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The Draft is a little more than a week away and the Rockets have a decision to make in the second round.
Over the past several weeks, mock drafts have flooded the internet, but you will usually see chatter about the top picks, or the lottery, or the first round. However, few actually go into the deep end and conquer the second round, simply because it’s so unpredictable.
Recent history has shown that the second round picks might be just as important as the first round picks. Both Trevor Ariza and P.J. Tucker were prominent pieces of a Rockets team that went deep in the postseason despite being second round picks. Every championship team since 2012 except for the 2016 Cavaliers have had a second-round pick starting in the NBA Finals.
The 46th pick could be a guy that is stashed in Europe and will never see an NBA floor, but it could also be the missing piece to the puzzle that will lift the Rockets to a championship some day. Hypothetically, the Rockets could go in several different directions.
Go local, develop an American in the G-League
There are plenty of young guys that are entering the draft now simply because they know they can get drafted this year. It doesn’t mean that another year in college could help. Texas A&M’s Robert Williams took that gamble last year when he returned to College Station for his sophomore season with the Aggies. The gamble paid off as he stayed healthy and he enters the draft this year as a potential lottery pick.
Players not willing to take that gamble include Kentucky freshmen Jarred Vanderbilt and Hamidou Diallo. Kentucky Wildcats have shown a pattern to be one-and-done players, so seeing Vanderbilt, a 6’9” stretch four and Diallo, a 6’5” shooting guard stay in the draft was not necessarily a surprising move.
Duke guards Gary Trent Jr. and Trevon Duval also fit this build as freshmen who could use some development before gaining legitimate playing time, and the idea of a backup point guard sounds enticing, especially considering the lack of depth at that position that the Rockets currently have.
Among the options listed above, Vanderbilt makes the most sense. He is the perfect size of a modern-day NBA player and what the Rockets are looking to do. He can play small-ball center and he is quick enough to wrap up guards. Vanderbilt did not play much in college, appearing in only 14 games for the Wildcats in his freshman season. But his per 40 minute averages add up to 13.8 points per game and 18.5 rebounds per game. No, that is not a typo. But per-36 and per-40 minute totals are meant to be slightly exaggerated. Nonetheless, he is a monster on the boards. He’s also a Houstonian, so it’d be nice to add another local talent to the team.
Draft-and-stash for the third year in a row
As always, international players are a hot topic of discussion in the second round for teams that do not want to have another contract on the books for their team in the upcoming season. With many free agents up for a payday this offseason, the Rockets may want to continue to follow this trend they have set for themselves.
Rodions Kurucs is a small forward playing for FC Barcelona that fits this description perfectly. Kurucs was a projected first-round pick early on in mock drafts, much like Hartenstein was last year, but Kurucs has slipped due to the potential that he stays in Europe.
Kurucs is a Latvian small forward standing at 6’8” or 6’9” and has a strong three-point shot. He can run up the floor and often looks like a guard when he brings the ball up the court. In the NBA today, versatility is everything, and that’s what Kurucs provides. He’s a stretch four who can play the three as well. He’s nowhere near ready for the NBA yet, but the pieces are there for someone who can play in the league sometime down the line.
Other possibilities for the draft-and-stash are french point guard Élie Okobo and Bosnian forward Džanan Musa. Both players are not ready for the NBA yet but time will catch up with them and they could make their way overseas in a few years. Okobo also sounds like a near-perfect fit for the Spurs and I want the Rockets to draft him just so the Spurs cannot.
Get a veteran who can contribute now
Last year’s 46th pick was SMU’s Sterling Brown, and he saw some minutes early and often in his rookie year with the Bucks. Drafted one pick before him was Dillon Brooks, who was traded by the Rockets to the Grizzlies and turned out to be their starting small forward for most of the season. The 38th pick was Jordan Bell, who the Bulls sold to the Warriors for $3 million. Bell saw significant playing time even as a rookie on a championship team.
With the Rockets looking to acquire top-tier talent, maybe finding a second-round rookie playing for peanuts would be a nice balance. There are plenty of seasoned veterans in the college scene that will be picked up in the second round.
The first one that comes to mind is Duke’s Grayson Allen, who could have been a lottery pick had he declared for the draft earlier in his career, but opted to stay at Duke up until his senior season. He is a career 38 percent three-point shooter at Duke and averaged 15.5 points per game last season.
Sviatoslav Mykhailuk spent four seasons with the Kansas Jayhawks as a 6’8” guard/forward who could play multiple positions. The Ukrainian was a key contributor for a Jayhawks team that made it all the way to the National Championship last season averaging 14 points per game. He also made a whopping 44 percent of his threes last season and shot over 40 percent during his career in Lawrence. He would make almost three triples a game last season and would boost that part of Houston’s game immediately.
Jevon Carter is a 6’1” point guard from West Virginia and a two-time defending NABC Defensive Player of the Year. Carter was more of a defensive-only player in his first two seasons with the Mountaineers, but has developed an offensive game that has caught up with his defensive game. He averaged 17.3 points per game his senior season in a tough Big 12 Conference and has improved his three-point percentage from 30 in his sophomore year to 39 in his senior year.
All three of these guys have the ability to be a total steal in this draft, but if I could pick any of the three, I would pick Carter simply because he could be another guy that could stop Stephen Curry and/or Klay Thompson in a potential series with the Warriors and fulfills a more immediate need.
45 selections will be made in the NBA Draft before the Rockets make theirs, so it is hard to suspect who will be on and off the board. One of the players mentioned above however will be there, and Daryl Morey and Co. have definitely done their homework on all of these guys and more. It’s a total crapshoot in this draft, but that adds to the element of excitement.
Read more at The Dream Shake.