The end of the lottery has a handful of prospects worthy of moving up for.
Only a week remains before we know who the newest members of the Houston Rockets are going to be. While it is easier to project who the third pick will be in the 2022 NBA Draft, the selection at number 17 is way more fluid as the draft pool starts to dilute.
I’m all for taking the best player available, but it would be a neglectful and reprehensible move if the front office doesn’t add at least one player that projects to be a stalwart on defense. For the team that finished dead last in defensive rating this season, there has to be an effort to acquire guys who take pride in that side of the ball.
If this year’s NBA Finals illustrates any point, it’s that defense will always keep you in contention, even if or when your offense goes into a lull. Both of this year’s contestants, the Boston Celtics and the Golden State Warriors, boast the top two ranked defenses, respectively. Both teams rely on their star players to generate offense, but when they are at their best, it is when they generate turnovers, leading to easy transition buckets.
Houston will have plenty of firepower on offense when you consider how Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr., plus whomever they take with the third overall pick can score. Now it’s just about competing in all phases of the game.
When it comes to being able to defend, Chet Holmgren and Jabari Smith were able to demonstrate competence and reliability at the collegiate level. But even if they fall into Houston’s lap, that shouldn’t discourage us from doubling down on dependable defenders later in the draft. Paolo Banchero will probably need some defenders around him, at least early on, as he works to develop more consistency on that side of the ball.
Luckily for Houston, the 17th pick, courtesy of the Brooklyn Nets, puts them in position to grab a talented defender. Whether it is as that spot or a trade up into the early teens now that Houston can also package pick 26, it’s certainly worth jumping up a few spots to mend a disastrous defense. There’s three guys that figure to be taken in this range that I think are worth taking a look at below.
Mark Williams (Duke), C
There’s a lot of “buzz” about the Charlotte Hornets being a prime landing spot for Williams. If this is their guy, moving up to the 12th pick would likely be necessary. Charlotte could definitely use him as he’d be able to step in right away and be their new starting center, but we’re not here to focus on how he can help the Hornets.
For Houston, Williams could immediately become an anchor based off of size alone. His massive 7’7” wingspan is enough to dissuade drivers and also make the opposing team think twice at the rim. On top of that, he’s a solid lob threat and an easy target for the young guards to get some easy assists to. He won’t jump as high and doesn’t move as laterally well as a healthy Robert Williams per se, but if he can become the Rockets’ version of Time Lord, which is a guy who doesn’t rely on touches to make an impact, he’d be a perfect compliment to an already established young core.
The Williams scenario, in all likelihood, goes out of the window if Holmgren happens to be the pick at three. However, if it’s a Duke reunion with Banchero or our first pick turns out to be Smith, this tandem of 2022 first rounders makes much more sense.
Any worries about a logjam being created at the four and five spots between Christian Wood, Alperen Şengün, Williams and one of Holmgren/Smith/Banchero have been alleviated with the news of Wood being traded to Dallas. Taking Williams now makes more sense because someone has to protect the rim, right?
Tari Eason (LSU), F
The more I learn about Eason, the more I think he may be the quintessential Houston Rocket.
In regards to Eason, my Dream Shake colleague, James Piercey, previously pointed out:
“… (Eason) brings relentless aggression on the defensive end that these Rockets are sorely lacking.”
His measurables are eerily similar to, dare I say, Kawhi Leonard, although it’s unfair to place those expectations on him. Much was made (and rightfully so) about how much the addition of Herb Jones was to improving the New Orleans Pelicans, and I think this pick could have a similar effect.
This is exactly the type of player to bring in while Jalen Green grows into his frame. A super-versatile defender, Eason has even served as a back-up center despite not being the tallest guy out there (I wonder where we’ve seen that before). His ability to guard multiple positions would not only make things easier on the interior, but also on the perimeter.
His offensive game still has lots of refining to do, but considering he shot respectable percentages across the field, he should be able to settle in and hone his game without the burden of being a primary scorer. Couple his able to create turnovers and finish in transition, that should only provide more highlight reel dunks and easy buckets for high flyers like Green and Kenyon Martin Jr.
Jeremy Sochan (Baylor), F
As the youngest of the three prospects here, Sochan quite possibly possesses the highest upside. At 6’9” and 230 pounds, the fleet-footed Sochan already has the ideal NBA frame and should be able to guard a multitude of players much like how the Denver Nuggets deploy Aaron Gordon.
Being that Sochan has sneaked into the top 10 in some mock drafts, his potential could lead teams to value him more than Williams and Eason at this juncture. I personally have him third among these guys because the cost of trading up for him would likely be higher and there’s still a lot to be desired from his offensive game.
Sochan didn’t have great shooting splits (47/30/59) in his freshman season, but if I factor in that he only played one year in college compared to the two sophomores, it’s reasonable to expect that he too will make strides in that department. I’m willing to show patience to the 19-year-old because if I’m being fair, it would have been easy to also write off Eason’s freshman year at Cincinnati where he shot 46/24/57. After transferring to LSU, Eason saw an impressive increase in efficiency to 52/36/80 this past season which gives me hope for Sochan.
If he were to fall to Houston, I’d have no issue with GM Rafael Stone taking Sochan because his ability to switch and guard up and down is something that we’ve seen is necessary to compete. When you see the Luka Dončić or Jayson Tatums of the world continuosuly work to get a favorable matchup, you are going to want a guy who will muck up things for them at the point of attack. As long as he can develop into someone who isn’t a liability on offense and can’t be played off the court, an investment in Sochan yields a favorable payoff.
In the end, defense wins, and next week’s draft gives the Rockets an excellent chance to get started on that.