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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