Thank you, Eric Gordon.
Sincerely. When the Rockets were contending, you were a God send. Nobody who loves this team should ever sell you short.
The best Rockets team since The Dream roamed the paint was built around backcourt offense. The starting lineup featured two elite playmakers in James Harden and Chris Paul. Otherwise, everyone on the roster was a dependent play finisher — either a pick-and-roll finishing big man or a three-and-D wing.
Besides Gordon. His ability to go out and get a bucket was essential to those contending squads. Harden and Paul couldn’t just split the usage 60/40 — the Rockets needed someone else who could self-create. It was always Gordon.
He was malleable, too. If he was sharing the floor with the stars, he was a floor spacer. If he was on his own, he carried the offense.
The breakup was a little messy. It dragged on for too long. Still, that whole final “look, I don’t hate you, but we really do need to part ways” conversation went well.
Gordon netted the Rockets a first-round pick swap. Now, they’ll have the better of the Los Angeles Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks’ first-round selections. At this very moment, that’s huge. If the season ended today, the Rockets would have the 18th pick instead of the 29th.
As a jilted megalomaniac who’d lost touch with reality once said — “stop the count”.
Of course, we can’t stop the count. The Clippers may surge to end the year. Still, this deal opens up possibilities. Even jumping from the 28th pick to the 23rd would be significant. Who should the Rockets be looking at now that they’ve got better draft capital?
I’ll start with the less realistic possibilities.
With that said, none of these guys are out of the question. The Clippers are built around a very injury-prone pair in Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. This pick could be solid.
Rafael Stone could also package it with some second-round selections to move up. In this draft class, it would be worth his while. There are some guys that could be extremely meaningful contributors down the line in the 15-to-20 range.
Dariq Whitehead stands above the rest. At one time, the Duke product was a projected lottery pick. A disappointing freshman season for the iconic program has changed that, but in fairness, Whitehead has been injured.
It’s reminiscent of Adrian Griffin Jr. The Hawks surely don’t regret taking him. Whitehead could be the same type of mid-first-round steal.
In fact, Whitehead wasn’t always viewed as a lottery pick. In high school, this was a lunch pale role player. Whitehead’s advanced shot creation came later. He still carries that workmen mentality - this is a 6’6” guard/wing who will dive for a loose ball on one end and break down the defense on the other.
By contrast, Gradey Dick may not be dusting defenders in isolation. On the other hand, he’s likely the best shooter in this draft. Dick is a 6’8” wing who plays for Kansas. This kid can knock it down off the catch or the dribble. He can hit threes in a standstill position or off balance.
He doesn’t project to be a defensive liability, either. Dick may not be athletic enough to contend for All-Defensive teams, but he’s got solid instincts that should keep him on the floor in pressure situations.
With that said, if the Rockets want to prioritize defense, Kel’el Ware would be an intriguing target. This guy is the prototypical modern big man. Ware is a rim protector, vertical threat and floor spacer.
He’s also looked fairly raw as an Oregon Duck. That’s fine. The Rockets have a pretty good big man already. Ware should be ready to be Alperen Sengun’s backup from day one. If he eventually develops into a clearcut NBA starter, the Rockets will have what we call a rich man’s problem.
These are three of the most ambitious targets the Rockets could look at with their new pick swap. With that said, it’s possible that they won’t be realistic. If the Clippers’ pick conveys at 25 or worse, trading up may simply be too pricey.
Who else is worth a look?
I’ll give you the elevator pitch on a few other guys.
Leonard Miller of the G-League Ignite may have more upside than any of them. I’m less enthusiastic about him because he’s raw, I still believe in Jabari Smith Jr., and Tari Eason is my favorite player right now. Still, the 6’10” wing has self-creation tools and elite defensive potential.
So does Rayan Rupert of the New Zealand Breakers. He’s a 6’7” guard/wing who can handle the ball and guard multiple positions. If his shot comes around, he’ll have star potential in the NBA.
The same may not be said for 6’9” UCF forward Taylor Hendricks. On the other hand, he’s a ready-made three-and-D wing who should be able to contribute from day one.
Realistically, covering the draft this far in advance is always a fool’s errand. It’s entirely possible that Maxwell Lewis will drop, or Babacar Miller will rise. Either way, the Rockets now have a little more flexibility to go get the guy that they like.
Thanks again, Eric.