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Historical comparisons for Rockets young core

Who will these guys become?

2023 NBA Rookie Photo Shoot
The Rockets have a lot of potential. That means a lot of potential outcomes, too.
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

People hate player comparisons.

It’s understandable. It’s a reductive way to analyze players. If I ask you what a record sounds like, and you tell me it’s Sly Stone meets Celine Dion... OK. Tell me what Sly Stone and Celine Dion sound like without naming an earlier artist. Describe the music in a way that describes the music.

Oh, and also: that sounds just horrible.

With all of that said: I love player comparisons. They’re a vice. It’s a basketball geek thing. I’m someone who could sit around with friends for hours and name old basketball players. Like, that sounds like a great evening.

Keon Clark. Eric Snow. Matt Harpring. Rod Strickland. God, I loved Rod Strickland.

I’ve got goosebumps.

Recently. I was having a chat with some good people about Jabari Smith Jr. Someone (what’s up Derrick!) said that there was some Vin Baker in him. Initially, I felt like that was a weird comparison. Didn’t Vin Baker just bully opponents with size until he got too...sizeable?

Still, I was a kid during Baker’s athletic prime. So, I went back and watched some old clips. Sure enough, Baker was a midrange assassin. There’s a basis for comparison there.

It got me thinking about comparisons for players on this roster. Moreover, I have horrendous writer’s block. So, here are some floor, ceiling, and median comparisons for each member of the Rockets’ young core.

Jabari Smith Jr.

Vin Baker with a three is actually a really good comparison for Smith Jr. Still, I should come up with some original content, right?

“Ceiling” in itself is a weird concept. It feels wrong to put limitations on these guys, but at the same time, some best-case scenarios are so out of reach that designating them as a player’s ceiling removes all meaning from the conversation.

We know that Smith Jr.’s handle needs some work. In theory, he could become a 6’11 Allen Iverson. There’s no rational way to prove that he won’t. Still, I’m going to frame my comparison under the assumption that his handle doesn't move beyond average. Consider that a working model for this piece moving forward.

Otherwise, I expect Smith Jr. to develop into an excellent defender. Still, he wasn't a positive defender as a rookie, ergo, we have to account for outcomes wherein he’s not a good defender.

Ceiling: Chris Bosh

Floor: Channing Frye

Median: Rashard Lewis + defense

Alperen Sengun

Oh boy...

I know, I know. Ceiling: God of War, Floor: Nikola Jokic, Median: Nikola Jokic with Flubber shoes. Otherwise, I’m a hater.

Let’s talk about archetypes. There’s a lot of pushback on archetype-driven analysis. Most of it is reasonable: again, this is a reductive way to look at players.

Yet... we all know exactly what we’re talking about here, don’t we? Prodigiously gifted playmaking bigs who get roasted in certain defensive coverages. Can’t guard the pick-and-roll, etc.

Jokic overcame his possible archetypical issues. I’d make the case that as a result, he doesn't fit the archetype anymore. He’s transitioned from “slow-footed big who can’t guard anything” to “slow-footed big that can guard well enough in drop coverage to make the juice worth the squeeze”.

Can Sengun do the same? He can. I’m perpetually annoyed that you can’t share a single concern about building around a big man with slow feet without a hoard of “you’re just looking at his archetype!”. Actually, no. I’m looking at his feet.

The funniest part is that I think Domantas Sabonis is the kid’s floor outcome. That’s an extremely high floor. I have concerns about building around him - that’s not to say that he’s not profoundly talented.

Ceiling: Rich man’s Domantas Sabonis

Floor: Domantas Sabonis

Median: Prime Al Horford

Tari Eason

I feel like I just emerged from the depths of the sea and I can finally breathe. My Eason comparisons probably won’t upset anyone.

I love Eason. If the Rockets ever trade him, I’ll wear black for a week.

Here’s the best part: Eason is already really good. His floor is rookie Tari Eason. Easy. If he doesn't get any better, he’s a contributor.

I’d count on him to get better.

Ceiling: Kawhi Leonard

Floor: rookie Tari Eason

Median: Gerald Wallace

Cam Whitmore

The biggest swing skill for Whitmore will be passing. Was he cursed by a witch to have every basketball gift imaginable - but zero floor vision?

Unlikely. The Rockets don’t need Whitmore to develop into some passing virtuoso. It would be nice if he could make basic reads with regularity.

With that in mind, there’s a temptation to make a Carmelo Anthony comparison. We’re going to resist it. Whitmore seemingly models his game after Anthony, but Melo didn’t have the same kind of defensive aggression and intensity. Meanwhile, Whitmore has a way to go before he’s got the craft, footwork and touch to score in the halfcourt as Anthony did.

Ceiling: That one Corey Maggette season

Floor: Derrick Williams

Median: Miles Bridges

Amen Thompson

Thompson is the most difficult player in this core to make comparisons with. That’s why I think he’s got the highest ceiling: it’s possible that we’ve never seen anything like this.

The words “more athletic Magic Johnson” are at my fingertips. I can feel the neurons transmitting information from my brain to my fingers. “C’mon, type it out. He can be a more athletic Magic Johnson. You know he can”.

How about we split the difference and go with “tall, more athletic Jason Kidd”? That’s still an MVP candidate. This kid’s potential is limitless. My abilities to publish an article claiming he’ll be a better version of an All-Time top-five player without feeling like a homer are, by contrast, quite limited.

Ceiling: tall, more athletic Jason Kidd

Floor: Ben Simmons, but somewhere in between being an All-NBA player and becoming a non-NBA player.

Median: Ben Simmons, somewhere closer to the beginning of his strange career arc.

Jalen Green

Right back to the archetype discussion. Let’s spare the formalities.

Michael Jordan. Kobe Bryant. Vince Carter. Tracy McGrady. Jerry Stackhouse. Ray Allen. Lou Williams. Jordan Clarkson.

As I said: reductive.

Ceiling: Tracy McGrady (sorry, Darren)

Floor: Jordan Clarkson

Median: Jerry Stackhouse