Analyzing Rockets’ best NBA draft options, Christian Wood’s free agency

The Rockets, while in the early stages of a promising rebuild, could still benefit from a productive summer. From the upcoming draft to free agency and planning ahead, everything is about getting back on the winning path — someday.

athletics team Senior NBA analyst John Hollinger and Rockets beat writer Kelly Iko discussed Houston’s summer from every angle.

(Editor’s note: The following has been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Iko: John, based on recent discussions about the No. 3 pick and the “Tier 1” picks that Houston could get from Paul Banchero, Chet Holmgren, and Jabari Smith, we assume the Rockets should select the most Good players are available, right? Do we know who it is now? Does the combine do anything to help or hurt these decisions, and are there alternatives that aren’t one of these three decisions?

HollingerA: The only conceivable option other than those three is Purdue guard Jaden Ivey, who I don’t think would be Houston’s first choice given his position overlap with Jaylen Green. So, Paolo, Chet or Jabari is like that.

Where Ivey can make things interesting is whether Oklahoma City has him at No. 2. That would allow the Rockets to potentially choose between two of the three aforementioned players. Otherwise, in many ways, it’s been an easy draft night for the Rockets. Orlando and Oklahoma City will remove two of those three players from their boards, while Houston will draft the rest. This is a frontcourt player anyway, so Houston’s other plans don’t depend too much on the outcome of the draft pick.

As far as the NBA draft is concerned, one of the truths of the past few years is that high lottery picks don’t even bother with it. The three players’ respective agents will provide training and medical information as they see fit on the top three teams, so the Rockets will have to work with them to get all the ducks before draft night. The only thought that seems to come out of the mix is ​​that if Smith and Holmgren are the top two picks, Banchero could be the third pick.

Iko: Let’s think Banchero is their No. 3 player. I know Houston is in best player available mode right now, but is he also the best fit? I think I’m more of a synergy from the backcourt and the frontcourt. We’ve only seen one season of Jalen Green in this rebuild, but you should start to vaguely sketch what this team wants to be in the near future. Starting with complementary pieces, Banchero is just that — a playmaking third-level scorer at 6-foot-10.

But now, let’s look at the other side of the coin. Do you see that works? What will happen to the other frontcourt options on the roster? Jae’Sean Tate has the same position and Christian Wood has the same height, albeit with different skills. Could Banchero theoretically go with a name like this? And Alperen Şengün?

Hollinger: In terms of “jobs,” the Rockets need to think more about the long-term than the short-term. They lost 62 games last year, so whatever they do is unlikely to immediately turn this team into a contender. For teams in this situation, the best thing to do is to let things happen a little and then commit to one path or the other. Look at what Banchero looks like next to Wood and Singen, see where Tate fits in (though on a playoff level team he’s almost certainly not a starter) and decide who should stay and who should Keep going.

In terms of what I’d expect, I think Banchero is a natural 4 who will only play 5 in some extreme small-ball situations. He’s not long in length and isn’t a natural frame protector. Since he, Wood and Şengün have some perimeter skills, I think the frontcourt combination is likely to be useful on offense. The defensive end is where it’s more questionable, as both Şengün and Wood are now under suspicion in that regard, while Banchero has also been described as more of an attacking player.

IkoA: You mentioned long-term thinking, and I recently wrote about Christian Wood, his looming free agency and the uncertainty of his future in a Rockets uniform. As a member of this team, what is your stance on him? Is he young enough to fit into their current schedule? I used the NBA age/chronological age analogy, basically using his 222 career games, which is comparable to a three or four year player.

If you think he’s better served elsewhere, what are some good landing spots? I had a wild idea of ​​trying to frame the Wood/Eric Gordon package for OG Anunoby in Toronto, but there are more realistic options (like Charlotte).

Are you also able to log out of Wood’s time because of Şengün’s presence? Is it too early to make such a decision in a rebuild? Are you part of the #SegunSquad?

Hollinger: I’m a founding member of #SengunSquad, but I don’t think that’s necessarily going to force the Rockets to do anything with Wood. For starters, just because I’m a fan doesn’t mean Şengün has proven that he’s a long-term starter. Before we run here, let’s go one step further.

What’s more, Wood’s third-largest contract as a teenager isn’t a crazy proposition, especially if he’s willing to stay in Houston and extend his contract.

