In this infancy stage of a rebuild, we know very little about the Houston Rockets.
We’d like to convince ourselves that we do. Nothing is more universally feared than the unknown. I think that’s why so many Rockets fans will tell you that this team is lined with potential superstars all the way down the roster. Call it a working theory.
Collectively, we struggle to process how little we know about the future of this team. In a rebuild, the questions become broader. The scope of the conversation extends a decade into the future. Gone are the days of “can Tucker and Ariza make up the difference following Mbah A Moute’s injury?”
Just a few years ago, the issues were that granular. Now, they’re downright philosophical. Is Kevin Porter Jr. a point guard? Can athletically limited big men survive in the postseason? Is five-out spacing optimal?
So many questions, so few answers. However, one fact is widely accepted among the fanbase:
The Rockets already have their backcourt of the future.
The Case For Jaden Ivey
There’s a very simple case to make for Ivey: if Rafael Stone thinks he’s the best player on the board, he should draft him. It’s the same old best player available vs fit debate that’s inspired so much handwringing on Twitter.
In the Rockets’ situation, it feels counterintuitive to even consider him. Jalen Green is a likely superstar. Kevin Porter Jr., regardless of your assessment of him, has flashed star potential. Josh Christopher looks like a long-term rotation piece at a minimum.
The case for Ivey is that none of that matters. The Rockets have been the worst team in the league for two consecutive seasons. Stone has to take the player he sees as having the brightest NBA future.
Surely, Ivey has the tools for superstardom. His athleticism is well-documented. His burst will instantly rank among the league’s best. His vertical is impressive. He’s got long arms that allow him to knife through the lane at will.
If the Rockets do select Ivey, all the debates about what constitutes a point guard in 2022 will be rehashed among the fanbase. He’s got a clear scorers mentality. Does he have the processing speed to run an offense?
This Twitter user’s critique of Ivey’s decision here is entirely valid. He ought to have attempted the layup. The clip still points to the sort of floor awareness and quick decision-making that even a modern point guard needs.
Ivey shouldn’t have passed at all, but his recognition that his man was open, so late into the play, is impressive. One might even say “point guard-esque”.
If one play doesn’t convince you, congratulations. You’ve got at least some critical thinking skills!
If the Kings take Ivey, that presumably gives them 3 starters who are very adept at handling/playmaking in transition (Fox/Ivey/Domas).
At the very least this brings at least an exciting style of basketball. pic.twitter.com/ObTtY7827T
— Kings Film Room (@SacFilmRoom) June 3, 2022
This isn’t even a particularly impressive pass. It’s an obvious one. Ivey is walled off, he’s got nowhere to go. He finds his man in the paint because Butler’s defense is daring him to.
It’s still notable that he made the pass. A pure off-guard could have forced a fadeaway. Shooters are going to shoot. Combo guards are going to react to defenses and make decisions.
Two clips shouldn’t persuade you either. If you watched Ivey throughout the NCAA season, there’s a chance you’re conflicted on his long-term NBA position. He made impressive reads throughout the year. He also had mental lapses that found him chucking up ill-advised shot attempts at the expense of ball movement.
For the Rockets, the critical question about Ivey is whether he can be a point guard. If he can, he’s a perfectly acceptable choice with the third pick.
Combined with Green, he might give the Rockets the most athletic backcourt in the history of the league. Surely, that’s enticing to Stone. Of course, the counterargument doubles back to an earlier premise: the Rockets already have their backcourt of the future.
That’s not a persuasive argument against drafting Ivey. Drafting around a prospect’s fit with Kevin Porter Jr. would be perilous. The team simply can’t afford to be so confident in the mercurial young man that they’d avoid a prospect on his behalf.
On the other hand, I’d personally be willing to put that kind of faith in Jalen Green. If Ivey can’t fit with him, the Rockets should opt for one of the consensus(ish) top three.
The Case Against Jaden Ivey
Let’s go back to the BPA vs fit issue. In all reality, it’s a false dichotomy. There’s no scientific method for determining the “best” player available. If there were, every big board would be identical, and many draft analysts would be out of a job.
Perhaps in the inevitably dystopian future, computers will be able to predict a prospect’s professional career with 99 percent accuracy. Until then, draft analysis is largely a guessing game.
The best approach is to divide players into tiers, and select based on fit from that point. If Stone has Ivey in a wholly different tier from any of Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., or Paolo Banchero, he should be the Rockets’ guy.
That feels highly unlikely.
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that Stone has the top four prospects in a similar tier. It’s hard to make a case for Ivey’s fit under those conditions.
Paolo Banchero looks like the presumptive choice for Houston at the moment. For all of the debate about Ivey’s ability to run the point, Banchero is a certified point forward. Concerns about his defense and floor-spacing are fair, but his floor vision is unimpeachable.
If he’s the Rockets’ primary initiator of the future, that makes Porter Jr.’s job much easier. He’ll be primarily responsible for spacing the floor and attacking closeouts rather than setting up the offense. With the addition of Banchero, Porter Jr. is more so “lining up at the one” rather than “playing point guard”.
I’ll save some space on Holmgren and Smith Jr. because most observers expect them to be off the board. If they’re not, they’re both more obvious fits on this roster than Ivey also.
The Rockets were atrocious on defense in 2021-22. Holmgren projects as the best defensive player in this class.
Meanwhile, Smith Jr.’s floor as an elite three-and-D makes him a player all 30 teams could use. If he can improve on his shot-creating abilities, his ceiling is limitless.
Rafael Stone should select the best player available with the third overall pick. If he’s confident that player is Jaden Ivey, Rockets fans should welcome him with open arms.
Otherwise, it may be that the team’s backcourt of the future is set after all. In that event, it’s time to start locking down the frontcourt.
Either way, we’ll know a little more about the future of this team once this critical decision has been made.