The Houston Rockets are one of the more historic franchises in all of the NBA. They rank tenth all-time in winning percentage in the NBA with a 51.5% mark. Only the San Antonio Spurs, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, Utah Jazz, Phoenix Suns, Seattle Supersonics, Oklahoma City Thunder, Portland Trail Blazers, Milwaukee Bucks, Miami Heat, and Philadelphia 76ers have higher winning percentages. But, a lot of these teams have been in the NBA for a more brief period of time than the Rockets. The Rockets have played 4,524 games. Among the teams that have played at least that many games, the list of teams with a greater winning percentage than the Houston Rockets organization falls to just four: the Celtics, Lakers, Sonics/Thunder, and Sixers.
There's a good reason why that percentage is so high. The Rockets have had a lot of great players come through their organization. Some have come via trade like James Harden, Tracy McGrady, and Clyde Drexler. Others like Dwight Howard signed as a free agent. But the Rockets have also drafted very well and have landed plenty of star power through the draft. It's what made this list of the ten best Houston Rockets draft picks difficult to put together, but also very compelling. It's time to get to it!
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10. Jalen Green
Jalen Green still has to learn the ropes. His career 3.2-2.3 assist-to-turnover ratio isn't exactly sparkling. He's been below average in effective field goal percentage in each of his first two seasons in the NBA. His defense has left little to be desired. But flashes of a dynamic, creative guard that is seemingly a prerequisite to contend in today's NBA have been there from the jump.
Jalen Green dropped a 40 piece as the Rockets fell at home.
4 threes pic.twitter.com/aBUMEgyfC0
— NBA (@NBA) March 20, 2023
Jalen Green already has multiple 40 pieces to his name, and has made some history while doing so.
Jalen Green last night:
✅ 42 PTS
✅ 16-25 FG
✅ 6-12 3P
Green has recorded two 40-point games in his last three games.
He's the youngest player in NBA history to score at least 40 points on 60% shooting from the field twice in a three-game span.
— Justin Kubatko (@jkubatko) January 24, 2023
Jalen Green has his shortcomings, but it is also worth noting that the situation he's been in as a Houston Rocket has been nothing short of an organizational failure. The Rockets have had no identity and no real basketball philosophy to guide this group of young players to further their development. Hiring Ime Udoka as their head coach and bringing in veterans Fred VanVleet and Dillon Brooks should help organize this team and bring out the best in all their young players, especially Green. Green was named to the first-team All-Rookie team in 2022 so he already has some hardware to his name. That shouldn't be the last hardware he earns. Green will almost surely climb this list, but ten is a fine spot for him for now.
9. Rodney McCray
Rodney McCray was a bit of a journeyman, but he made a big splash with the Rockets. He was drafted third overall by the Rockets in 1983, the same year they drafted Ralph Sampson (more on him in a bit) first overall. McCray made two All-Defensive teams with the Rockets in 1987 where he was named to the second team and 1988, when he was a first-team All-Defensive team selection. He also contributed to winning, as he played 41.8 minutes per game in the playoffs when the Rockets made it to the NBA Finals in 1986.
McCray left the Rockets after the 1988 season. He played two seasons in Sacramento and then two more in Dallas after that. He then latched on with the Chicago Bulls and won a championship on the Bulls' 1993 team. McCray wasn't a real contributor to that team, however. He played 64 games that season and averaged roughly 15 minutes per game. But he at least got a ring! And he had a really solid career. A career worthy of a spot in this top ten.
8. Robert Horry
Robert Horry, otherwise known as Big Shot Rob, was drafted by the Houston Rockets in the first round of the 1992 NBA Draft out of the University of Alabama. It didn't take long for Horry to live up the moniker he became known as. Horry's penchant for hitting clutch shots began as a Rocket when he a game-winning shot in Game 1 of the 1995 Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.
Then, in Game 3 of the NBA Finals later that postseason, Horry delivered a three that effectively served as the dagger for that series.
Robert Horry was never a star. But he sure did a lot of winning. He won seven NBA championships as a player. That is still, to this day, the most by any player in NBA history who wasn't a member of the Boston Celtics during their dynastic run that spanned from the 1950s to the early 1970s. He doesn't have the game of a star, but make no mistake about it: Robert Horry is an absolute legend.
