Rafael Stone is a man of process. The Rockets general manager is not a Sam Hinkie disciple, and an extended tankathon is unlikely in Houston. But as the Rockets ponder their options with the second pick in the 2021 draft, Stone is quick to emphasize a key tenet of his executive philosophy. He plans to leave no stone unturned in his search for the next franchise anchor. Less than a year after James Harden’s departure, Stone can quickly jump-start Houston’s rebuilding with the right decision.
“Nothing should be excluded,” Stone said after the NBA draft lottery on June 22. “You have to do the work and use the allotted time and have all the discussions. I think it is worth the process to avoid predetermining things. That is something we strive to avoid. “
Houston dropped to No. 2 in the 2021 draft after hitting the league’s worst record in 2020-21, though coming second in an impressive top-tier class is a welcome result compared to the alternative. The Rockets risked losing their pick to the Thunder by entering the lottery, and any picks outside of the top four would move to Oklahoma City as a result of Russell Westbrook’s ill-fated trade. Losing the pick would have been a disaster for Stone and Co. The Rockets are likely to be only a marginal playoff contender in 2021-22, even if they hit the second pick. If no lottery talent was on the way, another last-place finish in the West was certainly plausible. No newbie is a guaranteed success, especially right away. But there is legitimate star power in the top three of this draft. Daryl Morey’s biggest mistake has yet to hurt his successor.
So what exactly will the Rockets do with the second pick? Perhaps Stone knows who to select, although if he does, he sports an impressive poker face. Stone did not mention Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley or Jalen Green during his post-lottery press conference. He even raised the idea of changing the pick, though largely to illustrate his open mind as he entered the draft process. Houston could fall in love with either Mobley or Green in the next few weeks. Stone could draw a Morey and make a trade. As the Rockets chart a way forward in the post-tightening era, let’s evaluate their plethora of potential options:
Gate A: Detroit shocks the world
Cade Cunningham may be on top of just about every drill imaginable, but the arrival of the Oklahoma State point guard in Detroit isn’t exactly a fait accompli right now. Detroit’s interest in Green at No. 1 is legitimate according to SI’s Jeremy Woo, and could be considered pairing a skilled center like Mobley with Jerami Grant on the front court. The smart money is still in the Pistons by taking the expected route and casting Cunningham. But if they don’t, the Rockets are in a prime position to land an NBA-ready star.
Expect Houston to pounce on Cunningham if he goes down, and if Detroit gets the top pick, the Rockets could still be in position to move up. Houston has No. 23 and 24 picks in the 2021 draft, and perhaps a veteran wing like Eric Gordon could be of interest as the Pistons look to avoid another year in the lottery. Still, consider this more of an unlikely hypothetical than anything else at this point.
Gate B: Go back from n. 2
We will also be brief here with this option. If Cunningham is available at No. 2, he will be at the Toyota Center on opening night. If the Pistons win the presumed first pick, the debate between Mobley and Green will come to a head. I’d be skeptical of any rumor that takes Houston out of the top three, although there may be a world in which the Rockets drop one spot on a deal with the Cavaliers. Cleveland could pick who it perceives to be the right fit alongside Darius Garland, Colin Sexton and Jarrett Allen, while the Rockets can add a couple of assets and select Mobley or Green at No. 3. This is a bit hyperspecific. scenario, although it is plausible considering the reconstruction stage of each team.
Gate C: Stick and Pick
The most likely scenario here is the simplest. Cunningham becomes No. 1, the Rockets move on from making a trade and a battle for the No. 2 pick ensues. Both Green and Mobley have star potential, and it’s easy to imagine either youngster would be a good fit for the team. by Stephen Silas. Let’s briefly put on our GM hat and evaluate each option.
The Mobley case:
The NBA is still a shooting guard league, but a truly special big man can change the roof of a team in a big way. And all signs point to USC’s Mobley being such a player. The 7-footer could very well compete for Total Defense honors with a 7’4 ”wingspan and quick feet, capable of both fighting the giants on the ground and gliding along with the guards and wings on the perimeter. Mobley’s jump shot is a work in progress, although he is an impressive athlete with surprisingly solid handling, and his passing ability is quite advanced for a player his age. Theoretically, Mobley could grow as a foothold in Houston’s offense, serving as an oversized version of Bam Adebayo. There’s a legitimate edge and a profitable floor here, giving Kevin Porter Jr. a great running mate of the future. Mobley is a special enough player to dismiss any concerns about place value.
Regardless of the adjustment concerns, I’m not so sure that Wood’s presence should affect Houston’s decision with his pick. Wood only has two years left on his contract, and his relatively cheap contract could make the switch easier. The Rockets could use Wood in a package that would bring back a guard or wing (maybe Buddy Hield in Sacramento, Malik Beasley in Minnesota or Marcus Smart in Boston), allowing Mobley to thrive without crowds on the front court. Drafting Mobley does not require a wood change, although it is not out of the question for Stone to be proactive and swap the wood for a more natural fit.
The case of green:
I’d be quick to assume Green is the Rockets’ pick if Morey were still running the show. The former Houston architect prioritized dynamic ball handlers above all else, and by all indications, Green is just that. It has an elite bang to the rim and a dynamic first step, and it creates space in your jump shot with relative ease. Throw in an impressive performance against the G League competition, and it’s not hard to see why Green is now in the conversation for the number one pick.
Landing Green would create an interesting experiment in Houston. Green and Kevin Porter Jr. form an intriguing combination in the backcourt, pairing two dynamic young scorers who have some real questions as playmakers. Houston can quickly lead the league on 3s and, on the right night, this could look like the Rockets duo for a decade. It will not always be that easy. Porter is raw as a protagonist in his own right, and the presence of John Wall only complicates matters. Garland and Sexton can combine for 60 points on any given night, although their ability to score doesn’t exactly equate to winning basketball. There are no guarantees in this league, but if Stone thinks Green is the best prospect, he will worry about Porter’s development at a later date.
More coverage of the NBA Draft:
• Who helped hurt your case at the Combine?
• Within the experiment that produced two possible selections in the top five
• NBA draft decisions that will shape the 2021-22 college basketball season
• NBA Combo Notebook: Cade Cunningham at No. 1 is not a foregone conclusion
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.