With the NBA playoffs in full swing, it’s hard to pay much mind to this summer’s free agency. That holds particularly true for fans of a team like the Houston Rockets.
After all, the team is cap-strapped. They’re also in a stage of rebuilding where signing a marquee free agent would be a questionable decision.
Not that any would likely want to join the team anyway.
Rockets fans are focused on the draft, and rightfully so. That’s the best avenue toward talent acquisition the team has in its current position. Still, the Rockets aren’t disqualified from participating in free agency. There are options out there. One of these players might be interested in getting in on the ground floor of a rebuild. The Rockets won’t be down forever.
Here are four players who could help them ascend sooner than later.
Sometimes, it’s appropriate to save the best for last. On the remote chance that Rafael Stone is an avid Dream Shake reader, I decided to lead with the name the Rockets ought to pursue the hardest.
I can already read the Quote Tweets before your angry fingers start formulating them. I know, I know: we don’t need a point guard.
Table your feelings about the Kevin Porter Jr. experiment for a moment. Every team needs a backup point guard. Jones may well be the best in the business.
Do you consider assist-to-turnover ratio a vital indicator of a point guard’s value? Jones’ 6.4 mark led the entire NBA in 2021-22. If God doesn’t make mistakes, consider Jones a modern-day Point God.
Otherwise, he shot 39% from three-point range. All Jones does is get the ball where it needs to go, and then get busy running around screens to pop open for threes. He’s a low-usage, high-efficiency floor manager.
At 26, he’s also young enough to warrant the Rockets’ attention. If Porter Jr. is the point guard of the future, Jones can keep the second unit humming for years to come. On the other hand, if it becomes clear that Porter Jr. is better suited for a different role, the Rockets would have his replacement in hand if they signed Jones.
If you’ll excuse me, I’m off to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of vitriol that the mere suggestion of another man playing a minute at the point guard spot in Houston will inevitably bring about.
Derrick Jones Jr.
Derrick Jones Jr. won the 2020 Dunk Contest. Since then, he’s slowly faded from the general NBA watching community’s consciousness. Quietly, he’s become a solid, functional utility player.
He’s not going to wow you with jaw-dropping stats. Jones Jr. averaged 5.6 points per game in 2021-22. The 32.8 percent he shot from long-range also falls short of awe-inspiring.
Jones Jr.’s desirability for the Rockets hinges on their draft. If they select even one of the many wing/forwards available, he becomes redundant. On the other hand, if Stone goes with, say, a big man and a guard, this team is still light on athletic, defensive-minded wing players.
Jones Jr. qualifies. His 0.5 Defensive Box Plus/Minus (DBPM) from last year is suggestive of a versatile defender who can guard one through four in a pinch.
In fact, Jones Jr. transitioned to a full-time four with the Chicago Bulls last year. In light of that, the 32.8 percent three-point percentage becomes at least palatable. It was also a career-high, and at 25, there’s reason to believe Jones Jr. will stay on an upward trajectory.
He could end up looking like a bargain if so.
It’s a little easier to envision immediate roles on the Rockets for either of the players we’ve listed so far.
I guess Culver may struggle to keep up with the Jones’s.
If the Rockets did sign Culver, it would be as a reclamation project. They’d be his third team in four seasons of NBA basketball. That’s not exactly encouraging.
It also makes sense. Culver has struggled to prove himself in the big leagues. His career 28.3 percent mark from long-distance is dreadful. He did post his first (barely) positive DBPM last year at 0.3 but at 9.1 minutes per game, it’s hard to lend that stat much credence.
Culver came into the league billed as a three-and-D with secondary playmaking and shot-creating abilities. So far, he looks like a no-3-and-no-D who hasn’t been able to earn a large enough role to show off any offensive chops.
It begs the question: why would the Rockets sign him? Well, he ought to be cheap. Any contract north of an annual $7 million salary should be too rich for Stone. Unless, of course, it’s a one-year prove-it deal.
Who knows? He may prove it. He was the sixth overall pick in the 2019 Draft. If he’s a late bloomer, it would be nice to see him bloom in Rockets red.
Yes, another point guard. Unlike Jones, Rondo would join the Rockets as an obvious non-threat to usurp Kevin Porter Jr.
There won’t be any stats in this write-up. I don’t even care how Rondo performed last season. This is strictly about landing a young team a veteran mentor.
By all accounts, Rondo is an exceptional one. It’s not hard to find multiple accounts of young players crediting him for their development. He’s seen it all in this league. He was the floor general for a title team before he turned 25. He was kicked off the Dallas Mavericks in the middle of a playoff series. It’s been a wild ride.
He’s also a basketball genius. If any player in the league can teach Porter Jr. how to make advanced reads, it would have to be Rondo. Furthermore, he’s got to be good for 10 minutes a night, doesn’t he?
I hope so. Every player on this team would benefit from playing alongside him. If he’s interested in a mentorship role, the Rockets can provide him a perfect place to fill it.