NBA DRAFT OUTLOOK

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

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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Following Houston's 6-4 road trip, the Astros returned home to finish the first "half" of the season before the All Star break hosting Florida and Texas. Houston's road trip was filled with clutch performances in New York, dominance in taking 3 of 4 in Toronto, and a dose of close calls and tough realities with a short-handed team against Minnesota.

Now the Astros hope to take care of business against the lowly Marlins and division rival Rangers. The Texas series, in particular gives Houston the opportunity to reassert their hold on the #2 spot ahead of the Rangers who have won their last 5 games in a row (as of the time this was published). Both teams have won 7 of their last 10 games and hope to catch a free-falling Seattle team to overtake the division lead.

Dana Brown told the media last week he expects both Justin Verlander and Kyle Tucker to be reactivated following the All-Star break but Tucker's updates continue to be more promising than Verlander's and MUCH more promising than Lance McCullers. Astros manager informed the media this week that McCullers has been shut down from throwing after his arm did not respond well to his recent bullpen sessions and the team is formulating the plan for what's next for the embattled pitcher. McCullers hasn't pitched since the 2022 postseason and underwent season-ending flexor tendon surgery last June. McCullers is under contract with Houston until 2026.

An eventual return for Kyle Tucker would spur a juggling act from Joe Espada to find a proper balance of time for all his outfielders, none of which have separated themselves offensively. Chas McCormick had a great month of June recording an .804 OPS but that run looks more like an anomaly as his scuffles have continued over the past 2.5 weeks, recording just 4 hits over his last 32 plate appearances.

While Jake Meyers has wowed fans and teammates with his glove this season, his offense has hit a skid, hitting just .184 with a .565 OPS over the past month. After rookie Joey Loperfido's torrid debut, he too has struggled with the bat, hitting just .216 with .599 OPS over the same time period.

An unexpected bright spot has been the recent play of first baseman Jon Singleton. Over the last 4 weeks, "Big Jon" is batting .302 with an .802 OPS. It's worth mentioning that Singleton's season numbers are better than Florida's Josh Bell, who drew interest from Astros fans over the past several seasons as a potential answer at first base. Bell has 135 more ABs this season so its not quite an apples-to-apples comparison but there's no doubt Singleton's contributions were sorely needed following the release of Jose Abreu.

To watch part 1 of this week's episode of Stone Cold StrosStone Cold Stros, just click the video above or to listen to the entire episode on podcast, search "Stone Cold Stros" in your favorite podcast app or click one of the following links.

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