No fake trades here. You are free to proceed.
All jokes aside, I know there is a feeling of disappointment within the Houston Rockets fan base from missing out on not only the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, but falling out of the top three entirely. It feels like a large chunk of this season — or at least the final quarter of it — was comprised of optimism at landing one of the presumed top-three names in this year’s class — Victor Wembanyama, Brandon Miller and Scoot Henderson.
But that doesn’t mean everything comes crashing down. The No. 4 pick is far from the worst possible outcome and there are still some interesting options available. Even if the Rockets don’t end up trading the pick away, there are still some talented players slated to go at the top of next month’s draft which Houston already has its eyes on. Flexibility as always is the name of the game and the Rockets have that in spades. Heck, for all we know, maybe there’s a surprise on draft night and someone drops.
Anyway, without further ado, here’s our first installment of our Rockets big board. To assist me, I reached out to a high-ranking scout for their perspective of talent and a potential fit in Houston.
1. Amen Thompson | 6-7 lead guard | 20 years old | Overtime Elite
Scout’s take: Gives you a lot of credibility on the defensive end based on the competitiveness, size and tools. Offensively, the fit is going to be unique because while he can playmake and is an athletic finisher, he’s limited by his shooting ability. But I do think he would be a great help as far as defensively, athletically. The offensive fit might be a bit challenging.
From The Athletic: Outside of the aforementioned names, it’s easy to see why Amen’s upside has folks at full attention.
It’s sometimes challenging juxtaposing fit and the best player available, especially for a team like Houston that is trying to move between phases, but there’s a reason why so many within the Rockets organization are so enamored with him. Everything about him oozes potential. The defensive intensity and attention to detail. The explosiveness and athleticism. The ballhandling and playmaking. It’s hard to not see those qualities in a young player and not envision what he could look like next to Jalen Green, a gifted young scorer and elite athlete. There are those who will deem the fit clunky but there are always ways to maximize talent. Introduce more cutting, off-ball actions, etc.
Yes, I understand the shooting concerns. He’s shown some midrange flashes but I know some of the mechanics might be a bit off. But who comes into the league as a complete player? And let’s be honest, it’s not like he’d be walking into a team full of ready-made shooters. Houston has some roster reworking to do but more importantly, it needs talent. Amen is a talented player who can flat-out jump out of the gym. We’ll see how his defense translates to the next level, but he has all the tools of an impactful ball-stopper. Active hands. Lateral quickness. Shiftiness. It’s there.
At the NBA Combine, Amen spoke like a man who knows his worth and talent. He’s confident in himself and what he brings to the table. Of all of the names you’ll see here, I wouldn’t be that surprised if his name was called in the top three on draft night. But that would of course mean that one of Miller or Henderson would be on the board in which case, that player would be in a Houston uniform.
Villanova’s Cam Whitmore. (Eric Canha/USA Today)
2. Cam Whitmore | 6-7 wing | 18 years old | Villanova
Scout’s take: Another high-level athlete and finisher. Has to be more engaged on the defensive end. Has to improve his shooting and tweak his mechanics a bit. Needs to improve his IQ and make better decisions with the ball. He’s more of a transitional player than a half-court offensive player. Average shooting numbers but doesn’t always take good shots. He’s one that would benefit from playing with Ime Udoka but there would be some challenges and limitations there.
From The Athletic: Whitmore might be my favorite player in the draft, I’m high on this player. He graded well at the combine, giving real legitimacy to his athleticism and explosiveness. He’s a wrecking ball in the open floor, with good footwork and intangibles. Offensively, he’s probably farther ahead than a lot of peers, able to create his own shot and has three-level potential scoring in his arsenal at the next level. When you watch him shoot, his form comes off as awkward and will probably need to be sped up and smoothed out to be sustainable against smart defenders but Whitmore is a force of nature.
From a defensive standpoint, he’s probably more advanced than Amen Thompson. His active hands combined with his power come in handy on a routine basis, and he has the necessary handle and ability to kickstart transition opportunities.
Whitmore still needs time to learn to slow things down and process actions at an advanced rate. At times, he’s like a bull in a china shop. That’s fine at Villanova. That won’t cut it in the NBA. He had a long leash in college that resulted in him taking many of low-percentage shots. He’ll need smart players around him to iron out his kinks, but there’s talent there. Houston would have an exciting in-game trio of Green, Jabari Smith Jr. and Whitmore. Alternatively, he could be inserted off the bench to give the second unit an offensive spark, something that was lacking last season.
