With three picks in the first round, including the No. 3 pick, Houston hopes to add more talent to a young nucleus of players like all-rookie guard Jalen Green, Kenyon Martin Jr. and Kevin Porter Jr.
Although with the third pick, several draft prognosticators feel the Rockets will get an NBA-ready player. All signs point to Houston taking Duke forward Paolo Banchero with their first pick.
With Orlando and Oklahoma City destined to pick either Auburn forward Jabari Smith and Gonzaga center Chet Holmgren, it seems like an easy decision for the Rockets to take the 6-foot-10, 250-pound Banchero.
The 19-year-old Banchero averaged 17.2 points and 7.8 rebounds with the strength to tussle inside and mobility to roam the perimeter. Ranked as ESPN’s No. 3 draft prospect, the AP third-team All-American was comfortable snatching down a rebound and leading the break. And his skillset proved particularly effective in being able to overpower smaller defenders, move around less-mobile bigs and score in the midrange with polish.
Banchero said Friday he feels he is “the best player in the draft, I feel like I showed that throughout the year.” Duke associate head coach Chris Carrawell said he thinks Banchero should be go No. 1 overall, too.
“For a non-guard at his size, he can create shots from the inside and out,” Carrawell said. “That’s rare.”
However, Banchero shot just 33.8% on 3-pointers, though he was better in the NCAA Tournament. He also had stretches when he could assert himself and impose his will even more, including going the final 7 1/2 minutes of the Final Four loss to rival North Carolina with no baskets and only two shot attempts. Banchero also needs to improve defensive consistency.
Houston could surprise everyone and take Purdue guard Jaden Ivey at No. 3, but it is unlikely since the signs that they like what Banchero offers. Also unlikely is Houston getting Smith or Holmgren, unless the Magic or Thunder take Banchero with the first two picks.
The Rockets also need help in the paint, especially on defense. While the brass is happy with the play of center Alperen Sengun, the team needs a rim protector to help boost what was a lackluster defense last season.
That’s where Houston should be looking at with its next two first-round picks at No. 17 and 26. Tari Eason of LSU or E.J. Liddell of Ohio State are both over 6-foot-7 and are aggressive rebounders and can be strong defenders in the paint.
Or the Rockets could go with another guard in Kentucky’s TyTy Washington, who is a skilled scorer, when healthy.
Houston is also hoping that they can get another big man with the No. 26 pick, either Nikola Jovic from Serbia or MarJon Beauchamp, who played with the G League Ignite.
Jovic is 6-10, but plays like a shooting guard. “My basketball IQ is really good, shooting-wise I’m really good, also passing. Those are things I can immediately translate to the NBA,” Jovic said.
The 6-6 Beauchamp is a young player that not only can play defense at almost every position, but can score with or without the ball.
The 2022 NBA Draft takes place at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. and begins at 7 p.m. Central time.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.