Rockets Should Improve, But Will It Matter?

Is this the next Rocket? (We're talking about Fazekas, wise guy.)

Those of you (like me) battling the summer sports blues, take heart! For one day at least, we’re going to be treated to some genuine edge-of-your-seat, heart-pounding excitement. That’s right, I’m talking about the NBA draft. Of course, perhaps it says something about the current sports scene that this hair-raising event will not even feature a single solitary act of jaw-dropping athleticism (unless you count the stupendous stamina required by all in attendance to survive an entire evening with ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and Dick Vitale). Nonetheless, this is pretty much as good as it gets for fans until football season gets rolling, so let’s be sure to enjoy it for all it’s worth.

While most of the nation is understandably preoccupied with the Oden vs. Durant debate, Rockets’ supporters have plenty on their minds as well. Barring a draft day trade, Houston won’t be welcoming a new member to its squad until pick number 26. And while the success rate for players chosen in that area is below 20 percent, rest assured a quality baller will still be on the board when the Rockets come calling. For one thing, NBA scouts say this is one of the deepest drafts they’ve seen in years. Also, take a look at this list of names:

Daniel Gibson Paul Millsap Jason Maxiel David Lee Monta Ellis Kevin Martin Anderson Varejao Chris Duhon Josh Howard Leandro Barbosa Luke Walton Kyle Korver Mo Williams

What do they have in common? In addition to being key contributors to their respective teams, they were all chosen 26th or later on draft day. So there’s hope, Rockets’ fans. Of course, clubs also require a keen scouting eye from upper management as well as a little luck, both of which have been largely absent when discussing the Rockets’ draft day prowess of late. But I’m trying to be positive here, so let’s ignore that point for now.

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With that in mind, here are a few of the guys I’d like to see in a Rocket uniform next year:

Jared Dudley: Has been tremendous in workouts, can shoot with range and is one of those guys who does a lot of the little things to make his team better. Only problem: I basically just described Shane Battier and the Rockets already have one of those.

Petteri Koponen: Finnish point guard who could finally end the Rockets’ desperate and depressing search for a legitimate point guard. Only problem: He’s only 19 years old which means he probably won’t be able to truly make an impact until 2010.

Sean Williams: Athletically, he’s a lottery-level talent. Only problem: Character-wise, he could be the next Eddie Griffin. Still, he’s exactly what the Rockets need (a ferocious interior defender) and at the #26 spot, he’s worth the gamble (although I expect him to be gone by then).

Jared Jordan: Quite possibly the best pure point guard in the draft, but an inferior athlete. Of course, they once said the same thing about Steve Nash. Only problem: Like Nash, Jordan will certainly need three to five years to find his game at the pro level.

As for the guys I hope the Rockets avoid:

Taurean Green: Benefited from playing with superior teammates at Florida. Don’t see him ever making an impact in the NBA.

Arron Afflalo: We’ve seen it two years in a row now; his game disappears when matched up against NBA caliber athletes. Considering that’s what he’ll be facing every night now, that’s not a good thing.

Glen Davis: Sorry, I just don’t find 300-pound power forwards with weight issues and no vertical sexy. On any level.

Who I think the Rockets will take:

All signs point toward Nick Fazekas. Everybody knows Houston is desperate for a power forward and Fazekas is probably as good as it gets this deep into the draft. How do I feel about this pick? Blah. When the Rockets were eliminated from the playoffs, I wrote a column saying they simply had to get more athletic. Fazekas does not help them in this area. At all.

Finally, I can’t end a Rockets’ piece without summoning my inner Debbie Downer. No matter what Houston does Thursday night, will it even matter? Will they be poised to overtake the Spurs, Mavs or Jazz? How about a Phoenix team reportedly on the verge of acquiring Kevin Garnett? Heck, I have my doubts as to whether the Rockets would even be better than the new-look Blazers featuring Greg Oden.

But I don’t want to spoil the fun. Quite frankly, I intend to enjoy the heck out of draft night. Because once they turn off the lights at Madison Square Garden, the sports party is over until August. Thank God for Harry Potter. – Jason Friedman

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