During the Morey era of Rockets basketball, I personally did not follow the draft very closely.
I knew the top prospects coming into the league. Realistically, anyone who follows the NBA does. Outside of the presumptive top five or so, I was mainly learning about players by watching the draft.
Now, it’s an obsession. If I booked a therapy session tomorrow, I’d devote time to how badly I hope Anthony Black develops a reliable three-pointer.
With that in mind, I’ll address criticism in advance. No, I won’t “let the guys we have play before (we) start thinking about next year”. Don't read this piece if you have a chronic aversion to thinking ahead.
On the other hand, read ahead if you can’t help thinking about what this roster may look like by the time it’s ready to play for the NBA championship. Here’s a way-too-early (but not actually too early) look at the 2023 NBA Draft from the Rockets’ perspective.
Surely, you’ve heard of Victor Wembenyama. If you hadn’t, you’d have stopped reading when I prompted you to.
Just to be sure: some consider Wembenyama the best NBA prospect since LeBron James. He’s at least the best prospect since Anthony Davis. He’s effectively the reason the Spurs traded Dejounte Murray. He may be the reason the Jazz traded Rudy Gobert too.
Wembenyama is either 7’2”, 7’3”, 7’4”, or 7’5”. Nobody really knows. He’s kind of a myth. When you watch his tape, it’s pretty difficult to believe your eyes.
If you haven’t seen any Victor Wembanyama highlights yet, do yourself a favor and throw them on. His limbs are like if Reed Richards played basketballpic.twitter.com/7HegBpPfFx https://t.co/maqTjzgJtT— Jon DiMuzio (@jondimuz) July 12, 2022
Side note: somebody let me know who Reed Richards is in the comments. Thanks.
You can’t discuss Wembenyama without sounding hyperbolic. You’d feel silly creating him in 2K. He’s almost unbelievable. Honestly, just watch the highlights above.
Otherwise, Scoot Henderson appears to have a stranglehold on the second-overall spot. He’s a hyper-athletic point guard who’s currently plying his trade for the G-League Ignite.
Name an athletic trait and this 6’3” point guard has it. His combination of speed, burst, and vertical allows him to do remarkable things. Picture a young Russell Westbrook with better floor vision.
Unfortunately, he also shares Westbrook’s utter lack of shooting ability. All told, he shot 21.2 percent from distance during his first year with the Ignite.
That’s altogether horrible. It’s a hot take, but I personally wonder whether he’ll still be the consensus second-overall pick by the time the draft rolls around if he hasn’t made strides with his shooting. We’ve seen how complicated it can be to build a team around a lead ball-handler who can’t reliably shoot. We criticize Westbrook for shooting and missing, we criticize Simmons for not shooting. The reality may be that, in 2022, you can’t be an offensive focal point without a reliable jumper.
Of course, if that’s the case, Henderson won’t be the only player impacted by that reality from this class.
If anyone usurps Henderson for the second-overall spot, it’s likely to be one of the Thompson Twins.
How fun is it that a pair of identical twins will both be lottery picks in the same draft? The Thompson twins feel like a glitch in the matrix. What unholy creator would make two of these?
Of course, the Thompsons don’t play identically. Amen Thompson, seen above, has more of a point guard’s game, while Ausar Thompson is more of a defensive wing with strong shot creation ability to spare. Either way, they’re both 6’7”, they’re both outlier athletes, and they’ll both be playing in the Overtime Elite league in 2023. Like Henderson, they also both struggle with three-point shooting. Still, if there’s any reason to worry about them, it’s the weaker competition they’ll be facing in that relatively unproven program.
Those concerns don’t extend to Dariq Whitehead. He’s a 6’7” wing who’ll be suiting up for Duke next season. Nobody needs to worry about his jumper either, as he’s always a threat to knock down a three-pointer.
Personally, I’m high on Whitehead. While all of the other prospects we’ve covered here have a certain “holy (expletive), I’ve never seen that” quality, Whitehead is solid. He’s a great athlete across the board, a fundamentally sound defender, and a tough shot maker. For a ceiling comparison, think Paul George.
I’m personally having a hard time emotionally picturing a universe where Tari Eason isn’t the Rockets’ starting forward alongside Jabari Smith Jr. for a decade. With that said, I’m forced to concede that Whitehead could be an option too.
Meanwhile, Nick Smith is another intriguing guard option. He’s 6’3” with a well-rounded offensive skill set. Smith isn't the most explosive athlete in this class, but that’s partly due to how unreasonably athletic this class is.
He’s also a more polished offensive player than Henderson or either of the Thompson twins. Smith is a confident, aggressive ball-handler, shooter, and passer. He’s basically an archetypical combo guard.
With that said, from the Rockets’ point of view, the question with Smith is whether he can function as a full-time point guard. Otherwise, I’m personally higher on Green’s upside. I know drafting for fit is a cardinal sin, but assuming this is the Rockets’ third lottery selection in three years, it may be worth considering in ‘23.
Meanwhile, Smith’s backcourt running mate in Arkansas for next season ticks every box in terms of fit. I already mentioned Anthony Black. He’s a 6’7” point guard with outstanding floor vision and awareness. He’s in the Lonzo Ball, Josh Giddey mold.
In other words, it’s not currently clear how he’ll create offense in half-court sets. Again, seeing his three-pointer fall consistently would go a long way towards improving his draft stock. As of now, you’re likely to see him mocked anywhere from 7th to 16th, but he’s got plenty of time to creep upwards. Oversized point guards with elite passing chops are a hot commodity in his league.
Otherwise, Duke’s Derrick Lively and Oregon’s Kel’el Ware are the two most anticipated big men after Victor Wembenyama. Realistically, the Rockets’ interest in either will be partly driven by how Alperen Sengun looks in his sophomore year.
Lively looks like a highly valuable utility piece. He could be an elite rim-protector, and he’s hinted at floor-spacing abilities as well. He could be a Myles Turner type at the NBA level.
Ware is likely a higher ceiling, lower floor prospect. He’s got some intriguing ball-handling abilities, but questions about his effort and focus are currently in play.
Of course, there are names I omitted here simply because I already feel this piece is long enough. Cam Whitmore, Dillon Mitchell and Cason Wallace are all worth your attention as well.
For that matter, there are likely to be players who are currently mocked towards the end of the first round who will launch themselves into the lottery by season’s end.
After all, it’s way too early to be thinking about the 2023 draft.
Unless you’re obsessed with the future of the Houston Rockets.