The Houston Rockets have had the worst record for two years running. They will be at the top of the lottery again this upcoming draft, and even the most optimistic Rockets fans don’t have them any higher than competing for a play-in spot next year.
With all that being said, the Rockets and their fans should pay close attention to the playoffs this year. The deeper you go into the postseason, the more you realize what every playoff team still playing has in common. They have multiple shooters and multiple impactful defenders who can change the game with just their defense.
For instance, the Miami Heat. They have multiple shooters on the court at all times. PJ Tucker is still nailing a three-pointer corner, and there’s also Tyler Herro and Gabe Vincent. Max Strus is a lesser-known name who had a career game to help close out the 76ers. They also have multi-dimensional defenders like Jimmy Butler, Tucker, and Bam Adebayo, who can guard almost any position on the court.
The Rockets have players who can create their shots from players like Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Alperen Sengun. What they don’t have is enough shooting or more defenders. This is something they can start correcting in this year’s draft.
At the top of the draft, two players fit the above criteria of being a good shooter and impactful defender. Those two players are Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren.
Chet and Jabari have impactful defenders
Here is Smith playing excellent on-ball defense. Something the Rockets will need to be a switch-heavy team.
You can see how Smith can stay in front of guards, forwards, or anyone he is switched onto. This is something the Rockets are lacking right now. Outside of Jae’Sean Tate, the Rockets lack good on-ball defenders. Smith also has the size not to get overpowered by centers or bigger forwards in the paint.
The other player at the top of the draft that is an impactful defender is Holmgren. Even though Holmgren isn’t known for his switching ability, he is known for shutting down the paint with his elite rim protection, as you see in this clip.
This level of rim protection covers up for many defensive mistakes or weaknesses on the perimeter, something the Rockets had a lot of with last year’s mistakes and shortcomings. Even with improving defense in the backcourt from Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., the Rockets need a defensive anchor like Holmgren who can cover up for those mistakes.
Holmgren’s 7’6 ”wingspan helps him defend the paint even with his slight frame. Players posting up Holmgren try to push him under the basket, but he can still change their shot.
Even later in the first round, you have players like Tari Eason, Jeremy Sochan, and Ochai Agbaji that are great defenders, and you may have a chance at them with the 17th pick.
Chet and Jabari can spread the floor
I just spoke about both players ’impact on the defensive end, but they are also excellent three-point shooters. Smith is an elite shooter from all over the court. Last season Smith shot 42 percent from beyond the arc, and in the clip below, you can see how pure his shot is on his jumper.
Smith can score from three-point range and mid-range with ease. The Rockets were one of the worst three-point shooting teams in the league last year. This, of course, can cause problems for a team that wants to spread the floor to give Green space in the paint.
Smith’s height at 6’10 ”makes it almost impossible to block his jumper, and he will need that size in the NBA because space on those jumpers will be limited.
Even though Holmgren is a seven-footer and played center most of his career, he can also step out beyond the arc and knock down shots. Holmgren shot 39 percent from three-point range last year, which is a luxury to have from your center.
The Rockets suffered, especially Green, when Houston tried a frontcourt of Daniel Theis and Christian Wood.
Even though Wood is a good three-point shooter, Theis and Tate’s lack of floor spacing made it almost impossible for Green to get to the paint. Holmgren may not have the quickest shot, but he can make defenses pay if you leave him open. You don’t see too many elite defensive anchors that can also shoot 40 percent from three-point range.
The playoffs have shown that you need players who can lock down the elite offensive talent that you find in the playoffs and are not a liability from beyond the arc. Holmgren and Smith are both players that fit the criteria I talked about at the beginning of this article. Therefore, Holmgren is my number one choice, and Smith is second. They would fill two enormous needs for the Rockets going forward with either player.