The folks at The Ringer have done it again.
They’ve outraged Rockets fans. Somehow, this happens several times per season. Some will say that the outlet has some kind of vendetta against the organization. Others would go to war for Bill Simmons. I’m not sure what he’s done to engender such fervent support from his fans, but I’m convinced that they’d enthusiastically let him sleep with their spouse if he just gave them the top five biggest reasons why he ought to.
Yes, of course I’m talking about Kevin O’Conner’s decision to put Brandon Miller second overall on his newest Big Board.
Is it Miller time at two?
This is a highly controversial decision. For a long time (likely a couple of years), the script has been written for the 2023 NBA Draft. Victor Wembanyama is the first overall pick, and Scoot Henderson comes next. After that, the field opens up.
Not anymore, apparently. O’Conner is one of the foremost voices in NBA Draft analysis. This isn’t Draft_Dude on Twitter with Leonard Miller fourth on his board just to directly aggravate me personally. This is real.
Is it valid or has O’Conner gone mad?
Actually, I don’t think he has. I think there’s a case to be made here. For our purposes, there are two questions. First, is Miller the second-best prospect in this draft? Second, is Miller the second-best prospect in this draft for the Rockets?
Can Miller be the next great Rocket?
Odds are, you’re familiar enough with both of these guys. Let’s assume you’ve never heard of either.
Miller is a 6’9” wing with an absolute cannon of a three-point shot. He’s knocking down a cool 40.4 percent of his triples for the Alabama Crimson Tide.
An aside: the Crimson Tide is the coolest name for a sports team in the history of sports. If there was a referendum on the Rockets changing their name to the Houston Crimson Tide and I had a vote, I’d have to think long and hard before ticking “no” because I’m a nerd for preserving history.
Anyway, Miller can give it to you however you like it. Off the catch. Off the dribble. This is an absolutely elite three-point shooter.
Opinions on his defense vary. To my eye, he grades as roughly adequate. Still, he’s unlikely to be a liability at the next level. He’s tall, long and quick. Miller has the tools.
What Miller is lacking is burst. He’s going to have to work hard to be a three-level scorer or a star shot-creator at the NBA level. Perhaps not as hard as, say, Jabari Smith Jr.
Miller has a solid, smooth handle that he can use to get to his spots. Still, he does not possess the athletic tools that we typically associate with an elite half-court player.
Scoot Henderson does. Come on, you know who this kid is. We’re talking about Russell Westbrook with Chris Paul’s floor vision. The next Point God. Scoot Henderson.
That’s not to say that Henderson is perfect, either. O’Conner questions his shot selection. To be sure, Henderson has a tendency to launch deep twos early in the shot clock. KOC also correctly identifies that Henderson is 6’2”.
Although I personally have seen an aggressive defender who compensates for his height with an elite vertical leap and sheer tenacity, there will be matchups where Henderson’s height is an issue.
Is it enough of an issue to pass on him with the second-overall pick?
What do the Rockets need?
Some people hate player comparisons in scouting. I understand. Yet, I think they’re useful so long as you’re providing a range of potential outcomes. We need to look at high-end outcomes and low-end outcomes.
Here’s the case for Miller in those simple terms: the high-end outcome is Jayson Tatum. Tatum came into the league with little more than an elite shot and a workable handle. He’s developed into one of the best players in the league by honing his craft to the extent that he’s overcome what’s ultimately a mediocre athletic profile.
Meanwhile, Miller is scaleable too. If he doesn’t become Tatum, he can likely still be Andrew Wiggins. Wings that can shoot and defend carry a lot of championship equity. Miller will be the sort of NBA player that can play with anybody. If the Rockets do commit to building their offense through Alperen Sengun moving forward, this is the guy for them.
These are all fair points. If the Detroit Pistons land second, they should probably take Miller. If they believe in Cade Cunnigham as their franchise player, why not take a player who compliments him perfectly? If they don’t, they should trade him to the Rockets.
The draft community will shun me here. Always take the Best Player Available. If two lead ball-handlers with shooting limitations (three if you count Jaden Ivey) can’t play together, keep the best one and build around them.
I guess. It’s just a matter of how long the Pistons want to be in the lottery. This team hasn’t been credible since the Ben Wallace days. If they want to take two or three years to prove that Cunningham and Henderson can’t play together, trade the less productive of the two, and then take two or three years to make their new core work, power to them. They’ll have to hope the guard they’ve chosen doesn’t demand a trade in the meantime.
Anyway, this isn’t about what the Pistons should do. It’s about what the Rockets should do.
The Rockets should draft Scoot Henderson if they’ve got the second pick.
The Rockets need a star
So if Miller isn’t Tatum, he’s probably Wiggins. Sure. Name a point guard with Henderson’s athletic ability and floor vision who wasn’t an NBA superstar.
scoot henderson just goes right over the defender pic.twitter.com/Xzdg5xeTbE— ben pfeifer (@bjpf_) March 10, 2023
I don’t understand how this fails. I can’t see what differentiates Henderson from Ja Morant, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook or John Wall in a negative way.
If anything, he’s stronger than any of them. He may not quite have young Westbrook’s overall athletic prowess, but he’s worlds ahead of him as a decision-maker.
I’m racking my brain trying to think of a player of Henderson’s archetype who busted. I’m on the Google machine. Most point guard busts are skill-based players who end up not being skilled enough to compensate for poor athleticism. Sebastian Telfair, T.J. Ford, Johnny Flynn, Mateen Cleaves. None of these guys was a blur in transition who could jump out of the gym and still typically make the right read.
Ironically, the closest example may be a former Rocket. Still, Henderson seems like a kid with a great head on his shoulders. If Steve Francis counts as a bust, it’s not because of his game.
Obviously, Henderson isn’t bust-proof. Nobody is. There are two valid concerns in my mind. Firstly, these types of players are known for getting hurt. Everyone’s worried about Victor Wembanyama’s health, but throwing yourself at the mercy of men twice your size on a near-nightly basis has a way of destroying your body too.
The second is that these types of point guards are always the bridesmaids and seldom the bride. Henderson will lead his NBA team to the playoffs. He may even lead them to the Conference Finals. Unless his shooting really comes around, is he playoff-proof enough to lead them to a championship?
Who knows? At the same time, that’s an awfully high bar. If Miller is more Wiggins than Tatum (a decent outcome), he’ll need two players who are more valuable than him on his roster to be part of a title run.
One last point: can you imagine the collective rim pressure of a Henderson/Jalen Green backcourt? This is, in theory, the platonic ideal of a backcourt - the distributor who can score and the scorer who can distribute. Think Chris Paul and Devin Booker if they were both genetically modified.
For the Rockets, drafting Miller with the second overall pick would be a mistake.
I won’t call it a borderline catastrophe. That would be a gross exaggeration.
It’s not something a journalist would say.