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With the NBA’s 2020-21 regular season now complete, the Houston Rockets have clarity on two of the three first-round picks that they will own in the league’s 2021 draft. The selection acquired from Portland (via the Robert Covington trade) comes in at No. 23 overall, while Milwaukee’s choice (via the PJ Tucker trade) is right behind it at No. 24.
Their highest pick, though, is yet to be determined — and the variance is significant. Having finished 2020-21 with the NBA’s worst record, the Rockets maximized their odds of earning a top-four pick (52.1%) in the June 22 draft lottery. However, in the 47.9% scenario where they do not win a top-four selection, their top pick would tumble all the way to the Miami slot at No. 18. That traces back to the Chris Paul-Russell Westbrook trade in July 2019, which gives Oklahoma City the right to “swap” Miami’s pick for the Houston one, if it falls outside of the top four.
In short, the Rockets are slated to pick three times in the first round of the July 29 draft. Their selections will come at No. 23, No. 24… and either No. 1, No. 2, No. 3, No. 4, or No. 18, depending on the June 22 lottery. That same week will also feature the NBA’s annual draft combine, which could further shake up the various potential outcomes at play.
If (and it’s a huge if) the lottery order goes according to record, Houston would draft at No. 1, No. 23, and No. 24. In his latest mock draft published on June 1, here’s what For The Win’s Bryan Kalbrosky projects the Rockets would do at those slots, prior to the lottery and combine.
Pick No. 1: Cade Cunningham, Houston Rockets
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Wing, 6-7, Oklahoma State (Freshman)
Most Common Comparison(s): Luka Doncic, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ben Simmons
It is reportedly only a matter of when (not if) Houston will buy out the remainder of John Wall’s contract. But despite finishing with the league’s worst record, Rockets owner Tilman Fertitta is excited about the future of the organization, and there is no one with more potential to right the ship as the face of a franchise than Cade Cunningham.
It is rare for a prospect to enter the NBA with the intangibles all that he has with his size, pull-up shooting, self-creation and playmaking. It’s not worth overthinking it with Cunningham, who has all the makings to be an All-Star.
NOTE: This pick is protected if it is Nos. 1-4. Otherwise, it goes to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
As for Houston’s other two 2021 first-round selections, which are being acquired from Portland and Milwaukee, read on.
Pick No. 23: James Bouknight, Houston Rockets (via Portland):
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Wing, 6-5, UConn (Sophomore)
As the Rockets look to re-tool their roster, they will likely find themselves excited about James Bouknight if he is available this late into the first round.
Bouknight, who will perform well with athletic testing if he chooses to participate in the NBA draft combine, averaged 18.7 points per game as a sophomore. That included a 40-point performance against Creighton.
While he was less of a factor in the tournament, that shouldn’t scare teams away in the first round.
Pick No. 24: Isaiah Jackson, Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee)
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Big, 6-10, Kentucky (Freshman)
While he is technically still “testing the waters” for this draft class, there are going to be several teams with their eyes on Kentucky’s Isaiah Jackson.
He was the best player on the Wildcats this year and with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, while he was a freshman, Jackson was one of the best rim protectors in the nation. With an excellent second jump and good instincts as a rebounder, he makes sense in the first round.
Kalbrosky’s complete 2021 NBA mock draft (as of June 1), which also includes projected second-round picks, can be viewed here.