A lot of the NBA’s biggest fans now are fans that were watching back in the 1990’s. While Michael Jordan and the Bulls dominated to the tune of six championships, there was a break in between the two three-peats that saw the Houston Rockets win back-to-back titles in 1994 and 1995. Since then, the Rockets have not been back to an NBA Finals, though they have been close on a number of occasions.
Since the beginning of the 2001-02 NBA season, the Rockets have finished with a winning record 12 times, and are one of the contenders for the 2017 NBA Finals in the Western Conference. Even though they have been struggling to get over the hump, you can’t really blame their drafting.
The Rockets have missed out on some big names, but for the most part have made the right calls, or at least ones that didn’t hurt them. Dating back to 2001, we’ll take a look at all of the picks that Houston has made in the first round of the NBA Draft. We’ll see where they could have done better, and what they could have gotten right. Here are the last 15 first round picks for the Rockets, re-drafted.
15 Montrezl Harrell (2015)
Original Pick: Sam Dekker
Since the Rockets did not have a first round selection in the 2016 NBA Draft, we rewind to the 2015 edition. In this draft, the Rockets acquired the 18th overall pick from New Orleans so that they could get Wisconsin forward Sam Dekker. Dekker almost never saw the court in his rookie season, but has shown improvement in his sophomore campaign with 6.5 points and 3.7 rebounds per game.
For now, Dekker appears to be the right pick since he has shown improvement, and the players that were drafted around him aren’t much better. Guys like Bobby Portis, Jerian Grant and Larry Nance, Jr. have all put up similar production. However, the Rockets probably would have used their first round pick on the guy that they drafted in the second round: Montrezl Harrell. Harrell is having a fine second season with 9.0 points and 3.6 rebounds per game.
14 Clint Capela (2014)
Original Pick: Clint Capela
Back in 2014, the Rockets decided to go international when they held the 25th overall pick. Houston selected Clint Capela, a Swiss native that had been playing for Elan Chalon in France. Capela has been with the Rockets since being drafted, and has shown tremendous improvement on a year-to-year basis. After struggling in his rookie season, Capela is now posting 12.3 points and 8.1 rebounds per game.
The best news for the Rockets is that they got Capela at a very young age, and is now only 22 years old. Looking at the names that were drafted after Capela, it’s clear that the Rockets made the right choice here. Picking at the 25 spot usually doesn’t turn out to be very beneficial, but if Capela keeps making these types of improvements, he could certainly be an All Star down the road.
13 Jared Sullinger (2012)
Original Pick: Terence Jones
In 2013, the Rockets did not have a first round selection, and that’s because they were busy wheeling and dealing the year before. In 2012, Houston held three picks from the 12 to 18 range in the first round. Unfortunately for the Rockets, this was not the draft that you wanted to be selecting in that range. With the final pick of the three, the Rockets selected Terrence Jones out of Kentucky.
Jones spent four seasons with the Rockets, posting 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. Not terrible stats, but Jones is no longer with the team. We try not to make teams reach too much from what actually happened in these re-drafts, so Jae Crowder and Draymond Green (who were drafted much later) wouldn’t be feasible. Instead, the Rockets should have selected Jared Sullinger, who was the 21st overall pick by Boston.
12 Evan Fournier (2012)
Original Pick: Royce White
Just two picks before the Rockets selected Terrence Jones, they had the 16th overall selection to get through. The Rockets acquired this pick from the Knicks, and spent it on Iowa State power forward Royce White. White never suited up for the Rockets as he made his debut in the 2013-14 season with Sacramento. Overall, White played in just three NBA games, never scoring a single point.
Literally any other pick would have been a better one, but Houston really missed out. They had their chance at getting French star Evan Fournier, the 20th overall selection. Fournier has become a standout and is posting his best season, his fifth in the league. He is scoring more than 17 points per game while also hauling in more than three rebounds and dishing three assists per game.
