Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Houston Rockets Draft Preview

Finding a new mate for Yao... in the frontcourt
From Yao Central

It's not that we don't love Chuck Hayes. His work ethic and tenacity are everything you ask for in a professional athlete, but Hayes is a sparkplug type of player that really should really be coming off the bench. Everyone in the franchise loves Hayes, but no one is shy about saying Houston needs another legit big.

Rockets GM Daryl Morey, though, has significantly downplayed Houston's prospects of finding an appropriate fit in this year's NBA draft. Whether strategically or by getting thoroughly underwhelmed by the players available, he's skillfully not revealing any motives. But he is very aware that this a deep draft. lists Italy's Marco Belinelli, Georgia Tech swingman Thaddeus Young, Rice's scoring guard Morris Almond and LSU's Glen Davis as Morey continues to promise Houston will be drafting for talent

Included below is a short list of candidates for the power forward position that would best complement Yao Ming and the Rockets new offense should they be available when Houston picks. For as much as Morey claims a wait-and-see attitude, there's an inkling that he's downplaying prospects with a purpose. Some of the selections below are based on John Hollinger's (ESPN) new rating system for college prospects. You'll have to read a lengthy description to fully appreciate the system, but the reason why it resonates to me is that all three prospects I list below were ones I thought should have been much higher than their current rankings. So how can I argue with Hollinger's findings? The draft experts seem to have it wrong on these guys, so why shouldn't Houston take advantage?

So far, at the power forward position, the Rockets have apparently looked at forward-center Jason Smith out of Colorado State. They've also brought in Israeli forward Lior Eliyahu to workout and see if he can't secure a spot on next year's roster. Some draft preview sites (and now, have the Rockets taking Nick Fazekas out of Nevada. Fazekas rates high on Hollinger's chart (7th), but there's one problem with Smith, Fazekas and Eliyahu... they're all a little soft. Each forward has been criticized for their less than impressive upper body strength and all tend to shy from contact. And talent or otherwise, that's not what the Rockets need, especially when they can find comparable talent with more of a predilection to bang with the big boys. Of course, if the Rockets move up as Morey would prefer, then it would make it somewhat easier, or it could change who they're looking at completely. Here are the three best forwards likely to still be available at the 26th pick:

Sean Williams (BC) Ht: 6-10, Wt: 230 lbs, Age: 20 has an in-depth story about that workout and Williams efforts to reform. Many draft sites have Williams as a stretch to even to make the first round, but Morey knows better than that. He isn't even expecting Williams to be around at the Rockets 26th pick. The truth is, he'd be a great addition, perhaps the most athletic forward in the draft, he should have been a lottery pick. Williams seems to be a humble individual that is making the effort to put his troubles behind him, but if anyone is thinking of taking a chance on Williams, he'll go way before the Rockets can get him. So the real stretch here is whether or not he'll actually be available at the 26th pick. scout Matthew Maurer writes that he "possesses all the physical tools to excel, long wingspan, quick hands, timing and the ability to produce multiple jumps in succession." Though perhaps less polished than McRoberts in basic skills, Williams is more athletic, just as aggressive on offense and defense (not to mention one of the best shotblockers in the college game) and still has plenty of room to grow, exactly what Houston was hoping for in Stromile Swift. Williams' off-court problems are his only red flag--will Eddie Griffin ever let us overlook that again?--but if Williams' problems are too much for the 23 picks after Durant/Oden, then Morey seems certain to give the kid a chance--on his "drafting for talent" policy alone. Oh, and he's a hometown boy, too.

Josh McRoberts (Duke) Ht: 6-10, Wt: 240 lbs, Age: 21
You can see for yourself what kind of athleticism McRoberts brings via these clips (1, 2) on YouTube. He's no Sean Williams but he's a strong finisher and aggresive around the rim and loose balls. On top of that, he has solid footwork in the paint, can face up, handle the ball and occasionally step out for 3. relegates his similarities to a less athletic Chris Webber--not true, you can't get less athletic than Webber right now--what they probably meant was Webber as a rookie. But what McRoberts has over C-Webb, to a fault, is an endless store of competitive fire. The Rockets could use some of that. McRoberts seems more accurately described as a less low-post-capable Rasheed Wallace. But he doesn't need much prowess in the low-post, that's what Yao is for. Because of that inability to really create for himself, McRoberts is a late first-rounder, but he has plenty of the other skills and intangibles that seem to complement Yao.

ESPN's Chad Ford has McRoberts rated right at 26th where the Rockets pick, but his name hasn't popped up much in Houston. According to Hollinger's system, he's easily a lottery pick. Expecting that Williams will be gone and McRoberts is available at 26, could there much argument against the pick?

Glen Davis (LSU) Ht: 6-9, Wt: 290 lbs, Age: 21
Assuming a few scouts read Hollinger's system and actually give it any credence and McRoberts goes high, maybe Glen "Big Baby" Davis is the way to go (then again, if scouts listened to Hollinger, then Big Baby would go 12th on that list). But at Ford's ranking at 25, there is a chance Davis will be available when the Rockets pick.

Davis is an unparalled athlete in this draft, but in a much different way than players like Durant, Oden, Thaddeus Young or even Sean Williams. He is simply bigger and stronger than everyone else; and he's aggressive with his size, not shying away from contact. But what separates him from the rest is the combination of that size with NBA-level explosiveness and agility. He can't jump but he can move. Think of the ballerina hippopotami from Fantasia. Now imagine that elegant hippo guarding Carlos Boozer in Game 7.

Davis is somewhat undersized in height (though matching Boozer), but great rebounders have never needed to be that tall (see Ben Wallace, Charles Barkley, Dennis Rodman), they just have to have a nose for the ball and the tenacity to get to it. Big Baby appears to have those tools and the work ethic to improve. His weight has been an issue, but he's showed that he is willing to make the commitment to slim down, dropping 15-20 lbs between his sophomore and junior year. Nevertheless, Davis' bulk and aggressiveness, combined with a knack for ball-handling, passing and knocking down the open jumper, seem more than adequately complementary to Yao in the low post.

No comments: