The missilesWhile in the early stages of a promising reconstruction, we can still benefit from a fruitful summer. From upcoming draft to free agency and planning ahead, it’s all about getting back to winning ways – someday.
Athletic first NBA Analyst John Hollinger and the Rockets beat writer Kelly Ecko and discuss the Houston summer from all angles.
(Editor’s note: The following has been modified for clarity and brevity).
eco: John, with the final speech on pick #3 and which player will be available for Houston from “Level 1” by Paulo Banchero, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith, we’re assuming the Rockets should go with the best player available, right? Do we know who this is now? Did the combination do anything to help or harm those decisions, and is there an alternative where it is not one of those three?
Hollinger: The only conceivable alternative apart from these three is Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who I believe wouldn’t be Houston’s first choice given his positional overlap with Galen Green. So, Paulo, Shet or Jabbari is so.
Where can Ivey make things interesting is then Oklahoma City Taking it second will leave the Rockets potentially choosing between two of the three players mentioned above. Otherwise, in many ways, it’s an easy drag night for the Rockets. Orlando Oklahoma City will take two of those three players off the board, and Houston will draft the remaining player. No matter what, he’s a front yard player, so Houston’s other plans don’t hinge so much on how he chooses.
As far as the NBA Draft Combine goes, one of the truisms over the past several years has been that the lottery’s high picks just don’t matter. The respective agents of these three players will run the drills and medical information they see fit among the top three teams, so the Rockets will have to work with them to get all the ducks in a row before the night of the draw. The only thing that seems to come off the set is the idea that Panchero might be the third man if Smith and Holmgren are the top picks.
eco: Let’s just go with the idea that Panchero is their man in third place. I know Houston is in the position of the best player available right now, but is it also the best? I think I’m coming from more synergy in the back area. We’ve only seen a season of Jalen Green in this rebuilding process, but you should start laying a dim blueprint for what this team wants to look like in the near future. That starts with a supplemental cut, and Banchero is that 6-foot-10, playmaker, three-tier scorer.
But now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. Do you see that this works? What happens to the other front yard options on the list? Jae’Sean Tate plays the same position, and Christian Wood It is the same height, albeit with different skills. Could Banchero theoretically play alongside names like this too Alperin Shingon?
Hollinger: In terms of “working,” missiles need to think more long-term than short-range on this. They lost 62 games last year, so anything they do is unlikely to immediately turn into contenders. The best thing a team can do in their situation is to let things go a little before committing to one path or another. See what Banchero looks like next to Wood and Şengün, see where Tate fits into the mix (although on a super-caliber team he’s certainly not a key player), then find out who should stay and who should move on.
As far as I’d expect it to happen, I think Banchero is a normal four-player who only plays the five in some extreme small ball settings. It does not have a large length and is not a natural protector. Since he, Wood, and Şengün have some perimeter-related skills, I think the front court pairs will most likely work on the attack. Defensively is where it gets more questionable, as Şengün and Wood are both suspects at this end at the moment, and Banchero recommends he’s an offensive player.
eco: You mentioned long-term thinking, and I wrote recently about Christian Wood, His looming free agency and uncertainty about his future with the Costume Rockets. What is your position on him as part of this group? Is it still young enough to fit into their current schedule? I used the actual age/age analogy in the NBA, using 222 games in his career that have been played similarly to a player for three or four years.
If you think it serves better elsewhere, what are some good places to land? One of the crazy ideas I came up with was to try and shoot the Wood/Eric Gordon package framework for it TorontoOG Anunoby, but there are more realistic options (Charlottefor example).
Are you also at the point where you can write off Wood’s time just because of Şengün? Is it still too early in the rebuilding process to make such a call? Are you part of the #SengunSquad?
Hollinger: I’m a founding member of #SengunSquad, but I don’t think that necessarily forces the Rockets to do anything with Wood. For starters, just because I’m a fan doesn’t mean Şengün has proven to be a long-term player. Let’s walk before we run here.
More importantly, Wood as the third largest of the decade in his mid-teens isn’t exactly a crazy proposition, especially if he’s viable to stay in Houston and extend his deal.
The problem with Wood, instead, is that his contract is about to expire, so the Rockets have to determine his market value and their alternate paths to fill their spot in the front zone. If a team like Charlotte were willing to put in a good first-round match, the Rockets would probably be better off giving it their wings. Houston will have plenty of room left once his contract is canceled after this season to sign a potential replacement.
An alternative strategy would be to see an extension of Wood’s contract, which would cut into the 2023 space but not enough to take any meaningful odds off the board; In fact, he would be the highest-paid player on the team and the only one to earn more than $10 million (assuming Rocket drops to guarantee Gordon’s $20.9 million).
The key is not to let Wood walk out the door this summer without getting something in return. In the absence of an extension or deal trade, Houston could play this until the trade deadline, when injuries could create needs in the other rosters and the Rockets would have a better idea of Şengün’s trajectory.
eco: You’re right: Wood’s free agency is something the Rockets need to rectify, whatever the outcome.
Beyond that, how aggressive should they be with their mid-level exception available? This team has needs across the board, but 2023 appears to be the time to pounce. Could they take a similar approach to last summer, bringing in a veteran (Daniel Theiss) And his volatility in the deadline for next season?
Hollinger: I think one of the lessons from last year is that if they’re going to add a mid-level veteran, it can’t be a four-year deal. This almost exploded in their faces when Theis struggled last year, and BostonTheir familiarity with it and their general desperation from the depths were the only thing that saved them.
Having said that, I see no reason why they couldn’t bring someone on a shorter deal to support some key position, especially at the point of standby protection. Even a deal that goes into next year won’t functionally affect the Houston space (they’ll have about $70 million in the room, give or take depending on where they pick in the first round and the deal from Milwaukee).
For their free clients, I don’t think this summer is complicated for Houston. Tate’s low contract next summer favors Houston taking a wait-and-see approach before asking him to make a new deal. It looks like Wall, of course, is on his way to a buyout of some sort, but whatever number is agreed upon is unlikely to affect the rest of the off-season. Houston crossed the cap but crossed the $20 million tax streak; It’s hard to imagine scenarios in which Wall’s acquisition ends up being beyond its effect on Tillman Fertita’s checkbook.
As for Porter, he’ll be a leashed free agent next summer, but that’s something the Rockets would definitely want to play. As promising as he has shown in flashes over the past couple of years, stories about his difficulties dealing off the field have made their way around the league. I think the Rockets need more confidence that this is the person they want to move forward with before committing.
eco: I wanted to touch on another important draft item: #17. This chapter has a lot of talent that might fall outside the lottery, and with a second coach, the Rockets should look again to take the best player available.
The group didn’t do much in terms of separating some of these names, but there are a number of guys that could be fun: Malaki Branham, Tari Eason, and sleeper MarJon Beauchamp to name a few. Galen Williams is another person who is getting up fast. Who has impressed you recently, be it professional days, interviews, tape, etc.?
Hollinger: Most players Houston would consider when they turn 17 have not taken the court in the combination, but Williams is the exception. He is certainly an exciting name currently after a solid performance on the field in the combine, having already piqued the interest of teams with his strong analytics profile and size. He mostly played the point guard in college, but he’s huge for a guard and would likely play a winger at the professional level. His foot can be a little heavy at times when defending, but he has volume, he shoots and he can handle the ball. He made some moves against Holmgren in particular as he put him on skis. This type of multi-skilled player tends to find his way onto the field, even if the upside isn’t as exciting as some of the other players.
The other player the Rockets have to take a long look at is TyTy Washington Junior, the base guard from Kentucky. He had a very strong first half of the season before injuries prevented him from making a comeback at the end of the year, but back in his workgroup as a freshman at SEC, he’s had a really good season. It’s not a good draft for point guards, but Houston could use another draft in the pipeline; Plus, it has enough size to play the ball when needed. Washington did not play in the combination.
Finally, the Rockets could use a real rim guard and might have to take a very long look at Duke’s Mark Williams if he drops to 17. However, I suspect the needy Charlotte in the center has her eye on him in the 13th pick.
(Photo by Paolo Panchero: Rob Keenan/USA Today)