NBA DRAFT OUTLOOK

The definitive case for the Rockets not drafting at No. 2

The draft is risky business. Composite image by Jack Brame.

To hear my NBA-loving friend Roy tell it, the Houston Rockets purposely flushed their entire 2020-21 season down the toilet hoping to land a top draft lottery pick. By the end of the season there wasn't a single player on the Rockets who played the year before in Houston.

As a reward for their historically horrible season - they went 6-45 after a surprising 11-10 start - the Rockets own the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft Thursday night. Most NBA scouts and draft experts have the Rockets taking G League sensation Jalen Green. Rockets fans are good with the pick. Heck, they're excited that the Rockets actually are participating in the draft. It's been a long time. Thanks Daryl.

So Green is our guy. Unless the Detroit Pistons select Green with their No. 1 overall pick. Then the Rockets can draft Cade Cunningham from Oklahoma State, the consensus "generational" player available. Then there's the rumor that won't go away, the Rockets could bundle their No. 2 and No. 23 picks and entice the Pistons to give up No. 1.

Or the Rockets could just throw a dart at the NBA Draft board. Teams aren't exactly Nostradamus when it comes to identifying future All-Stars. General managers might as well work for Fox News or CNN predicting elections.

Giannis Antetokounmpo is a pretty good player, right? Two-time MVP, first-team All Pro, amazing defender and now an NBA champion. He's clearly the face of the NBA now. When you go to Chick-fil-A after winning the title and order as many chicken nuggets as points you scored in the clincher, and eat 50 of them, you're a superstar.

Fourteen teams thought there were better players than the Greek Freak in the 2013 draft. Cleveland took colossal bust Anthony Bennett with the No. 1 pick. Bennett averaged 5 points for four teams in four years in his NBA career. Others taken before Milwaukee picked Antetokoumnpo: Otto Porter, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel, Trey Burke, Michael Carter-Williams, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Shabazz Muhammad and the Rockets own Kelly Olynyk. Not one of them is still with the team that drafted him. That is, if they're still in the NBA.

The Rockets have the No. 2 pick – that's a good thing. But No. 2 doesn't guarantee you're getting a superstar or All-Star or even a quality role player. Here's the first team All-NBA squad for 2021: Steph Curry (drafted No. 7 overall), Luka Doncic (No. 3), Antetokounmpo (No. 15), Kawhi Leonard (No. 15) and Nikola Jokic (No. 41). Jokic, the league MVP, wasn't deemed first round-worthy.

LeBron James is the only member of the All-NBA second team taken with the first or second pick. Kyrie Irving is the only third team member taken with a top pick. Both LeBron and Kyrie were No. 1 overall selections. Not a No. 2 in the bunch.

Let's go to the tote board: of the 15 top players in the league, only two were picked first or second in the draft. That's some crystal ball you got there, fellas.

Wait, it gets stupider. In 2017, Philadelphia had the No. 3 pick but traded up to snare the No. 1 selection. The 76ers took Markelle Fultz, a shooting guard who, as it turned out, can't shoot. He's now in Orlando. For his career, Fultz shoots .265 from beyond the three-point line and averages 10.9 points per game. Boston got Philly's No. 3 pick that year and took Jayson Tatum, one of the league's top young stars, an All-Star and Olympian.

If you think that was a dumb deal trading up to No. 1, try this: in 1980, the Warriors traded for the Celtics top pick and drafted Joe Barry Carroll, a decent player but when fans call you "Joe Barely Cares" it's not a good sign. For the privilege of drafting Carroll, the Warriors gave up Robert Parish and their No. 3 pick, who turned out to be Kevin McHale, both multiple NBA champions and Hall of Famers. Was Celtics general manager Red Auerbach wearing a ski mask when he made the deal?

Here are some No. 1 overall draft picks since 2000: Ben Simmons, Andrew Wiggins, Greg Oden, Andrea Bargnani, Andrew Bogut, Dwight Howard and Kwami Brown. I thought Andrea Bargnani was an opera singer. To be fair, Howard had some dominant years in Orlando before turning into a goofball, and Simmons could be elite if he'd be willing to shoot the ball once in a while.

Conclusion: the draft is risky business. You have better odds in the Texas Lottery than the NBA Draft lottery. Instead of movin' on up like the Jeffersons, the Rockets would be smarter to trade down and get a veteran star in the deal. Experience wins in the NBA.

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Here's why the Texans will make the playoffs under Lovie Smith

1. The Houston Texans had a mentally tough practice Saturday. The team has worked a lot in pads and Lovie Smith noted the days starting to build up on them during this practice. The head coach said this is a good practice because it is like the fourth quarter of the games the team will end up playing.

2. Davis Mills threw one of the best passes he has thrown all camp on Saturday. In a red zone drill, he dropped back and whipped a pass between two defenders into the tightest window he has had all camp. Nico Collins hauled in the threaded pass for a score.

3. A few reps later Davis Mills struck again. With traffic from linebackers and defensive backs, he found Chris Conley for a score. It wasn’t as tight of a window as the first one, but Mills snapped it off nonetheless.

4. Pharaoh Brown made something hard look very easy on Saturday. With Mills rolling out and tossing the ball to Brown in the back corner Brown hauled in a one-handed catch and had both feet down. Touchdown. Brown then acted like it was no big deal.

5. Pharaoh Brown has had a wonderful camp. Lovie Smith named him the starting tight end. The thing that really jumped out to me today is he makes his work look easy. He isn’t straining to excel in his opportunities. The good ones always make it look easy and it has looked easy for Brown so far.

6. Rookie linebacker Christian Harris is on the shelf for a few days. He joins fellow rookie Kenyon Green as players who are injured. Max Scharping played left guard with Green down. Wide receiver Phillip Dorset practiced while veteran wideout Chester Rodgers did not.

7. Roy Lopez flashed again today. While Friday was about the rushing attack and Lopez made his presence felt at defensive tackle, he got into the pass rush Saturday. Lopez would have had a bone-crushing sack in a live rep.

8. Ross Blacklock hasn’t been consistent. A statement like that is good and evil. There are some plays where Blacklock looks like he isn’t a factor. I watched one today. A play later he had what would have been a sack on the play. He’s a player to watch in the preseason games closely.

9. Don’t expect to see Derek Stingley in the preseason opener next Saturday. Lovie Smith wouldn’t commit to the rookie cornerback playing in the preseason. Smith did say Stingley is on track to play week one in the regular season.

10. Brevin Jordan has had a nice camp and should be an important piece for the team. Jordan had a bad drop in 7-on-7 drills that he was beating himself up over for a few minutes. That was out of the norm. He’s been used a lot and will be on the field a bit it seems for the Texans.

11. Brevin Jordan also rattled off a few contenders for the quote of the day. He exclaimed he had taken care of himself this offseason and he finally had abs. He also revealed he’s quite the fisherman and once caught a 125-pound tuna. When asked what he did with the tuna Jordan laughed and said “RIP tuna!”

Listen to Cody Stoots weekdays afternoons 3-7pm on his show "The Wheelhouse" live on ESPN 97.5 + 92.5 FM or anytime on demand at the podcast here.

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