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Should the Rockets trade up in the 2023 NBA Draft?

Zach Allen offers his thoughts and also talks with Anthony Duckett and Ben DuBose.

Basketball: Overtime Elite-Cold Hearts at City Reapers Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

There’s a ton of interesting news that’s surfaced through the draft atmosphere. A lot of teams are trying to trade up in the NBA Draft — mostly for the No. 2 and No. 3 pick.

Certain executives are wagering between Brandon Miller or Scoot Henderson. The Houston Rockets front office is trying to decide between trading up or staying at No. 4. If the Rockets decide to stay at No.4 pick, who’s the better player between Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore?

The Rockets have brought in Whitmore a couple times for workouts and interviews. They’re impressed with his 6’7” frame, size and skill level. Whitmore can fit in the Rockets’ starting five and has the versatility to stretch the floor. His athletic ability will fit kindly next to Jalen Green and Jabari Smith.

At 232 pounds, Whitmore can fly and finish at the rim. Like Green, Whitmore can create his shot and make right pass when needed. Whitmore’s personal workouts have firmly been around being the ball handler in pick-and-roll. Knowing when to attack and pass is pivotal during the two-man action. In the NBA, a two-man action could lead to other actions too.

Although Whitmore averaged 12.5 points per game at Villanova, he still managed to be Big East All Freshman. Meaning, he could be a candidate for NBA All-Rookie First-Team. His upside is worth the risk at No.4. The age gap between Thompson and Whitmore could make the decision for the Rockets. Thompson is older at 20-years-old, while Whitmore is just 18 years old. Executives are heavy on Thompson’s stardom upside in the NBA. Thompson can only play two positions while Whitmore could play three if not four. Whitmore fits the Rockets better, which could lead them to not trading Kevin Porter Jr.

Unfortunately, Whitmore was having poor NBA workouts, and made the Rockets’ decision easier to lean towards drafting Thompson. Thompson blew the Rockets away with his last workout. He looked extremely explosive and athletic. The only concern about Thompson is his shooting. While playing with the City Reapers, Thompson shot 25 percent from three. As the Rockets plan to space the floor more out for Jalen Green to operate, efficient shooting is key. Newly assistant Ben Sullivan would be resourceful to Thompson so he’s able to smoothen his shot.

Despite Thompson’s shaky shooting, he’s a great playmaker as he averaged 6 assists per game. He’ll be able to attack the paint towards opposing centers and find his teammates on the perimeter. Thompson’s IQ can allow him to play point guard and run multiple actions, which include the two-man game. Udoka will have to strategize on how to use Thompson, Green and Porter in the backcourt. Thankfully, Udoka has experience with a dealing younger backcourt, as he previously coached Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum.

If the Rockets decide to trade up, the assurance is in selecting Henderson over Miller. Henderson has a better capability of taking over games than Miller at this stage. At times, Miller becomes cold in certain moments of a big game. During the NCAA Tourney, Miller shot 28 percent from the field and averaged 14.2 points per game, including not scoring a single point versus Corpus Christi.

Teams around the NBA have still been excited for Miller because of his workouts. They’ve been impressed with Miller’s athleticism and shot making ability at his 6’10” frame. Although Miller has impressed, Henderson has still looked better than him during the same workouts.

Like Thompson, Miller has recently blew the Hornets away with his last workout and now has become the favorite at No. 2 pick. Michael Jordan, previous majority owner of the Hornets, loved Miller’s potential during his workouts. Miller does fit the Hornets better and thus gives the Rockets a chance to trade up in the draft.

To trade up in the draft the Rockets would likely have to give up KJ Martin, Jae’ Sean Tate, or Porter Jr. I decided to discuss with Fanside’s Space City Scoop Anthony Duckett and Yahoo’s Rocket Wire Ben Dubose on the Rockets’ future probable moves.

Zach Allen: Anthony, how are doing? In my opinion this conversation is long overdue.

Anthony Duckett: This is definitely long overdue! We’ve done podcasts together before, but this is our first time collaborating on a piece. There’s a lot to discuss.

ZA: I wouldn’t mind if the Rockets stay at No.4 in the draft because of the upside of Cam Whitmore. Whitmore’s offensive capabilities are off the chart. He can score off the dribble and finish strongly at the rim. 232-pound middle linebacker attacking centers on defense towards rim. Whitmore even has soft touch around the rim. If the Rockets don’t end up trading Porter, inserting Whitmore into the starting five is ideal. Although Whitmore shot 34.3 percent from the perimeter, his shot will improve with the proper hard work. For an 18-year-old basketball, his IQ is impressive.

AD: Whitmore is an intriguing option. He’s got an interesting combination of size and athleticism. And he has underrated three-point shooting ability. The Rockets will certainly need get a floor general if they go that route because he doesn’t really have any playmaking chops at all. But he’s a three-level scorer and he’s only 18 so he’ll add to his bag over time. Personally I’d rather Amen Thompson at four. I like the playmaking and the court vision. He’s easily the best passer in the draft and he has the capability of being an elite defender. I know the shooting is a concern, but I don’t think he needs to be a shooter to be effective in his role. The competition level is more of a concern than anything and that doesn’t really worry me either.

ZA: What are your thoughts on the Rockets trading up? Who should they give up? KJ, Porter, or Tate? If they do, from a far eye, I like Scoot Henderson. I enjoyed his heart and determination versus Victor Wembanyama. He wanted to prove he was the better selection at the No. 1 pick during their G-League battle last year. Trading up will be hard but worth it because of the upside of Henderson.

AD: I’d imagine the Rockets would be willing to trade any of those players to move up to two and get Scoot. That would be a bargain. I just don’t think the Rockets have enough to garner Charlotte’s interest. Same with Portland at three. They want proven NBA players and the Rockets practically don’t have that, outside of their core.

ZA: Ben Dubose—What’s your take on discussion between Anthony and I?

Ben DuBose: I don’t think Houston can trade up with Portland, because they will likely want win-now pieces around Damian Lillard. I do think there’s a slight chance of trading up with Charlotte, since the Hornets are also in something of a rebuild. However, I don’t think KJ, Porter, or Tate would be enough. I think the Rockets would need to give up a higher-tier asset, likely either Alperen Sengun or some of their future first-round draft capital from Brooklyn.

I don’t believe the Rockets, who want to be competitive next season, would give up those types of assets to go from Amen Thompson to Scoot Henderson. After all, neither of those rookies is going to contribute much to winning games in 2023-24. I think if Houston moves up, it’s because they want to then flip Henderson somewhere else for a more established player — for example, Zion Williamson with New Orleans.

I’m not saying they for sure should do that — it depends on exactly what the cost would be — but in my opinion, that’s the only scenario where the Rockets would genuinely consider trading up. It wouldn’t be for Henderson or Miller, but for a veteran they could land with a subsequent move.

ZA: Thank you, gentlemen, for answering and joining my conversation.