NBA superstar James Harden straight up quit on the Houston Rockets. After the franchise acquiesced to almost every single one of Harden’s demands, the All-NBA guard showed up at the beginning of last season lazy and out of shape in an excruciatingly obvious attempt to get of Houston.
Well, it worked. The Rockets sent Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, where he teamed up with Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. In return, the Rockets got a hoard of draft capital, including three first-round picks and four first-round pick swaps.
Armed with three first-round selections, along with their treasure trove of future picks, Houston came out of the 2021 NBA Draft as perhaps the biggest winner.
The Houston Rockets began their post-James Harden rebuild by crushing the 2021 NBA Draft
Houston began the draft with picks 2, 23, and 24. The Rockets took G-League Ignite star Jalen Green at No. 2 to begin the evening. Green could turn out to be a superstar and perhaps the best player in the 2021 class.
The Rockets then used some of that aforementioned draft capital to add another first-round pick, acquiring the No. 16 selection from Oklahoma City. Houston used that pick on Turkish big man Alperen Sengun.
The Rockets doubled up in the frontcourt at No. 23, taking another international big in Usman Garuba out of Spain. Houston ended its night by taking a big swing at another athletic, offensive-minded guard in Arizona State’s Josh Christopher
Houston expertly used its 2021 NBA Draft picks to build roster balance while acquiring both talent and upside
The No. 2 pick was the Rockets’ own after Houston finished dead last in the Western Conference last season. The Rockets also owned picks 23 and 24 from separate trades. The Oklahoma City pick used to select Sengun came via the trade of two future first-round picks, of which Houston has more.
Green is the gem of the Rockets’ class. The 19-year-old is the most athletic prospect in the 2021 class and has the ability to create separation from defenders and get his own shot from anywhere on the floor.
Sengun is an analytics darling and immediately brings professional experience to Houston. According to ESPN, Sengun may be the “most productive 18-year-old in high-level European basketball history.” Sengun’s old-school interior game may not be for everyone, but his production can’t be argued with. He averaged 18.6 points, 8.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.5 blocks, and 1.3 steals per game. He shot 67% from the field and 81% from the free throw line playing professionally as a teenager.
Garuba is another young, productive, overseas talent. He may be the best defensive prospect in this year’s draft with a strong frame, long wingspan, and a high-intensity level. He also played almost 90 games for Real Madrid last season and was considered one of the best young players in the country.
Christopher was a high-level recruit coming out of high school. He was incredibly inconsistent and left Arizona State after only 15 games. But while in college, he showed flashes of exceptional offensive potential, athleticism and upside.
The Rockets can provide their 2021 NBA Draft picks with time to develop
Houston is clearly not a very good team. The Rockets, as currently constructed, don’t have much in the way of sure-fire NBA talent. The team will likely struggle again in 2021-22 and end up with another high lottery pick.
But the blessing in disguise is that all four of Houston’s 2021 draft selections will have the opportunity to play from the jump. Being thrown into the NBA fire and forced to learn on the fly can sometimes be the best way for prospects to develop.
Green will likely become the Rockets’ go-to scorer at some point during the season. Sengun and Garuba will join Wood in the frontcourt, but all three have different enough skill sets that will allow each to play significant minutes. Even Christopher, despite being one of the rawest players in the draft, should be able to see the floor.
Being forced to trade Trading a superstar like Harden can set a franchise back significantly. But Houston used its 2021 picks smartly, which could help the Rockets on their way back to respectability.