Instead, Wood’s problem is that his contract is expiring, so it will be necessary for the Rockets to determine his market value and their own alternative path to fill his frontcourt position. If a team like Charlotte is willing to come up with a decent first-round pick, the Rockets might be better off giving him his wings. Once his contract expires after this season, Houston will have plenty of cap space to sign a potential replacement.

Another strategy is to consider extending Wood’s contract, which would cut cap space in 2023, but not enough to eliminate any meaningful possibility; in fact, he would be the team’s highest-paid player and the only earner Players over $10 million (assuming the Rockets refuse to guarantee Gordon’s $20.9 million).

The most important key is not to let Wood walk out of the house this summer without getting paid. In the absence of a contract extension or big deal, Houston has the potential to make it to the end of the trade deadline, when injuries could create a need for the rest of the lineup, and the Rockets will have a better idea of ​​Şengün’s trajectory.

Iko: You’re right: Wood’s free agency is something the Rockets need to do right, regardless of the outcome.

Beyond that, how aggressive should they be about the available middle-class exceptions? This team has comprehensive needs, but it looks like 2023 is the time to pounce. Can they take a similar approach to last summer, bringing in a veteran (Daniel Theis) and swapping him out at the deadline next season?

Or, how do they handle their future free agency? Dennis Schröder may be gone, Tate and Kevin Porter Jr. are eligible for renewals, and John Wall’s case is still pretty expensive.

Hollinger: I think one lesson from last year is that if they’re going to add a veteran in the middle class, it can’t be a four-year deal. It nearly blew up in their faces when Theis struggled last year, and Boston’s familiarity with him and a general desire for depth were the only things that kept them out of trouble.

Having said that, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t bring in someone on a shorter contract to shore up some key positions, especially backup point guard. Even next year’s trade won’t functionally affect Houston’s cap space (they’ll have about $70 million, depending on where their first-round picks and those from Milwaukee land).

As for their own free agency, I don’t think it’s been a complicated summer for Houston. Tate’s low salary next summer will help Houston take a wait-and-see approach before signing him to a new contract. Sure, Wall appears to be heading for some form of buyout, but whatever number is reached is unlikely to affect the rest of the offseason. Houston is over the cap, but more than $20 million in taxes; it’s hard to imagine the impact of Wall’s acquisition ultimately affecting Tilman Fertitta’s checkbook.

As for Porter, he’ll be a restricted free agent next summer, but it’s a player the Rockets will definitely want to play. Despite his flashbacks over the past two years, stories have circulated around the league about the difficulties of dealing with him off the court. I think the Rockets need a lot more trust and believe this is someone they want to move forward with before committing.

Iko: I want to talk about a more important draft item: No. 17. There’s a lot of talent at this level that might not be in the lottery, and with the first and second rounds, the Rockets should once again be looking for the best player available.

The Commonwealth hasn’t done a lot to differentiate some of these names, but there are a few that might be interesting: Malachi Branham, Tarry Eason, and my sleeper Marjoon Beauchamp to name a few . Jaylen Williams is another fast-rising man. Who has impressed you recently, be it career days, interviews, recordings, etc.?

Hollinger: Most of the players Houston considered didn’t play at Union Field at 17, but Williams was an exception. He is definitely a red-hot name right now after a stellar run at United, as he has captivated teams with his analytical prowess and size. He played mostly point guard in college, but he’s important to guard and will likely play wide at the pro level. His feet can be a little heavy at times on defense, but he has the size, shooting ability and ball-handling ability. He does a few moves on Holmgren, especially when he puts him on his skates. This multi-positional, multi-skilled player tends to find his way on the court, even if the upside may not be as exciting as some of the other set-and-forget players.

Another player the Rockets should keep an eye on for the long term is point guard TyTy Washington Jr. from Kentucky. He had a very strong first half of the season until injuries held him back at the end of the year, but looking back on his work experience as a freshman in the SEC, he had a very good season. Not a great pick for a point guard, but Houston could use another one in the pipeline; plus, he has the size to play off the ball when needed. Washington did not play in the combined game.

Finally, the Rockets could use a true rim protector, who might have to watch him closely if Duke’s Mark Williams drops to 17. However, I suspect that Charlotte, who is in desperate need of a center, has his eye on him at No. 13.

(Photo by Paolo Banchero: Rob Kinnan/USA Today)


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