The Rockets were technically one of the winners on lottery night last month, claiming one of the top four spots up for grabs in the 2023 NBA draft.
However, Houston entered that night second in the lottery standings and was among three teams with the best odds for the No. 1 pick, so the fact that the club will be picking fourth on June 22 qualifies as a bit of a disappointment — especially in a draft with a consensus top three prospects.
Still, while the Rockets likely won’t get an opportunity to draft Victor Wembanyama, Scoot Henderson, or Brandon Miller, that No. 4 pick has plenty of value, either as tool to add another promising young player to their core or as a prime trade chip.
The latest mock drafts at ESPN, Bleacher Report, The Ringer, and The Athletic all have the Rockets using the fourth overall pick to draft Overtime Elite guard Amen Thompson. A hyper-athletic, ball-handling guard with size (6’7″) and the ability to create shots for teammates, Thompson is an intriguing prospect, though he remains raw as a defender, his shot needs some time to develop, and he wasn’t really tested against top-level competition in the OTE setting.
While Thompson is widely considered the best prospect available at No. 4 if Wembyanama, Henderson, and Miller are off the board, his twin brother Ausar Thompson will be in the mix for Houston too. Ausar is the fifth-best prospect on ESPN’s big board and Jonathan Wasserman of Bleacher Report hears that both Thompsons are under “heavy consideration” at No. 4.
Kevin O’Connor wrote on Friday that he intends move Ausar ahead of Amen when his rankings at The Ringer are updated this week, arguing that Ausar has made more progress with his jump shot and has been the more effective defender of the two.
Of course, the Thompson twins aren’t the only players who will be on the Rockets’ radar at No. 4. Most recent mocks have Villanova wing Cam Whitmore coming off the board before Ausar, and local product Jarace Walker, a power forward who played for the Cougars, is considered a good bet to be drafted in the top half of the lottery.
What makes Houston’s choice all the more interesting is the fact that the club reportedly intends to push aggressively for a playoff spot in 2023/24, using its cap room to pursue veterans (including James Harden) who could help the team win right away. The Rockets don’t control their own 2024 first-round pick, so there’s little incentive for them to continue tanking (technically, the Rockets will keep their 2024 first-rounder if it’s in the top four, but even if they finish with the NBA’s worst record, there’s only about a 50/50 chance of that happening).
Houston could straddle the line between making a playoff push and continuing to build through the draft, using up to $60MM in cap room to sign or trade for veterans and still adding another young player to the core by using the No. 4 pick.
But if the franchise is serious about making a jump in the standings, that lottery pick would make an ideal trade chip in a deal for an impact player. They’d have to be realistic about the pick’s value – it likely wouldn’t bring back an All-Star caliber player unless it’s packaged with other strong assets – but it seems reasonable to assume it could be used to acquire a quality starter.
We want to know what direction you think the Rockets should go with that pick. Should they keep it or trade it? If they hang onto it, which prospect should they draft, assuming the consensus top three aren’t available? If they look to trade it, what kind of player can they realistically expect to land?
Vote in our poll, then head to the comment section below to share your thoughts!