11 Maurice Harkless (2012)
Original Pick: Jeremy Lamb
With their first pick in the 2012 NBA Draft, the Rockets selected Connecticut guard Jeremy Lamb after getting the selection from Milwaukee. Lamb would be shipped to Oklahoma City before playing a game with the Rockets, and is currently a member of the Hornets. Overall, Lamb has scored 7.9 points with 3.0 rebounds and 1.1 assists per game in his career. It’s not like the Rockets missed out on a superstar here.
There weren’t any real big names that the Rockets missed out on thanks to the pick, however. Based on improvement in production, the player that Houston should have gone after is Maurice Harkless. Harkless is currently with Portland and having the best season of his career with 10.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.2 assists per game. At 23 years old, he only figures to get better in the coming seasons.
10 Jimmy Butler (2011)
Original Pick: Nikola Mirotic
Finally getting out of the 2012 NBA Draft, we turn our attention to the 2011 entry, where the Rockets held another two first round picks. The latter of the two was the 23rd overall selection that once belonged to Phoenix, then sent to Orlando, then to Houston. The pick was Spanish forward Nikola Mirotic, who was then sent to Chicago via Minnesota. Did you get all of that?
Mirotic has been a consistent player in his three NBA seasons with right around 10.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game every year. While that type of consistency is nice in a basketball player, you really want someone that would standout. That guy was available just seven picks later, as Jimmy Butler was patiently waiting. Like Mirotic, Butler would eventually find his way to Chicago.
9 Kawhi Leonard (2011)
Original Pick: Marcus Morris
Going back to the 13th spot in the draft, a pair of brothers went back-to-back. First it was Markieff Morris going to the Suns, then brother Marcus Morris was the 14th overall pick by the Rockets. Marcus would spend less than two seasons in Houston before being shipped off. So far, it appears to have been a mistake as Morris has scored more than 14 points per game in the past two seasons.
However, that’s not even close to the worst mistake that the Rockets made with the 14th overall pick. Instead, they could have had Kawhi Leonard, the 15th overall pick that landed with the rival Spurs. Leonard has been an MVP candidate and two-time All Star that is currently scoring north of 25 points per game with nearly six rebounds to go along with it.
8 Eric Bledsoe (2010)
Original Pick: Patrick Patterson
The 2010 NBA Draft featured some big names such as John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Gordon Hayward and Paul George. Unfortunately for the Rockets, all of those names were off of the board by the time they came up with the 14th overall pick. Houston used that selection on Kentucky forward Patrick Patterson. Patterson would spend less than three seasons with Houston, posting 8.4 points and 4.3 rebounds per game.
The talent pool seemed to fade very quickly in that draft, but the Rockets could have had a star. They had the right college, but the wrong player. Instead, Houston should have looked at Eric Bledsoe. Bledsoe took some time to develop, but has been going north and is now scoring more than 20 points per game. Patterson, on the other hand, has been declining in recent seasons.
7 Nicolas Batum (2008)
Original Pick: Nicolas Batum
The Rockets had plenty of second round picks in the 2009 NBA Draft, but none in the first round. For that reason, we head to the 2008 NBA Draft, where the Rockets found themselves with the 25th overall selection. Houston made the right choice by selecting Nicolas Batum, but then traded him to Portland for Darrell Arthur and Joey Dorsey. Batum has been getting better, and is having his best season yet with Charlotte at 15.1 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game.
Obviously, if Houston had to do it all over again, they would have just selected the player that they drafted. DeAndre Jordan was still available, but he wasn’t selected for another 10 picks so that would have been an unrealistic stretch. As for Arthur and Dorsey, the former never played for the Rockets and the latter has had two underwhelming stints with the Rockets.
6 Aaron Brooks (2007)
Original Pick: Aaron Brooks
There was some fine talent at the top of the 2007 NBA Draft, but the Rockets had to wait for quite a long time. They ended up with the 26th overall pick, and used that to acquire Oregon guard Aaron Brooks. Still in the league, Brooks has played for six teams in his career with an average of 10.1 points and 3.1 assists per game. He spent nearly six seasons with Houston, posting 11.7 points and 3.3 assists per game.
