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Houston Rockets vs. Oklahoma City Thunder Summer League game preview

2022 NBA Draft Content Circuit and Portraits Photo by Steven Freeman/NBAE via Getty Images

Last year, the Houston Rockets had options on NBA Draft night.

With the #2 overall pick, it was clear that the team wouldn’t have the ability to pick Cade Cunningham. However, the Rockets had their pick of the next batch of guys. There was a Green Gang and a Mobley Mob (with a few Suggs fans thrown in as well). With basically no players besides Green willing to work out for Houston, the pick became easy, but technically the Rockets still could have picked whomever they so desired. That allowed the narrative of “Houston passed on Evan Mobley and now he’s dominating so Houston’s front office is stupid” to percolate. Nevermind that both Houston and Cleveland passed on Scottie Barnes, the eventual Rookie of the Year.

This year was different.

Houston was basically resigned to taking the last of the top three players. They apparently made calls to Orlando about acquiring the top pick, but were rebuffed quickly. So there really was no discussion among Rockets fans as to who the team should take. It was obvious: take the best player available.

It is the curse of being a bottom 3 team that you’re destined to be involved in some high-profile Summer League games because everyone wants to see the top picks matched up against one another. And of course, we have to wildly reach for conclusions from one exhibition game. It’s all stupid, but that’s the age we live in. Paolo Banchero is better than Jabari Smith Jr. now because the Summer Magic beat the Summer Rockets and Paolo had a good game.

That brings us to Chet Holmgren, whom I believe will be the best player of the top 3 picks. Yes, I can already hear you: “But AK, you’re a Gonzaga fan. Of course you like Holmgren!” But I wasn’t as high on Suggs last year as many. Holmgren’s floor is lower than Banchero and Smith’s, but his ceiling is sky-high. The biggest thing that would hold back his development is impatience from his team. Holmgren can do a bit of everything, and he does all of them pretty well. Outside of his interior defense though, none of his other skills are elite. Still, those skills have the ability to reach elite levels. If I team is willing to give him time to get his shooting, passing, and ballhandling in order, he’s going to be a monster. However, if they decide to go the Mobley route and say, “You’re our top pick and we need you contributing right away,” then Holmgren will spend 30+ minutes per night collecting tons of blocks and rebounds on a bad team, and he won’t be able to fully realize his potential. That’s why it’s great for Chet (and bad for the rest of the league) that the Oklahoma City Thunder drafted him. They can afford to be patient. They want to keep tanking. Other teams, like Cleveland last year, didn’t have that luxury and it makes me wonder if the improvements Mobley will make in his game will be marginal for the rest of his career. Higher floor, lower ceiling.

Tip-off is at 7pm CT on ESPN2