Jun 24, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets general manager Rafael Stone reacts during a press conference at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
No matter how they try to spin it, Tuesday’s lottery was a disappointment for Rafael Stone and the rest of the Rockets brass.
Not only did their chances of landing the pick that would become Victor Wembanyama vanish in the blink of an eye, but they also lost out on the next tier of prospects when NBA deputy commissioner Mark Tatum opened the envelope that revealed the Rockets would be picking fourth in next month’s draft.
Tuesday’s result wasn’t the Rockets’ worst-case scenario, but it was close. Gone are the chances to draft Wembanyama, the most-hyped player the enter the NBA since LeBron James, Scoot Henderson, and Brandon Miller, but it doesn’t mean the team won’t have options to improve a team that has won a league-worst 59 games the last three seasons.
It’s too early to say who it will be right now, but at least one All-Star will become available at some point during the offseason. Last summer Dejounte Murray, Rudy Gobert, and Donovan Mitchell were traded, and the Rockets have the cap space and the assets to swing a deal of their own, so expect them to be aggressive on that front. Another option would be to take a page out of Nick Caserio’s book and trade up.
There is no offer the Rockets could make that would entice San Antonio to trade the number one pick, and as long as Damian Lillard remains on the roster, Portland would want to go the All-Star route if it were to trade the third pick, but Charlotte at two brings an interesting possibility.
Outside of LaMelo Ball, the Hornets are devoid of talent, so what if the Rockets were to offer a package that would start with the fourth pick and the 20th pick, which the Rockets acquired at the deadline for Eric Gordon. It would likely take more to get Charlotte to bite, but the Rockets have picks from Brooklyn coming in 2024 and 2026 that they can afford to move, and they could take on a bad contract, like the $31.5 million owed to Gordon Hayward next season.
Of course, the Rockets could choose to simply make the pick at four. While there is certainly a drop-off after the third pick, there will still be high-level talent available to them in that spot.
The Thompson twins, Amen and Ausar, are super athletic, super long point guard prospects. The ceiling for both is high, but they struggle to shoot, which would certainly limit their effectiveness within an NBA offense.
Arkansas’ Anthony Black is a similar point guard prospect. He has great size, and he can really defend, but he shot just 30% from behind the 3-point line this past season.
Central Florida’s Taylor Hendricks averaged 15 points per game as a freshman while shooting close to 40% from long distance. At 6-foot-9, he has similarities to Miller, but he isn’t the same type of on-ball creator, though he might be the best fit with what the Rockets already have on the roster.
Finally, there’s Houston’s Jarace Walker, who showed he can be a versatile defender while playing for Kelvin Sampson, and he’d be the rim runner the Rockets have lacked since trading Clint Capela three years ago, but the rest of his offensive game is relatively limited at this point.
While ending up with the fourth pick was a disappointing result on Tuesday, the Rockets will still have a great opportunity to improve their team through the draft next month, but the route they take to do so won’t be as direct as they had hoped it would be.