspect and knows when to switch. Smith is a great reminder of Evan Mobley because of his wingspan and good feet. He has a wingspan of 7’1” that can trap opposing players in his existence. Smith also has great hands, which allows him to steal the ball from opposing players. On the season, Smith is averaging 1.3 steals per game with a defensive rating of 89.4 per 100 possessions. Smith is excellent at defending the rim. He can do it at every angle. Rather if he is in transition, help defense, or head on with an opposing player. On 100 possessions, Smith averages 2.0 blocks per game.
On the other side, which is offense, Smith is averaging 15.8 points per game with shooting splits of 43.8/41.9/78.5 percent. Smith knows how to play the wing well, as he has incredible shooting range from three and good ball handling skills and the ability to find his shot near the rim, as he can drive and create his own shot. He understands when to slip or roll on the pick-and-roll, as his point guards find him on various lobs. His best attribute is when he plays in transition and can outrun his defender towards the rim. Smith will have to get stronger so bigger centers won’t bully him around the court.
Paola Banchero could be an excellent pick for the Rockets, as he already has an NBA body at 6’10”. He does everything for Duke offensively and can play one through five on offense because of his versatility. Banchero averages 16.9 points, 8.5 rebounds, and 2.8 assists per game while shooting 47.0 percent from the field. Although he shoots 31 percent from three, Banchero does a great job of spacing the floor with his shooting and passing. He can initiate Duke’s offense as a screener or ball handler. And make tough shots with his back to the basket, as he is shooting 52.4 percent from midrange. He is also a creative shot maker and has great body control at the rim.
Banchero isn’t a scrub on defense, as he has a 90.9 defensive rating. He does a phenomenal job of guarding one through five on defense and plays the pick-and-roll well as a switch defender or in drop coverage. Hopefully, he found a way to control losing his weight while sweating because that is a risk for any team in the NBA.
Another forward I like is Keegan Murray, as he leads the Big Ten in scoring with 23.3 points per game this season. Murray has upped his scoring from 7.2 points per game in the 2020-2021 season. He does a great job at spacing the floor at 6’8” because he shoots 36.7 percent from three. Although Murray is a good shooter, he knows how to get to the rim by attacking downhill, including on transition. Like Jae’Sean Tate, he knows how to move without the ball on offense and be effective. Murray does a great job at making the right play, which led him to score 37 points over Nebraska.
These forwards are impressive but who should the Rockets select?
RB: I personally like Banchero the most. I believe he’s the most NBA ready and I love his potential as a 6’10” pick-and-roll ball handler. I think Silas has the creativity to put Banchero in the best position to succeed and maximize his skill sets. Banchero and Sengun would give Houston two guys on the front line that can score on the block, pass, and knock down open shots. I believe both will be at least league average three-point shooters.
TB: Banchero is my favorite prospect in the class. Playing him alongside Sengun is a nice one-two punch in the frontcourt and would take some of the pressure off Jalen Green in his young career. As Green learns to be a better playmaker, tagging him with Banchero would allow Green to play and potentially score easier baskets. In the long run, as their chemistry develops, you could see a reverse pick-and-roll and pick-and-pop situation with Banchero creating for Green.
ZA: With the last two players, which is Jaden Ivey and Johnny Davis, they impress with their athleticism and shooting. They bring a certain electricity to the building with the ability to wow the crowd.
Ivey is a highlight reel that can score in transition because of his speed and quickness. It’s incredible to watch him finish over defenders with dunks or creative layups. He can also be an effective playmaker in transition or in half-court offense. Ivey reminds me of Vince Carter and Ja Morant because he screams excitement. He bettered his shooting from the previous season at Purdue. Ivey shot 25.8 percent from three but now shoots 38.4 percent at the three-point line off 4.8 attempts per game. He made certain adjustments to his release and shoots the ball with more confidence. As his shooting got better, his point production went up to 17 points per game on the season. Ivey isn’t afraid to shoot off the dribble either, which makes him dangerous.
Davis is a versatile scorer who can score wherever on the court because of IQ. Davis is a smart scorer by picking the correct shots and knowing when to attack the lanes. He sees when the defense shifts and determines if he will take a jump shot or not. Davis isn’t the best three-point shooter but can still shoot it. He is much better below the arc and can hurt defenses with his post-up offense, which could be far from the basket. Davis shoots 47.6 percent from the midrange category, as he loves that area like Demar Derozan.
I honestly became impressed with Davis when he dropped 30 points on the Houston Cougars in Hawaii. Davis understood how to dig himself into the paint to create difficult shots. He even made four threes that game, as he shoots 33.3 percent on the season. Although Davis shoots 44.1 percent from the field, he is averaging 20.7 points per game as a sophomore at Wisconsin.
I do think Ivey would be a better pick over Davis because of a talent standpoint. But Davis could add more balance to the Rockets, as they have a ton of guards already.
RB: On one hand, I don’t think Houston needs any more guards unless they plan on bringing in a legit table setter to run the offense. However, I would not pass on Jaden Ivey because Kevin Porter, Jr. is on the roster. I think Davis is the better college player and I love his game, but there are some concerns based on his style of play. I’d go with Ivey simply because Ivey and Jalen Green would be an electric backcourt. If Ivey can develop into a better playmaker, then he could have a Ja Morant type impact.
TB: The more players the Rockets get, the better. It would be tough to pass up on Jaden Ivey from a talent standpoint and with him being so dynamic with the ball in his hands. Both Ivey and Johnny Davis will have to improve as playmakers, but where I would give Davis a slight edge in this scenario would be his pace of play and his ability to do more with less.
Davis plays more under control as opposed to Ivey. Ivey leaves his feet to make passes quite often, which makes it easier for defenders to turn him over. Dynamic player, but it can be a gift and curse at the same time, as he can be a bit too aggressive.
Lastly, Davis is doing more with less, he isn’t playing with any draftable players at the moment, so he’s asked to do a lot on both ends. With his usage rate being so high, he does a good job of keeping the turnovers down. Not to mention the Badgers go long lapses without scoring and rank 306th in three-point shooting. Paring him up with Jalen Green, Christian Wood, and others would set Davis up for long term success in my opinion.