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Two trade down targets for Rockets in NBA Draft

Could the Rockets pick up a cornerstone and some assets in the process?

NCAA Basketball: Arkansas at Kentucky
Could the Rockets look at Anthony Black or Cason Wallace?
Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

I am writing this on May 14. In two days, the fate of the universe will be decided.

It’s lottery day. The NBA will announce the order of the draft lottery on May 16. Without exaggeration, I do not know how I will sleep the night before.

This is an extremely critical juncture. If the Rockets land a top-two pick, history writes itself. Some will say that Brandon Miller solidifies a third spot - others will say that Amen Thompson does.

For my money, it’s a two-man draft. Either way, we’ve been over this. Without beating a dead horse, rumors suggest that the Rockets would seriously entertain trading out of this draft.

Sure. At the same time, the targets will be limited. Jaylen Brown is probably off the table. He just qualified for a supermax contract. Somehow, it feels unlikely that his hatred of Boston runs so deep that he’d turn down that kind of cash.

Mikal Bridges could be a target. Still, Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai seems likely to cling to him like an old phone with Angry Birds installed on it in 2010.

Is OG Anunoby worth trading the fourth to sixth pick for? Perhaps. Otherwise, the potential targets aren’t especially appealing. Making a move for Trae Young or Karl-Anthony Towns as the Rockets try to establish a defensive identity under Ime Udoka feels counterproductive. That’s like heading to the pub on your first day of sobriety.

Trading out of the draft altogether is an option. Could the Rockets trade down instead?

Suppose this front office isn’t especially high on any one of Cameron Whitmore, Ausar Thompson or Jarace Walker. If they like a guy that’s going to be available a bit later, they could move the pick and land some future assets in the process.

An obvious partner would be the Oklahoma City Thunder. They own the Rockets’ pick next year with top-four protection. Would the Rockets be better off with the fifth overall pick in this draft, or, for example, the 11th overall pick and full control of their next selection?

It’s a tough call. With that said, if the Rockets would look to trade down in the draft, there are two players I’d love to see them target.

Anthony Black

I keep flip-flopping on Anthony Black of the Arkansas Razorbacks. Realistically, that’s because he’s a bit of a polarizing prospect.

There’s a Black in almost every draft now. This is a 6’7” point guard with prodigious floor vision and potential trouble creating offense in half-court sets. Sound familiar?

Yup. Black is basically Josh Giddey with a vertical leap. That sounds like a pretty good player, right?

There’s a philosophical war to be waged here. Player analysis has leaned towards creation in recent years. There’s much ado about “fake assists”. The Rajan Rondo archetype is under siege. People will look you dead in the (virtual) eye and tell you that Tyrese Haliburton is not a playmaker. He doesn’t pressure the rim, so he doesn't create advantages.

Right. I completely disagree. Of course, a downhill guard who pressures the rim creates advantages. That doesn’t mean that a creative passer can’t do the same. Luckily, Black is an extremely creative passer.

Look at these dimes. Tell me this is a basketball player who isn’t creating advantages for his team.

I think this discourse is too fixated on the heliocentric engine model. It takes a village. Sometimes, the assist comes from recognizing the advantage someone else creates. Black is a master of leveraging the gravity of his teammates. For example, if Kenyon Martin Jr. were open beyond the arch because the defense was keyed in on Jalen Green, Black is going to find Martin Jr. no matter how difficult the pass is.

Did Green technically create the advantage in that hypothetical? Sure. Black’s willingness and ability to exploit the advantage is still, itself, an advantage. In so many words, good passers are valuable.

On the other hand...Black may struggle to create in the halfcourt. Sure, Giddey looks wonderful right now. Will he thrive when faced with playoff defenses?

Haliburton isn’t a good analog, either. He’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, so even without rim pressure, he’s got gravity. Black, like Giddey, is limited in that area.

If the Rockets insist on having floor spacing at point guard, they may prefer another prospect.

Cason Wallace

Of course, shooting isn’t Kentucky combo guard Cason Wallace’s calling card. That would be defense.

Suffocating, relentless, soul-crushing defense.

Can you imagine this guy alongside Tari Eason? No, you cannot have the ball. It permanently belongs to the Houston Rockets.

In fact, Wallace is a good fit with this whole roster. That’s because Wallace is a skeleton key player. A guard who locks down the point of attack and spaces the floor can play with anyone.

He could be a particular boon to Alperen Sengun. Throughout 2022-23, we argued about Sengun and defense. Was his slow-footedness especially problematic, or was the poor stopping ability of the Rockets’ backcourt largely to blame? Draft Wallace and you’re going to find out.

Offensively, Wallace isn’t particularly special. He is solid. Wallace looks the part of a reliable floor spacer. He’s also a solid ball-handler who makes decent passing reads. He’s not necessarily creating advantages (whether directly or even indirectly ala Black), but he’s not a liability.

Should that be enough for the Rockets to walk away with in addition to future assets?

Pray for Victor (or Scoot)

Neither of these guys is a franchise-altering talent. Let’s be blunt. Walking away from the Wembanyama/Henderson draft without Wembanyama or Henderson is a disappointment.

It’s also a disappointment with roughly a 72.3 percent chance of becoming a reality. Well, maybe it’s 70 percent. I’ll grant a 2.3 percent chance that a team who already has their point guard would be willing to trade down from the second pick.

I do not think it’s likely. The Charlotte Hornets would likely pair Henderson with LaMelo Ball, and the same holds for the Indiana Pacers and Haliburton. Both of those players are knockdown shooters, so there’s no reason they couldn’t co-exist with another ball-handler.

I think the fit for Henderson in Detroit is horrendous. If I were the Pistons, I would trade down and target Brandon Miller. Still, my read on the situation is that Troy Weaver is a zealous Best Player Available devotee. This man just paired Jalen Duren with James Wiseman. I don’t think he’ll have any reservations about pairing Henderson, Cade Cunningham and Jaden Ivey.

Let’s assume that if you don’t land in the top two, you’re not getting one of the top two prospects. There will be other ways for the Rockets to succeed. Landing some extra future assets from this draft would be a smart way to facilitate several of them.

Not to mention one of Black or Wallace as well.