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The third pick in the NBA Draft is a blessing for Rockets

Why being first isn’t always best.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The countdown is officially underway as the 2022 NBA Draft is less than a month away, with your Houston Rockets holding the third and 17th overall picks. The top of the draft tends to be more predictable, while the latter pick holds more variability.

At this moment, most mock drafts have Houston taking Duke’s Paolo Banchero with the third pick. Barring some sort of change in thinking process by the Orlando Magic and Oklahoma City Thunder, it’s likely he will follow some combination of Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren as they walk on stage to shake the commissioner's hand.

While landing that number one overall pick and having first dibs is what every lottery team aims for, I’m here to tell you why falling just two picks short of that can be the real prize.

For most drafts, there are either two or three prospects that have a legitimate case for hearing their name called first in late June. Now once every decade and a half, maybe twice if we’re lucky, there will be a generational talent à la LeBron James that is going to go number one no matter what, but it’s a rarity.

This year’s class features the aforementioned tier of Smith, Holmgren & Banchero. It wouldn’t be a total surprise to see the likes of hyper-athletic combo guard, Jaden Ivey, or the mysterious wing (technically out of Kentucky), Shaedon Sharpe, sneak their way into the first three picks. However, the fact that the main three guys have maintained their rankings in the mock drafts throughout the year indicates that the projections are likely to hold true.

Why should we be high on the third pick?

The beauty behind having the third pick is that it often alleviates the stress that comes with drafting at one or even two. There’s no more debate on which guy fits best in your team’s system. The only decision is taking the best player available or trading down for more assets. In this case, I’d advise against trading out because recent history suggests that the third selection is often the best player available. Don’t believe me? Well, let me show you.

I took the liberty of going through the past ten drafts (2012-2021) and calculating some accolades of the top three draft picks from each draft. They are as follows:

At least one All-Star selection

First Overall Picks: Five (Anthony Davis, Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Ben Simmons and Zion Williamson)

Second Overall Picks: Four (Victor Oladipo, D’Angelo Russell, Brandon Ingram and Ja Morant)

Third Overall Picks: Six (Bradley Beal, Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Luka Doncic and LaMelo Ball)

Rookie of the Year winners

First Overall Picks: Three (Wiggins, Towns & Simmons)

Second Overall Picks: One (Morant)

Third Overall Picks: Two (Doncic & Ball)

Top ten finishes in NBA MVP voting

First Overall Picks: Four (Davis)

Second Overall Picks: One (Morant)

Third Overall Picks: Six (Embiid, Doncic and Tatum)

All-NBA Team selections

First Overall Picks: Seven (Davis, Towns & Simmons)

Second Overall Picks: Two (Morant and Oladipo)

Third Overall Picks: Ten (Embiid, Doncic and Tatum & Beal)

Taking a further look back, some other third overall picks that still play in the league include James Harden, Al Horford and Carmelo Anthony. That’s three likely Hall of Famers that are still contributing at higher levels compared to the rest of their respective draft classes. That’s a former MVP, someone that is currently playing an integral role for an NBA Finals’ team and the ninth-highest scoring player in league history just for some perspective.

It can be argued that the best player in six of the past 10 drafts were drafted third overall. Now this isn’t discrediting the former top two picks, as they will certainly have their résumés boosted by the return of injured players such as Davis, Simmons and Zion Williamson. The development of rookies and sophomores such as Jalen Green, Anthony Edwards, Cade Cunningham etc. will also have something to say when it’s all said and done.

With all of that being said, it’s impossible to ignore that the third overall guys (Embiid, Doncic and Tatum) are already perennial MVP candidates and I’d be willing to bet that at least two of them win that award at least once during their careers. It’s also worth noting that these players should have been taken at one, and that’s not just me speaking retrospectively. Embiid fell due to injury concerns, Doncic fell because the Phoenix Suns’ owner favored taking someone from his alma mater, and the Boston Celtics fleeced the Philadelphia 76ers in a trade that maneuvered them from one to three because they knew Tatum would still be on the board.

I will admit to being in the Markelle Fultz camp at the time of the draft, but the willingness that Boston had to trade down should have been a red flag at the time that they were never after Fultz or Lonzo Ball. Another factor that contributed to Tatum’s “fall” in the 2017 draft was the concern regarding his ability to play defense. If you’ve noticed, those worries have since been alleviated, and that’s a large reason why he’s now in the the conversation as one of the top players in this league.

Could the past repeat itself for the Rockets in the form of Paolo Banchero?

Banchero mirrors Tatum in that he’s the most polished scorer in this draft and of course there’s the Duke aspect. Questions over his intensity and consistency will be asked leading up to the draft, but it’s important to analyze the the way he was utilized in college, much like Tatum. We’ve already reached the overthinking segment of the draft hype, and that may explain why Banchero is viewed as the third guy. What’s good about choosing at three is it’s hard to talk yourself out of a player when your options are narrowed down for you.

One thing is for certain though, and it was shown from his first game as a Blue Devil, the kid is a an absolute bucket getter. He was getting number one talk as soon as he laced up on court, and even if he isn’t there when Houston is on the clock, the same can be said for the other two players receiving buzz. Holmgren and Smith asserted themselves as the cream of the crop along with Banchero, so it would be difficult to criticize Houston for picking whichever one of these guys falls to them.

The third position in the draft should assure the Rockets that they will be receiving top-level talent one way or another and that affirms the notion that good things come to those who wait.