7. Sam Cassell
The Houston Rockets drafted Sam Cassell, a 6-3 185 pound guard out of Florida State, with the 24th overall pick in the 1993 NBA Draft. The Rockets immediately saw dividends from that pick. Cassell didn't play a ton during his first season, but he did play and contribute to a Rockets team that won the championship in 1994 against the New York Knicks after Michael Jordan retired to play baseball and give his mind and body a break from basketball. The Rockets made a deep run to the NBA Finals again in 1995, this time facing off against the Orlando Magic. The Rockets stole Game 1 on the road thanks to seven threes by Kenny Smith. But the Game 2 hero was Sam Cassell.
Cassell delivered 31 points on 8-12 shooting from the field and 11-12 from the free throw line. The Rockets won Game 2 and eventually swept the young Shaq and Penny Orlando Magic. Cassell played for a myriad of teams after the Rockets, including the New Jersey Nets, Minnesota Timberwolves, Milwaukee Bucks, Los Angeles Clippers, and Boston Celtics, whom he won a title with in 2008. Cassell was an All-Star and made second-team All-NBA in 2004 as a member of the Timberwolves. Cassell had a stellar career and is still involved in the NBA as an assistant coach, now under Joe Mazzulla's staff in Boston. He will be a head coach one day. And a good one. Just as he was as a player.
6. Calvin Murphy
The Rockets weren't located in San Diego for very long. They were only in California for four seasons from 1967-1971. But while they were there, they drafted one of the better players in the history of their franchise. Murphy played 13 seasons in the NBA, all for the Rockets. He averaged at least 20 points in five of those seasons. He helped lead the Rockets to an NBA Finals appearance in 1981, where they lost to the Boston Celtics.
Calvin Murphy is in the Hall of Fame. From here on out, every player on this list is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Murphy only has one All-Star appearance to his name, but was a big part in establishing the NBA in the state of Texas and the Houston market. He's deserving of this spot in the top ten.
5. Rudy Tomjanovic
Rudy Tomjanovic has done a little bit of everything in the NBA. He was a five-time All-Star as a player. He put up some outstanding numbers as a player too, averaging 17.4 points and eight rebounds for his career. Tomjanovic, along with Calvin Murphy, was drafted while as a member of the San Diego Rockets. Those two helped put Houston basketball on the map and took the Rockets to the Finals in 1981.
Tomjanovic has worn many hats after his playing days. He's currently an advisor to the Minnesota Timberwolves' front office. But his most notable accomplishments after his playing days have come as a coach for those same Rockets he played for. He joined the Rockets' coaching staff in 1983, where he remained as an assistant for a decade. In 1992, Tomjanovic got a promotion and was named as head coach. It was a great decision. Tomjanovic was head coach of the Rockets for 12 seasons. Along with a season as the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, Tomjanovic boasts a career 527-416 coaching record. He was the man in charge of the Rockets' two title winners in 1994 and 1995.
Rudy Tomjanovic made the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a coach, not a player. But that doesn't take away from the fact he is a Rockets legend. Putting him in the top five of Rockets draft picks feels appropriate.
4. Ralph Sampson
Ralph Sampson was on pace to be an all-time great. Sampson stepped into the NBA and averaged 21 points, 11.1 rebounds, and 2.4 blocks while shooting 52.3% from the field. He was immediately an All-Star and won the Rookie of the Year award in 1984. Sampson basically ran back those numbers the next year despite the Rockets drafting another prodigious young big man in Hakeem Olajuwon and shifting to the power forward position. That was good enough to earn Sampson another All-Star and his first All-NBA team selection.
Sampson's play took a bit of a dip in his junior season, but he was still an All-Star in that season and the season after that. But then injuries started to take its toll. Sampson suffered a cartilage tear in his knee in February of 1987, forcing him to play only 43 games that season. In the 1987-88 season, he was traded to the Golden State Warriors after suffering an injury that season too. He played well in his first season as a Warrior, averaging 15.4 points and 10 rebounds per game. Injuries followed him after that season though. He played in only 61 games over the next three seasons. Sampson never played more than 61 games in a season after his third NBA season. After missing only three games in his first three seasons, Sampson played in 213 of a possible 492 games over his next six seasons.
Ralph Sampson's career is a great hypothetical. What if he stayed healthy? What if he didn't have to share the floor with another Hall of Fame center for his career? Maybe he'd be talked about as one of the best bigs in NBA history like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Hakeem Olajuwon, Shaquille O'Neal, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, etc. But at least Sampson was able to get inducted into the Hall of Fame regardless because he absolutely deserves that honor.