Luckily for the Rockets, the pick wasn’t a complete whiff. A decent alternative would have been Arron Afflalo (the next pick), but not exactly a big upgrade. Another alternative could have been Carl Landry, the 31st overall pick. Neither one ended up being better than Brooks in the long run, so it looks like they made the right decision. Getting six years out of a pick this late is hard to do, anyway.
5 Rudy Gay (2006)
Original Pick: Rudy Gay
Unlike most seasons on this list, the Rockets had a fairly high draft selection in the 2006 NBA Draft. Houston would use the pick on Connecticut forward Rudy Gay, but then traded him with Stromile Swift to the Grizzlies in exchange for Shane Battier. Battier ended up being less than impressive with his time in Houston. What the Rockets should have done was make the same pick, but don’t make the trade.
Gay has played with three different teams in his NBA career, and has put up some stellar numbers. Overall, he has scored 18.4 points with 5.9 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. There have even been seasons where Gay has found himself over the 20 points per game mark. So, the Rockets made the right pick in this draft, but then fumbles it away.
4 David Lee (2005)
Original Pick: Luther Head
In another instance of the Rockets having a late first round pick, they had the 24th overall selection in the 2005 NBA Draft. Houston decided to pick up Illinois standout Luther Head. Head spent nearly four seasons with the Rockets, posting 8.8 points, 2.7 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game. That late in the first round, you really can’t complain too much with that type of production.
However, they could have gotten more production from a player that was selected just a few picks afterward. David Lee was the 30th overall pick by the Knicks, and would end up being a two-time All Star. Though he’s not the player he once was, Lee has still averaged 13.6 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.2 assists in his career.
3 Tayshaun Prince (2002)
Original Pick: Bostjan Nachbar
The 2002 NBA Draft was a memorable one for the Rockets, but before we get to the pick you all remember, let’s get to the one you all forget. Houston acquired the 15th overall pick that year, and used it to select Bostjan Nachbar from Slovenia. Nachbar played for three teams from 2002 to 2008, scoring an average of 7.1 points with 2.6 rebounds and 0.9 assists per game.
Though the limit I typically have for a redraft is a player within seven picks, we’ll make an exception for the forgettable 2002 NBA Draft. Eight picks after the Rockets selected Nachbar, the Pistons picked up forward Tayshaun Prince. Prince had a long NBA career (mostly with Detroit), scoring 11.1 points with 4.3 rebounds and 2.4 assists per game. His numbers were brought down a bit from staying in the league for so long, as he was once a 14-5-5 player earlier in his career.
2 Yao Ming (2002)
Original Pick: Yao Ming
Now for the most memorable draft pick that the Rockets have had in the past 25 years. After winning the lottery and landing the top overall pick in 2002, the Rockets selected Chinese big man Yao Ming. Though he didn’t have the longest career due to injuries, Yao was still an eight-time All Star with five All-NBA nods and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2016.
Yao’s stats were pretty incredible considering that he had to struggle with injuries so much in his career. Yao averaged 19.0 points, 9.2 rebounds and 1.9 blocks per game. Considering his talent, the amount of money and attention he brought to the Rockets and the fact that there was nobody better available in the draft, Houston made the right call with this selection.
1 Zach Randolph (2001)
Original Pick: Jason Collins
We end the list with the 2001 NBA Draft, where the Rockets actually had three first round selections once again. Houston used those picks on Richard Jefferson (13th overall), Jason Collins (18th overall) and Brandon Armstrong (23rd overall). Of those three, Jefferson has had the most success and is even in the league, still. Jefferson has posted 12.9 points, 4.1 rebounds and 2.1 assists. However, he never played a game with the Rockets.
Collins and Armstrong would also be traded to New Jersey. All three of the players were sent to the Nets in exchange for Eddie Griffin. Griffin ended up being a big bust with personal issues, playing just two seasons in Houston. Looking back at this draft, what Houston should have done is kept the 18th overall pick. They could have used it to select Zach Randolph, who was selected just one spot later.