The NBA Playoffs can be hard to watch as a fan of a lottery team. The deeper they run, the harder the realization hits: your team has a long way to go.
The Houston Rockets approach the draft with a lot of needs. They need wings and rim protection. They need playmaking. Basically, they need good players. Fortunately, there are a lot of them in this draft.
This year’s crop of prospects is light on clear-cut, undeniable future superstars. On the other hand, it’s deep. It’s a good draft to have two picks in. As it stands, the Rockets are primed to select third and seventeenth.
Is Stone set on that order? Or is it perhaps not set in stone?
(I am so sorry).
They should have options if the Rockets wanted to trade up from the 17th pick. They’re loaded with future-focused assets and roster a few useful veterans at the same time. It may be costly, but if the organization sees a player they need to have that won’t be on the board at 17, they should be able to get them.
Here are four players they could target in a trade-up scenario.
Ousmane Dieng (New Zealand Breakers), F
If you’re an avid Dream Shake reader, you’ve already read my piece about Dieng. I would sacrifice non-vital organs to see the Rockets draft this kid. I am a staunch believer.
After all, 6’10”-ish ball-handlers don’t grow on trees. They’re also some of the hottest commodities in the NBA. Dieng is one of them. He’s a fluid athlete with exceptional passing vision.
If not for some early season shooting woes with the New Zealand Breakers, Dieng would surely be a top 10 prospect in this draft. For what it’s worth, his jump shot is fluid and his mechanics are solid, if not downright pretty. If Stone is willing to chalk up those early struggles to rawness, he might target Dieng.
Make no mistake: this is a high ceiling, low floor prospect. To my mind, Dieng is either Pascal Siakam or he’s Aleksej Pokusevski (sorry, Poku truthers).
Here’s hoping Stone is willing to roll the dice.
Dyson Daniels (G League Ignite), G/F
Of all the prospects on this list, Daniels would be the most ambitious target. He’s garnering top-five consideration. He probably won’t be a Houston Rocket.
With that said, this draft gets unpredictable outside of the top four. If the Rockets could trade into the 10-13 range, Daniels could be available.
He could be a major steal if he is. Daniels is either a 6’7” wing with point guard skills or a 6’7” point guard with wing defense. As it happens, the Rockets absolutely need wing defenders, and may-or-may-not need a point guard.
In other words, Daniels’ development ought to suit the Rockets no matter which direction it takes.
If he wants to be a full-time point guard in the NBA, he’ll probably need to improve his handle. It’s solid, but Daniels is currently a straight-line driver. A little more shiftiness in his movement would go a long way.
He’d also need to improve his shooting. We’ve seen the recent history of non-shooting ball-handlers, and it’s not pretty. Still, like Dieng, the foundation is there. Daniels’ jumper is not fundamentally broken.
If it starts falling, he could be the steal of the 2022 draft.
Ochai Agbaji (Kansas), G/F
Agbaji’s appeal to the Rockets is probably contingent on his positional versatility. He’s generally regarded as a two. Can he be a three?
In all likelihood, yes. Agbaji is listed at 6’5”, but his 6’10” wingspan should allow him to guard wings in the NBA. If Stone feels the same, Agbaji could be a great target for this Rockets squad.
He projects as an archetypical 3-and-D at the professional level. Agbaji may never be a big-time shot creator, but he ought to be a connective piece. He’s the type of player the Rockets will be glad to have when they’re competitive again.
Do I wish Agbaji was 6’8? I do. He’d probably be the picture accompanying this article if he was. He’s still a player I’d be happy to see the Rockets land in this draft.
Tari Eason (LSU), F
Finally, we land on the one player in this piece that Stone may not even need to trade up to get.
He just might be the best fit for this Rockets as well.
Eason is a 6’8” combo forward with a 7’3” wingspan. Most significantly, he brings relentless aggression on the defensive end that these Rockets are sorely lacking. He uses his long arms and quick feet to create havoc in both passing lanes and the interior.
Offensively, Eason is a bit raw, but he’s got potential. In terms of shooting, he’s basically the inverse of Dieng: the shot is ugly, but he connected on a solid 35.9 percent of his long-range attempts during his last season at LSU.
Was that a fluke? Or is Eason one in a long line of forwards with an ugly-but-effective jumper? Actually, he evokes memories of Shawn Marion in more than one way. He’s an effective open floor ball-handler. Eason is a one-man fast break waiting to wreak havoc following a defensive play.
Yes, the Marion comparison is ambitious. Thank you for the observation.
If the Rockets trade up to select Eason, take note. That means that they weren’t willing to risk him not slipping to 17.
If you have as much faith in Rafael Stone as a talent evaluator as I do, you’ll need to have the same faith in Eason.