3. Ausar Thompson | 6-7 wing | 20 years old | Overtime Elite
Scout’s take: They’re (Ausar and Amen) similar players. Ausar is a slightly better shooter but at the end of the day as twins, they have similar games. I know people can agree to disagree on that but they’re both really competitive defenders. They’re both capable playmakers but I wouldn’t quite call them point guards. They both have shooting challenges and they’re both super athletes. They help from Day 1 defensively because they’re going to compete their rear off. It’s just a matter of putting them in the right position offensively. There’s gotta be some creativity for the time being until their shot gets right.
From The Athletic: Ausar and Amen are going to be talked about in similar tones and for good reason. Like Amen, Ausar is an incredible athlete who has shown real potential in his defense translating to the NBA. Ausar has comparable footwork, quick-twitch instincts and timing to his brother, although he’s probably more adept at handling bigger matchups.
There seem to be differing opinions on who’s a better playmaker between the two, but Ausar’s individuality speaks volumes. He’s an intentional playmaker, understanding the reads presented to him and he wants to keep the ball moving. I like to think of him as more of a smooth operator with the ball in his hands, more point-forwardish than lead ballhandler type but still a must-have within an offensive setup.
Ausar is a better shooter but not by much. He’s going to need to seriously work at that aspect of his game but there’s a reality in which he obliterates individual team workouts and rises up the boards slowly but surely. Big fan of Ausar’s finishing ability already. Watch this space.
Jarace Walker. (Marvin Gentry / USA Today)
4. Jarace Walker | 6-8 forward | 19 years old | Houston
Scout’s take: Has a lot of tools. Willing defender. Skilled. The jury’s still out on his shooting, how aggressive he is, and his physicality. Can definitely go one of two ways. But he’s interesting. Fit-wise, he could be a really good role player. A 3-and-D role, maybe he can do more.
From The Athletic: This player is a defensive freak of nature. Walker made some headlines at the combine for checking in at 6-6 1/2 without shoes on. Big whoop. Once he laces them bad boys on, he’s at least a solid 6-7 3/4 with an incredible 7-2 wingspan. Uh, I think Udoka can work with that.
Vicious point of attack defender. Walker’s ability to cover ground efficiently is what will make front offices ponder over the next few weeks how high they have him on their boards. There aren’t that many players in this draft who are built like tight ends and move like All-Pro safeties. Should thrive in a multi-scheme setting, maximizing his versatility and ability to switch matchups while also understanding his importance and potential in rim protection.
The build and defensive ability make me think of Usman Garuba a bit but Walker is a more comfortable shooter outside of just the corners and he’s confident with the ball in his hands. He’s powerful going downhill, can put the ball on the floor some and has the footwork and IQ to make things happen underneath the free-throw line.
Walker and Smith would form quite the defensive tandem in the frontcourt and his tenacity should help out Alperen Şengün with some matchups at times, but like some others on this list, he’s going to have to become more of a reliable threat from outside to make him a true weapon. But as far as Swiss Army Knives go, Walker is just that.
5. Anthony Black | 6-7 guard | 19 years old | Arkansas
Scout’s take: True point guard in terms of his ability to make others better in pick-and-roll. Really impressive court vision and sees plays before they happen. Has defensive potential and can be versatile based on his size. Moves well enough. Shooting is definitely a question mark and that could lead to being a challenging fit but definitely has the ability to be a high-level reserve or starter. Has some limitations as a scorer, both as a shooter and finisher.
From The Athletic: Black’s media session stood out to me in the midst of the combine’s business because of how highly he spoke of his abilities but also the areas of his game where he needs to improve. There’s no doubt his mindset is going to take him very far in this league.
Of course, you could say that about several participants but there’s just so much to like with Black. From a point guard/ballhandler’s perspective, Black is always going to make the smart, correct play. He doesn’t tend to force things as a playmaker, which is incredibly important at the NBA level. At 6-7, he has an innate advantage over smaller matchups and is already a quality operator of the pick-and-roll. A mixture of Lonzo and LaMelo Ball, in my opinion, crazy hair and all.
Elsewhere, Black is a conscious offensive talent that does everything deliberately. He knows how to finish over bigger defenders, knows how to evade other quicker ones. Defensively, Black is as solid as they come in his class. He has the quickness to stay in front of opponents, the hands to poke balls free and get around screens and understands angles. He’s another candidate to rise up rapidly once he gets to individual team workouts.
Black might struggle to create his own shot because of his lack of a consistent outside shot (which seems to be a trend with several guys on this list) and isn’t going to blow you away with his explosiveness and athleticism. Tough defenders will pressure him and force him to make quick decisions but he’d look nice next to Green in Houston’s backcourt, able to create great looks for him and be a stabilizing force for everyone else.
(Photo of twins Ausar Thompson, left, and Amen Thompson, right: Dale Zanine / USA Today)