2021 has been an odd year for the Houston Rockets. The year began with a reasonably encouraging 11-10 start on the floor but, off the court, James Harden was moved to Brooklyn after a wild period of trade rumors and buzz. Houston did hold it together for a few weeks after the deal but, in short order, the bottom fell out of the team’s performance, with injuries and roster weaknesses leading to a final record of 17-55.
On the encouraging side, however, the Rockets found gold in securing the No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft. That leads to a shining opportunity to add talent to the organization and, while much of the team’s current roster is aging, Houston also has strong, youthful pieces in Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr. and Jae’Sean Tate. The rebuild is on with the Rockets, but they aren’t starting in the worst possible position, particularly when accounting for the draft assets acquired within the last 12 months.
Roster Needs: Young talent across the board; Overall depth
Jalen Green (No. 2 Overall), Grade: B
Jalen Green is certainly a worthwhile pick at No. 2 overall. Evan Mobley was the other potential option, but Green brings dynamism as a scorer and shot creator. He is also a high-end athlete that can get where he wants on the floor, using his burst responsibly and effectively, and Green impressed with his efficiency and effectiveness against professionals in the G League as an 18-year-old. He immediately gives Houston a player to build around as they continue a rebuild.
Alperen Sengun (No. 16 Overall), Grade: B+
Sengun is a wildly interesting prospect. Statistical translations absolutely love him, to the point where he was as high as No. 1 (!) on respected boards that prioritize analytics. That’s how good he was at a young age overseas. On the flip side, he is a very limited athlete and defender, prompting all kinds of question marks about his impact on the modern game. The Rockets are betting on the stats telling the story and, if nothing else, he could have a role as a creative, scoring big man that drives second units and brings value with a mid-first round investment. Houston traded two future firsts to get 16 from OKC to select Sengun, illustrating their belief in him.
Usman Garuba (No. 23 Overall), Grade: B
I really like Garuba. It’s also fascinating to put him on a team with Sengun. At any rate, Garuba is a tremendous defensive player, to the point where he might be the second-best defender in the class behind Evan Mobley. That’s how good he is. On the offensive end, it’s more of an adventure, with Garuba having a long way to go to find his footing. At this stage of the draft, the Rockets can take a shot and hope he figures it out.
Josh Christopher (No. 24 Overall), Grade: C+
The Rockets like their bucket-getters. Jalen Green is on board, Kevin Porter Jr. is in the same mold, and that is Josh Christopher’s calling card. Christopher needs to figure out the rest of his game, including his three-point shooting, but the natural scoring ability is tantalizing. This wouldn’t have been my pick, but the talent level is real.
Kevin Porter Jr.
Khyri Thomas (non-guaranteed)
Kenyon Martin Jr. (non-guaranteed)
Jae’Sean Tate (non-guaranteed)
2021 Free Agents
Avery Bradley (Team Option)
Armoni Brooks (RFA)
Sterling Brown (UFA)
Dante Exum (UFA)
Anthony Lamb (RFA)
David Nwaba (UFA)
Kelly Olynyk (UFA)
DJ Wilson (RFA)