The NBA Draft is tomorrow night, and if you're feeling a Pavlovian "Holy shit, didn't the NBA Playoffs just end like three hours ago?!?", then it probably means you're more of an NFL fan than you are an NBA fan.
After all, the buildup to your NFL Draft happens literally over a period of months after the college football season ends. You have the combine, the pro days, the private workouts, the endless leaks of salacious Jameis Winston stories. Indeed, the NFL Draft is a long process, like the shifting of tectonic plates. The NBA Draft process is more like an earthquake. Quick, jarring, over before you know it. Wham, bam, thank you, Cam(eron Payne)!
The other odd thing about the NBA Draft compared to its NFL counterpart is that the picks seem totally illogical at times. While the NFL Draft is largely intuitive — teams filling needs or taking the best player available — the NBA Draft, because of the NBA's salary cap (whose ridiculously complex rules make the IRS' tax code look as simple as a "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service" sign), is at times counter intuitive, with teams trading out of the first round or selling first round picks because they don't want or have the "cap space wherewithal" to take on the guaranteed money of a first round pick. Also, teams will often draft a foreign player in the first round specifically because typically (Capela!) that player will not come over here for the first year (or second or third, sometimes) and therefore they do not require a salary.
Quite simply, NBA teams, especially in the back half of the first round, don't see first round picks as all that valuable as compared to their NFL counterparts. Different sports, different currency. As a result, there is far more nuance in trying to mock draft an NBA first round. It just so happens that the Rockets hold the 18th pick in Thursday night's draft, courtesy of the Omer Asik trade to the Pelicans, and there's no telling how their GM Daryl Morey will treat the pick — he could use it to draft a rotation player, he could stash a foreigner overseas, he could mix it into a trade. There are many possibilities.
(By the way, if you're wondering what the Rockets did with their own first round pick, the 27th pick, it belongs to the Lakers after the Rockets stapled it to Jeremy Lin as a sweetener for LA to pay Lin's $15 million salary last season. Again, you see my point…yet another use for a first round NBA draft pick, a throw in to a deal enticer, like floor mats or rust proofing when you buy a new car. Also, with that analogy, Jeremy Lin is officially the worst car ever.)
So for previewing purposes, let's assume that the Rockets go the conventional route, and they actually use the 18th pick in the draft to find the best player available to help them win an NBA championship in 2015-2016. Who are some feasible names? Well, here are five names I like that are floating around mock drafts near where the Rockets would be choosing on Thursday night:
1. TYUS JONES, PG, Duke (6-1, 185, FR)
Logically, if the goal of this process were to use the pick to find immediate help, you probably wouldn't target a freshman with the 18th pick. But Jones is not your typical freshman. It's not just that he won the Most Outstanding PLayer award at the Final Four for a team where he was probably viewed going into the tournament as the third or fourth best player. It's not just that every time he lined up to shoot a long range jumper you just had a feeling it was going in, especially if it was a really important shot. It's not just that Jones supposedly texted Coach K as a high school senior watching Duke get upset early in the 2014 tournament to tell him "This isn't happening next season." It's ALL of those things. Basically, Tyus Jones has balls. You need to have balls if you're gonna crack the rotation of a conference finalist at age 19.
2. JERIAN GRANT, PG, Notre Dame (6-4, 200, SR)
Now, if you're looking for surefire experience to go with a kid who has NBA genes (Harvey Grant's son) and has had to overcome some adversity (self-inflicted academic exile at Notre Dame), Grant could be the guy. A couple months ago, Mike Meltser, my colleague at Sports Radio 610, asked Morey if there were players who would start copying James Harden's ultra efficient (but not always pretty) "draw fouls and knock down long range jump shots" style of offense. Morey alluded to a "player from Notre Dame" who was a poor man's mirror image of Harden's style. What better way to help take the load off of James Harden than with a slightly smaller version of himself!
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3. DELON WRIGHT, SG/PG, Utah (6-5, 180, SR)
There's something to be said for a player who was the central figure of a program's resurgence, and that's what Wright was for Utah this past season, leading the Utes to their first great season in a long time, taking them to the Sweet Sixteen. Wright is a guy who can be on the floor alongside Harden or alongside a traditional point guard depending on match ups. He's not a great shooter, but he's improved in that area, and is one of the more efficient players in this draft. He is an excellent pick and roll player, too, which as along as Dwight Howard is on your team, should matter greatly.
4. SAM DEKKER, SF, Wisconsin (6-9, 220, JR)
If a player is going to crack an NBA rotation early as a non-lottery pick, it certainly helps if they're a senior like Wright or Grant, but what the hell…much the same way that "50 is the new 40," "junior is the new senior" anyway! Enter Dekker! He's actually going much earlier than 18th in many of the respectable mock drafts, but if we were doing cheesy "green arrow up/red arrow down" graphics, Dekker has a slight red arrow down. So you never know! He might check off the most boxes of anybody on this short list — Shooting? CHECK. Defense? CHECK. Multiple positions? CHECK. Experience? CHECK. Friendly with J.J. Watt? CHECK.
5. DEVIN BOOKER, SG, Kentucky (6-6, 205, FR)
In some ways, Booker is the anti-Dekker. If Dekker checks off a series of boxes, Booker only really checks off one box emphatically, but it's a wildly important box, and he checks it off with a font size 72 check mark — LONG RANGE SHOOTING, CHEECCKKKK. Honestly, I look at the teams picking in front of the Rockets, and there's probably no way Booker makes it past Atlanta (who will find a way to get Booker ALL of Demarre Carroll's three point touches if Carroll leaves in free agency), but it's fun to think about a true sniper camped out in the corners with James Harden on the floor.
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast.