The 2021 NBA Draft started with Oklahoma State’s Cade Cunningham at No. 1 and ended with Georgios Kalaitzakis from Greece’s Panathinaikos at No. 60. In between, the Houston Rockets made four first-round picks and became one of the big winners of the night.
After the draft ended, however, the Rockets kept working at building their team in the post-James Harden era. The team signed one of the top undrafted free agents to a two-way contract and, in the process, got a player who may be able to help them next season and one of the steals of the draft process.
The Houston Rockets crushed the first round of the NBA Draft
The Houston Rockets took a possible franchise-changing center at No. 2 overall in the 2021 NBA Draft. Prep superstar Jalen Green, who spent a season with the NBA’s developmental G League Ignite, can be a go-to scorer from day one in the league. He has the athleticism and the natural ability to put the ball in the basket that can make him a player you can build a championship team around.
Seventeen picks later, the Rockets stopped the somewhat unexpected slide of Turkish Super League MVP Alperen Sengun. The old-school big man might not look or play like Deandre Ayton, but he dominated Europe at 18 like Luka Doncic did before him. He also may have the offensive ability to develop into a Nikola Jokic-style big down the road.
The Rockets also picked at Nos. 23 and 24. First, they took Spanish wing Usman Garuba, another international player with an already impressive resume with Real Madrid and the Spain National Team. He could be to defending what Green is to the other side of the ball. At No. 24, Houston selected Arizona State’s Josh Christopher. He’s a 19-year-old project with 3-and-D guard potential down the road.
This group represents one of, if not the best overall draft haul of 2021.
Houston signed Duke’s Matthew Hurt as an undrafted free agent
After taking four first-rounders, the Rockets sat out Round Two. Houston general manager Rafael Stone got back at it right after the proceedings ended, though, and roped another big fish.
Duke’s Matthew Hurt was a huge coup for the Rockets as an undrafted free agent. The 6-foot-9 forward is a knockdown shooter who can score at all three levels, inside, midrange, and from 3. In his sophomore season in Durham, Hurt shot 55.6% from the field, 72.4% from the line, and 44.4% from 3-point range.
He also carried a below-average Duke team to a better-than-deserved 13-11 record after star freshman Jalen Johnson quit on the team halfway through the season. Without Johnson, Hurt became the only reliable scorer and still averaged 18.3 points per game despite being the sole focus of the other team’s defense.
Hurt still has a lot of work to do to become an NBA-quality defender. On a Rockets squad with the uber-athletic Green, Garuba, and Christopher, as well as strong defenders Christian Wood and Jae’Sean Tate, the former Blue Devil’s lack of D shouldn’t hurt as much.
The Rockets should have an exciting team in 2021
Houston already had some young, interesting talent in place before the 2021 draft. Wood and Tate were two overlooked players who flourished when given a chance to play starters minutes with the tanking Rockets in 2021.
Kevin Porter Jr., who infamously flamed out in Cleveland after just one season, also resuscitated his career in H-Town. The talented but often in trouble Porter Jr. put up 16.6 points and 6.3 assists per game last season and even dropped a 50-spot against the eventual NBA champs, Milwaukee Bucks.
The team also still has veterans John Wall and Eric Gordon and last year’s first-round pick, Kenyon Martin Jr. On the first night of NBA free agency, the team inked veteran center Daniel Theis as well.
This mix of players should make for a fun year, if nothing else in Houston. Most of the team’s chance for success comes down to whether Green can be a star right away. If he can, the players Houston drafted and Hurts will be perfect complements for this budding star, and Houston could rebuild from the Harden debacle faster than expected.