Basketball Sports

Who the Houston Rockets Should Target in the 2015 NBA Draft

The Houston Rockets are in the Western Conference Finals, but at least a part of the front office’s attention right now must be shifted toward the NBA draft. Who should they be targeting?

The Houston Rockets - Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press
The Houston Rockets – Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

A lot of draft-related happenings are going on in one week. While the lottery won’t affect the Rockets directly, the ripple effects could. And knowing general manager Daryl Morey, they didn’t miss a beat at the combine.

First, it bears mentioning that the Rockets are picking 18th, using the New Orleans Pelicans’ pick. They obtained that by sending the Pelicans Omer Asik last summer.

The problem with many a mock draft is they begin with the best college players and then sift them out in some sort of reasonable order. That’s why they rarely end up being anything close to accurate. NBA teams are looking at certain roles and needs to fill, so they may be ready to pass on a superior player who doesn’t fill one.

This is important when considering Houston because it has one glaring need: a point guard who can generate offense without being a high-usage player. The Rockets need a guy who takes pressure off James Harden without replacing him.

Some mocks have the Rockets taking other positions. For example, this one by Derek Bodner of USA Today has Houston taking a power forward, but Bodner stipulates “team needs are not taken into account until after the NBA lottery.”

So don’t fret that. I’d be stunned if Houston took anyone but a passing point guard. With that stipulated, I see three potential candidates, listed here in order of Chad Ford of ESPN’s rankings.

Cameron Payne is 6’2” and 182 pounds. That’s not bad size for a point guard, but it’s not great. Jonathan Givony of Draft Express offers this scouting report:

Payne biggest appeal as an NBA prospect is the terrific blend he displays between scoring and passing. He shouldered a huge amount of offense for Murray State (32% Usage, second highest in the DX Top-100), but still managed to remain relatively efficient (57% TS%) and dished out passes at a terrific rate (39.5% assist percentage, #1 in DX Top-100, 7.1 assists per-40, #4 DX-100).

He’s an extremely unselfish player who passes with great creativity and loves to move the ball ahead in transition, either utilizing his excellent ball-handling skills or by finding the open man running the floor.

That fits well with what the Rockets are looking for. His high true-shooting percentage accommodates the Morey model. His high assist percentage suggests he could work well with Harden, but his high usage percentage indicates he would also be able to run the offense when Harden needs a breather.

Where Payne will go in the draft is tough to say. Ford has him 11th. Zach Harper of CBS Sports doesn’t have him getting taken until 36th (though he tweeted to me that will change with the next mock). If Payne is there at No. 18, the Rockets may select him because he fits in so well with the way they operate.

Per Draft Express, Jerian Grant is listed at 6’5” and 198 pounds, with a 6’7.5” wingspan. That makes Grant physically the biggest of the three candidates. That size is a huge advantage if the Rockets are going to be facing the likes of Shaun Livingston and Klay Thompson of the Golden State Warriors in future playoff battles.

Giovani writes:

Grant’s best attribute from an NBA standpoint clearly revolves around his playmaking ability. He is a decisive passer and an extremely unselfish player overall, making reads automatically and whipping the ball impressively all over the court. He has a tremendous natural feel for finding the open man regardless of where they are on the floor, being capable of making every pass in the book, be it high or low, and to cutters, rollers or shooters. Unlike many big guards, he’s not a combo looking to make the transition to the point, he’s already a tremendous distributor.

The only qualm here is Ford’s stipulation that one of Grant’s weaknesses is he “can be too unselfish.” That might not seem like a bad thing, but if Houston wants a point guard who can run the offense while Harden sits, it’s going to need a guy who won’t shy away from shots.

If the Rockets satisfy themselves of that one concern, Grant could be their first choice.

Tyus Jones, Duke

Tyus Jones is only 6’0.25” and 184.6 pounds based on the last combine. That’s a little small, but as Draft Express notes, Mike Conley and Chris Paul have turned out to be solid in the same position. Givony’s scouting report says:

What Jones lacks in measurables he makes up for with balls and brains, as he’s incredibly poised, confident and intelligent for an 18-year old, particularly operating in the clutch, earning him the well-deserved “Tyus Stones” moniker. Jones does a great job of pushing the tempo and getting his team baskets early in the shot-clock, ranking eighth best in college basketball with the 301 points (7.5 per game) he produced in transition this season, according to Synergy Sports Technology. He advances the ball quickly and unselfishly up the floor, regardless of whether he’ll get an assist for his efforts, rewarding his big men running the floor with easy baskets, and finding shooters spotting up on the wing. There is no question that he is the type of point guard teammates like playing with.

In many ways, Jones also seems to be the perfect option. You especially have to like his mentality, which would be important on a team with championship aspirations.

Which of the three the Rockets should choose is tough, if not impossible to guess. My druthers would be Grant, as he seems to have the highest ceiling, but they can’t go wrong with any of them.

That said, there will probably only be one of them left on the board when the 18th pick comes up, and that will almost certainly be Houston’s pick.

Second Round

Houston also has a second-round pick, which is almost as good as a first-round pick, as it will be the second pick of the second round. Per Pro Sports Transactions, they obtained that by sending the New York Knicks Marcus Camby in 2012. (The same trade also landed them Nick Johnson last season; Camby is the gift that keeps on giving.)

So what does Houston do with that selection? There’s a good chance it doesn’t use it. It already has 10 players under contract next season. The contracts of Jason Terry, Josh Smith, Patrick Beverley and K.J. McDaniels all expire—the last two being restricted free agents.

Supposing Houston retains Beverley and McDaniels, that puts the Rockets at 12 roster spots. If they re-sign Smith, 13. Add in the first-round pick and they’re at 14. That would mean the second-round pick would be No. 15 and any other moves would put them over the roster maximum.

So that second-round pick becomes expendable. Morey could do a few things with it. He could bundle it together with the Pelicans’ pick to move up in the draft. If one of the aforementioned point guards is particularly appealing, that would be a pretty feasible move.

He could trade it for a future pick.

He could use it for a draft-and-stash player. Ilimane Diop, the 6’11”, 225-pound, 20-year-old center out of Senegal would be a possibility.

Or the Rockets could just use it for the best player on the board, whoever that might be. Frankly, I doubt it matters much because even if they use it on a player, the chances a second-round rookie gets much run on the team next year is pretty scarce. He’ll likely end up spending more time with the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, Houston’s NBA D-League affiliate, than with the mothership.

The Rockets probably won’t be adding a future superstar to their roster this year, but the confluence of their needs and the players who fit those needs squares up well. They should get a true, starting-caliber point guard who can help Harden. And sometimes it’s better to get the draft you need than the draft you want.

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