The Rockets have so many positive things to look forward to going into next season but like always there’s a Yin to your Yang. Coming off a surprise trade to send Christian Wood to the Dallas Mavericks the baby Rockets are getting younger, but they also have the potential to be a better team next season. Going into the 2022 NBA Draft the Rockets were in position to get the leftovers from the top 2 which may be fine based on fit. The consensus of the mock drafts had the Rockets taking Paolo Banchero at the 3rd pick in the draft. When the first pick was announced it was surprise to see Paolo go first overall making it clear who the Rockets would eventually draft.
Another A+ draft for Stone
GM Rafeal Stone has had a great start to his career as head decision maker of the Houston Rockets. Coming off an outstanding draft in 2021, Stone has done it again in back-to-back off-seasons. With the 3rd overall pick Stone landed Jabari Smith after being passed up twice giving the Rockets a player with added motivations and a chip on his shoulder. Jabari has the skillset to help maximize the current core in place. Versatility on both sides is the biggest asset Jabari brings to the Rockets. Adding a lengthy shooter with the footwork and strength to be effective everywhere on defense.
With the 17th and 29th picks the Rockets added Tari Eason and TyTy Washington Jr. to the host of young talent already in Houston. Both Tari and TyTy have the perfect games to fill out the young core. Eason being an elite defender with the potential to be decent shooter from deep. TyTy has the game down to a science, he has a complete bag giving you everything you’d need from a point guard. Both picks were slam dunks and filled a need for the roster. Stone has done great at filling out the depth chart with young talent to meshes well.
Adding the newly added draftees to an already young roster may look like a recipe for another top 5 pick but the “culture” has changed quickly after the draft. The word culture has been somewhat overused and misconstrued by the media in recent history. The same can be said about “IQ” which may affect the culture, but we’ll focus on the former for now. Culture is the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively. It is very possible to have a good or bad culture, but the specific details always matter.
In regard to Houston the perception is that the Rockets are a young team with no direction from the unexperienced regime in place. On the heels of back-to-back seasons with the worst record in the NBA the claim of a bad culture looks true from the outside looking in. The main context for this team is that the average age for the core of this team is 20 years old. The old school philosophy of coaching and team building is almost dead. The NBA is at a point of modernization and the previous ways to build a team are obsolete. Rafeal Stone had a great mentor in Darryl Morey, but he is his own man who has to put his stamp on the team.
What has changed? Firstly, the pecking order is clearer now that the team is leaning on Jalen Green to be the leader and star. Secondly, the defense got a boost with the 2022 draft picks coming in. Lastly, trading away Christian Wood was a necessary move to push forward into the future. Once the season officially starts the narrative around the team will go from the Rockets being a bad team to being a young upcoming team. Eric Gordon is the only member of the past regime, having a clear direction for the future shined a bright light on the young Rockets.
How are things different?
Going into the 2022-23 season the young Rockets have very little pressure put on their backs. The roster has filled out and the core is clear. The focus for this squad should be individual development and developing chemistry together. The squad can finally say they have an identity that they want to uphold throughout the course of the season. A team full of gym rats that get out and run-in transition is just a small description for the team. The truth is the Rockets have a team full of dogs, plain and simple. They may seem like puppies in the scope of the entire league but a few minutes of watching the young Rockets will tell it all.
Now that Summer League has begun, and the new draftees are getting their first action as pros it’s even more apparent how different the Rockets will look next season. Bringing in multiple guys that take pride in locking up their opponent is great to set a positive identity. Jabari Smith and Tari Eason are game changers on defense, they make a clear impact adding so much as rookies. TyTy Washington is no slouch defensively he is actually a positive on defense, the way he’s most impactful as a playmaker. The rookies have shown why they were deserving of being picked and where they need to improve for the future.
As you look at the Rockets young roster you see a combination of raw talent and the will to become great. In the immediate aftermath of trading James Harden, the Rockets had a very weird and complicated “culture”. Now that stench of the trade has worn off the “culture” is clearly a young gritty team willing to put in the work. A shuffle in the coaching staff also gives the squad a different perspective on building a winning culture. Overall, the Rockets will look and play differently than they have in the last few seasons. Having a clear direction and path to success helps clear up any doubt that the Rockets are on pace to have a winning “culture”.
The Sky’s the limit for the young Rockets, once the rookies are acclimated with the full roster the squad should start winning more games. It may not look pretty but the job gets done with the group of rookies. Building a winning “culture” is always the goal but the avenue to success may not always be clear cut. Rafeal Stone has done an outstanding job staying cool calm and collected through the process of filling out the roster. The man is looking like a genius for the trade that sparked the rebuild and this upcoming season may be the true beginning of a new era in Rockets basketball.
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