How the Rockets draft just hits different for Houston sports fans

The Rockets have the 4th pick in the NBA Draft. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images.

When the NFL Draft came around last April, Houston was lit up with Texans talk: who will we take with the No. 2 pick and, surprise surprise, the No. 3 pick?

Texans fans were elated, actually more relieved, when Houston selected quarterback C.J. Stroud from Ohio State and delighted when they landed edge rusher Will Anderson from Alabama.

Interest ran high because football fans in Houston were familiar with the league’s top choices. We had seen No. 1 pick Bryce Young, the one who got away, play nearly every week for two years at Alabama. We watched Stroud’s heroic effort in the college semifinal game against Georgia. We knew all about Anderson’s ability to wreck an offense at Alabama.

The first round of the NFL draft involves superstar college players from major conferences whose games are on TV every Saturday. We know these players and we want them on our team.

The NBA Draft is different. Tonight league commissioner Adam Silver will call out names that fans, while they may recognize them from pre-draft publicity and predictions, may never have seen in action on TV or in person.

With the NFL, fans can make up their own draft boards based on what they’ve seen personally. With the NBA, fans have to rely on NBA scouts, executives, and analysts.

You know these scouts, executives and analysts, they’re the same geniuses who in recent years, after spending millions on research, recommended taking the following “guaranteed superstars” with the No. 1 overall pick: Markelle Fultz, Ben Simmons, Anthony Bennett, Greg Oden, Andrea Barnani, and Kwame Brown. Major flops all.

The Rockets are rumored to be pursuing free agent Fred VanVleet to lend proven veteran leadership to their young squad. VanVleet wasn’t even drafted in 2016. So there.

The bigger problems daunting fans’ interest in the NBA Draft in recent years are the emergence of international players and the developmental G League. Most fans do not watch G League games and can’t watch international leagues.

If the NBA is a star-driven league, it’s a fair argument that international ball has produced as many megastar talents as U.S. colleges. The last five Most Valuable Players were either born outside the U.S. or played on international teams before joining the NBA: Joel Embiid, Nikola Jokic (twice) and Giannis Antetokounmpo (twice).

Four of the five 2023 All-NBA First Team members were born outside the U.S.: Giannis Antetokounmpo, Luka Doncic, Joel Embiid and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Now for tonight’s draft:

Victor Wembanyama is the most talked-about, can’t-miss, sure-fire No. 1 pick since Zion Williamson in 2019. Wembanyama, we’re told, will change the way NBA basketball is played. He instantly makes the Spurs must-see TV. He’s 7 ft. 4 and can shoot threes, run the floor and block shots.

That’s a big “we’re told.” Like most NBA followers, I have never seen Wembanyama play a complete game. He played for the Metropolitans 92 team in the LNB Pro A tier of the French basketball league. Big fan?

All most NBA followers have seen of Wembanyama are highlights from France. Yes, he looks dominant and unstoppable. He’s also playing against opponents who would not make an NBA team.

He also looks skinny and young, which he is. Wembanyama is 19 years old. Williamson was only 18 when he was drafted No. 1 overall in 2019. With all the talent in the world, Williamson has been a major disappointment due mainly to injuries and, some accuse a hearty appetite and lack of professionalism. Williamson doesn’t look skinny. He’s missed about 65-percent of Pelicans games since he entered the NBA. With a long-term contract worth about $200 million, Williamson is an overpaid, overweight, part-time member of the Pelicans active roster. When Charles Barkley calls you fat, it’s time to give Jenny Craig a call.

The NBA Draft will start at 7 p.m. on ABC and ESPN with the San Antonio Spurs on the board. At 7 p.m. and one nanosecond. Charlotte comes next and is projected to take either Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite or Brandon Miller from Alabama. Portland will pick third.

Then it’s Houston’s turn. Most experts have the Rockets selecting Amen Thompson from Overtime Elite. We can only hope that the Rockets war room has done its due diligence on Thompson and he becomes a productive player for Houston. Most fans have never seen Thompson play. Would you recognize Amen Thompson in a supermarket? Did you know what position he played before his name popped up on the Rockets wish list? (He’s a 6 ft. 7 guard reportedly with a high basketball IQ.)

But there is reason to get excited. The last three years have presented Houston a No. 2 (Jalen Green), No. 3 (Jabari Smith Jr.) and No. 4 (tonight), along with No. 17 in 2022 (Tari Eason). The Rockets also have the No. 20 pick tonight.

That’s one way, probably the best way, to build a successful team, to draft wisely. And that’s where hope enters the game.

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The Texans host the Steelers at NRG this Sunday. Composite Getty Image.

What: Texans vs. Steelers

When: 10/1 12pm CST kickoff

Where: Houston, TX NRG Stadium

TV/Radio: KHOU-TV, KILT-Radio

Betting Lines: Steelers -2.5 (-120), O/U 42 (-110) *As of this writing

The Watt Brother Bowl takes place on Sunday. I'm calling it that because the Texans are honoring their all-time great J.J. while they're playing his younger brother and current hell raising edge rusher for the Steelers T.J. The Steelers have won four of the last five matchups vs. the Texans by an average score of 28-17. The biggest difference is that the Steelers have a second year starter at quarterback in Kenny Pickett, and the Texans have a rookie in C.J. Stroud. When you look at the two quarterbacks, both organizations have full faith in each guy. Both teams have tried to build a defense to help their young signal callers. Both are still trying to surround their franchise guys with weapons.

When the Steelers have the ball: Here's a game where Will Anderson Jr can make headway as a proven EDGE. Stacking consistent performances together and helping your team win games by making winning plays. It helps that Pickett has tiny hands. This was a knock on him during draft season last year. Hand size for a quarterback impacts grip. That can not only impact accuracy, but it could make it easier to strip the ball from him.

While he doesn't have the weapons to torch this defense, Pickett does hand the ball off to Najee Harris who's more than capable. Averaging only 67 yards rushing as a team can't be taken lightly. Denzel Perryman is expected to miss the game Sunday, so hopefully that won't help jumpstart the Steelers' run game. The Texans defense will have to key in on the run, given that they average giving up 117 a game on the ground. Those aforementioned weapons may not be scary, but the injuries to the defensive backs has hurt. Tavierre Thomas is expected to miss the game recovering from hand surgery. Jimmie Ward coming back last week showed what happens when they have a top safety back there, especially when the pass rush is turning up. Hopefully, the Texans can capitalize again this week, with safety Jalen Pitre expected to return to action.

When the Texans have the ball: Good luck stopping Tank Dell and Stroud! These guys have already established themselves as a formidable duo three games into their careers. A great way to get that connection going is to pound the rock. The Steelers are giving up over 150 yards on the ground per game so far this season. That's also a good way to keep T.J. at bay while J.J. watches. With Laremy Tunsil and Josh Jones both expected to miss the game, here are the offensive line starters: Austin Deculus, Kendrick Green, Jarrett Patterson, Shaq Mason, and George Fant.

Making the younger Watt brother slow down a bit instead of going balls to the wall after Stroud because a run could be coming will help the pass game tremendously. Stroud will have to continue to make quick decisions, but even quicker this game. I wouldn't be surprised to see his first pick of his career here, given the pressure he's most likely to be under. Especially when your offensive line starters were mostly all backups to begin this season.

Outcome: I failed to place a money line bet on the Texans last week because the game started and the live bet wasn't as profitable. I wanted to take a chance on them given their recent record against the Jags. Looking at their last five vs. the Steelers, one would say why make that bet this week? It's because I believe in Stroud more than I believe in Pickett. While T.J. Watt is a different kind of monster, Will Anderson Jr is on his way to becoming something special. Texans win/cover, and hit the over, but barely: Texans 24, Steelers 20.

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