The Rockets drawing the fourth overall pick has made for some interesting discourse. Philosophical war is being raged on the streets of Twitter.
This is because the options that are now viable are diametrically opposed. Amen Thompson has a higher ceiling than Scoot Henderson, and a lower floor than Scoot Porter Jr. Brandon Miller is safe. Cam Whitmore and Ausar Thompson lie somewhere in between.
Where you stand on the issue may speak broadly about who you are as a person; and honey, I was born a gamblin’ man. What’s that? The lyric is “ramblin”? Keep it in.
Some have suggested that the Rockets should trade their pick for some win-now help. I think that would be a painfully short-sighted decision. If a young star hits the market between now and then, sure, move the pick. Package it with additional assets if you believe the guy can be “the guy”.
Don’t trade the fourth overall pick in the NBA draft for a role player. It’s just bad asset management.
Besides, that’s what the 20th pick is for, isn’t it?
Help is on the way for the Rockets
Trading the 20th pick would be sensible. This is going to be one of my trademark wishy-washy pieces where I raise a debate without picking a side.
You could get a solid rotation player with this asset. Heck, you could package it with a couple of extra firsts and land a quality fourth starter on a contender type - maybe a Cam Johnson.
(Sorry. I could not help myself).
We’re not going to speculate on potential targets here. The possibilities are nearly endless. Without including future capital, the 20th pick should be able to land a quality reserve. The Rockets clearly intend on being better next season. If they want to flip this pick for the eighth or ninth man in next year’s rotation, that’s defensible.
In fact, the Rockets could feel like they’re done developing prospects. That’s another reason to move this pick. Assuming that they use the fourth overall selection to draft a player, the Rockets will have made an incredible eight first-round picks in the last three drafts. They may not see the need to add number nine.
With that said, there are good reasons to keep the pick too.
The Rockets are still preparing for the future
Yes, this would be Stone’s ninth first-round pick in three years. Is that necessarily the point?
Let’s be honest. Josh Christopher is not on an ideal trajectory. We have no idea who TyTy Washington is.
I have a well-documented love affair with Usman Garuba. Unfortunately, I’ve come to feel that his future lies elsewhere. If the Rockets are committing to a future with Alperen Sengun, they’ll need a different backup five.
Having Garuba come in to set a unique defensive tone with his switchability only works if he’s backing up a reliable rim protector. If the Rockets are starting Sengun, they need a prime Dewayne Dedmon type behind him. Otherwise, you’re committing to 48 minutes per contest without solid rim protection.
For argument’s sake, let’s assume none of the three are prominent in the future plans. That leaves the Rockets with Sengun, Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason, and the fourth overall pick. That’s an exciting young core, but it’s not such a critical mass of young players that they couldn’t justify adding one more.
Please don’t mistake this rampant pessimism. It’s realism. Here’s a wonderful resource I found that highlights the expected value of first-round picks in the draft.
As an example, Christopher was picked 24th. On average, the 24th pick has a 15 percent chance of being a star, a 25 percent chance of being “solid”, a 20 percent chance of being a role player, and a 35 percent chance of being a deep bench player.
In other words, the odds of all of the later picks actually mattering down the road are very slim. That’s why more kicks at the can are good - every kick isn’t going to land.
With that in mind - Stone has landed some roundhouses, hasn’t he? Sengun at 16 and Eason at 17. Opinions on his tenure with the Rockets vary, but you cannot deny this: Stone has earned our trust in this range of the draft.
If he sees a guy that he likes a little higher than 20th, he could trade up. Either way, I’m not sure how you watch this man grab those two players in roughly this range of the draft in consecutive years and feel convinced that he shouldn’t take another shot.
What kind of shot should he take?
What kind of prospect could the Rockets target
I think the Rockets could justify either of two directions with this pick.
Some will suggest that they need to prioritize NBA readiness at this spot. If the goal is improvement, they can’t afford to gamble on a project type. I disagree.
The 20th overall pick doesn't need to play a minute of NBA basketball next season.
The Rockets could swing for upside here, and stash their guy in the G-League. As a general rule, you shouldn’t lean on rookies for win-now contributions anyway. The draft is a mechanism intended to bolster a team’s future.
With that in mind, the Rockets could look at guys like Bilal Couliaby, Leonard Miller, or GG Jackson. Any one of these guys could be the face of the Vipers next season.
On the other hand, the Rockets could seek a ready-made contributor. A player like Brice Sensabaugh, Kris Murray, or Jett Howard might be ready to hit threes and play defense next year.
My two dream targets are fellow Dukies Derrick Lively III and Dariq Whitehead. In all likelihood, they each split the difference between readiness and upside. It could be a moot point, because neither is likely to slip to 20th, but again - if Stone shares my vision, he could trade up.
All things considered, this is house money. If the Rockets don’t walk away with a ninth first-round pick in their young core, that’s fine. If they don’t walk away from the draft with a solid veteran, that’s fine too. The Rockets have $60 million in cap space this summer. If they can’t convince free agents to join the cause, they’ll trade into the space.
It doesn’t really matter what the Rockets do with the 20th pick. This is not a potentially franchise-altering asset.
Not like, for example, the fourth pick.