Rockets’ Rafael Stone Talks Draft, Udoka, Free Agency, More

This season, the Rockets finished with a solid 41-41 record but missed the postseason as the West’s No. 11 seed. The team then moved up in this past weekend’s draft lottery, claiming the No. 3 pick.

General manager Rafael Stone recently explained to The Athletic’s Kelly Iko that, despite the middling reputation of this year’s draft class, his front office likes a lot of the prospects available.

“I think it’s a really talented draft, and there will be very good players in it,” Stone said. “Historically, what we’ve seen is that people do not do a very good job predicting how good a draft is or is not. There are kind of unicorn-type players that occasionally appear in drafts and that signal early on in their lives that they have a chance to be extraordinarily special. And you see teams kind of falling over themselves to get themselves in positions to pick No. 1 in those drafts, even though the way everything’s set up, that’s a pretty impossible task. In that sense, there’s not someone like that in this draft.”

Their conversation is well worth reading in full, but here are some key highlights.

On how new Houston head coach Ime Udoka’s input impacts Stone’s draft process:

“Ime is a really good coach and basketball mind. We definitely solicit his opinion and get his thoughts as another smart person who can give us some insight on who’s likely to be successful. But in terms of draft philosophy, it’s very much let’s try and bring in guys who can be good basketball players.”

On whether the team’s strong season will affect its offseason approach:

“We’re comfortable with our team and we think we’re going to improve internally. Because of that, I don’t think we’re likely to be super aggressive. It doesn’t mean we won’t listen. And it doesn’t mean if we think that there’s a unique opportunity, we won’t jump at it. But we have very talented players, they’re young and we lost a ton of games to injury. That combination means our primary focus is bringing back our core group as a better core group than it was last year, both through internal improvement and health.”

On the growth of young talent like Alperen Sengun and Jalen Green, both of whom are extension-eligible:

“We want those guys to start next year at or above the level they finished at the end of the year. I think all of our young players got materially better. They understood what Ime wanted, how to play defense better, the right reads on offense. It needs to not be two steps forward, one back. If we do that, we’ll be in a good position. Those guys just have to work and we have workers. I’m very confident they will do it, but there is no magic elixir. It’s all about putting in the work. We don’t expect it to be linear. And some of the reason is because of externalities — playing time from the coach, the way the offense flows. All these other things can influence how people play. But notwithstanding, it’s mainly on them. They need to make sure they stay on this trajectory.”

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