3. Yao Ming
Yao Ming was another Rockets great whose career was cut short by injury. Yao was an unstoppable brute in the paint. Of course, he was; he was 7-6 310 pounds! No one could do anything with that sheer size. Once he stepped foot in the NBA, he immediately became an All-Star. In fact, Yao was an All-Star in every season he was a healthy member of the NBA. He also made five All-NBA teams over his career.
Unfortunately for Yao and the Rockets, that career wasn't very long. He played seven seasons at an All-Star level for the Rockets, but a foot fracture cost him the entire 2009-10 season. He only played five games in the 2010-11 season, and then he called it quits for his career. These foot injuries were nothing new. Yao broke his foot twice while playing for the Shanghai Sharks from 1997-2002 before stepping foot in the NBA. Those injuries lingered in the NBA, forcing Yao to miss 86 games from 2005 to 2008.
But Yao still made his mark in the NBA. He was a great player and established a connection between the NBA and China that would continue to grow. He was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. He's very deserving of being ranked number three here.
2. Elvin Hayes
Elvin Hayes had made basketball headlines before he even made it to the NBA. While a member of the University of Houston in 1968, his Houston Cougars along with the UCLA Bruins, led by Lew Alcindor, took part in the first-ever nationally televised college basketball game. The Cougars upset the Bruins, ending UCLA's 47-game winning streak in the game dubbed ‘The Game of the Century.'
After Hayes' college days, he got drafted by the San Diego Rockets. He was dominant as soon as he stepped into the NBA, averaging 28.4 points and 17.1 rebounds per game. Those averages hovered around those numbers for each of his first three seasons in San Diego and his first in Houston. But Hayes got traded in 1972 to the Baltimore Bullets, who later would move to Washington D.C. Hayes was an All-Star staple for the Rockets and Bullets and even helped the Bullets win their first and only NBA championship in 1978. He later returned to the Rockets and helped lead them to their 1981 Finals appearance against the Boston Celtics.
Elvin Hayes was named to 12 All-Star teams, six All-NBA teams, two All-Defensive teams, was the scoring champion in 1978, and was the rebounding champion twice in his career. Hayes was a surefire Hall of Famer. His resume is up there with anybody's. But there is someone with a resume to top Hayes'.
1. Hakeem Olajuwon
A player to be insanely good to get drafted ahead of Michael Jordan and for that pick to not look foolish. That's what the Rockets did when they selected Hakeem Olajuwon first overall in the 1984 Draft, one of the best in NBA history. Obviously, everyone would want Michael Jordan, but the Rockets don't have to rue passing on him because of how good Hakeem Olajuwon was. Olajuwon played 16 NBA seasons; he was an All-Star in 12 of his first 13 seasons. He averaged 21.8 points and 11.1 rebounds per game for his career. Olajuwon averaged at least 20.6 points per game in each of his first 13 seasons and at least 24 points per game in six of those seasons. He failed to average at least 10 rebounds per game in only one of those seasons too. Olajuwon's impeccable skill and footwork dating back to his soccer background in Lagos, Nigeria along with his overwhelming size and athleticism made him an absolute terror to deal with.
Most skilled center ever?
HBD 2 X CHAMP HAKEEM OLAJUWON
11 triple-doubles w/ BLKS
5 triple-doubles w/ ASTS
6 5×5 games
6 25/25 games
2 20/20/10 games
All-Time Rankings: BLK (1), STL (10), PTS (14), REB (14) pic.twitter.com/vgZFNVzh4p
— Ballislife.com (@Ballislife) January 21, 2022
On the other end of the floor, Olajuwon was a nightmare too. Olajuwon made nine All-Defensive teams over the course of his career. He won the Defensive Player of the Year award twice. He also won the MVP in 1994. That same year, he led the Rockets to their first-ever NBA Championship when they took down the New York Knicks. The Rockets pulled off the repeat and defended their championship by adding another one in 1995. Olajuwon was the Finals MVP in that series too. He also eventually was named a Hall of Famer. A no-brainer.
Hakeem Olajuwon is firmly in the discussion among the ten best players of all time. It would be tough to argue Olajuwon over Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the best center of all time, but Olajuwon is at least in that discussion and in the discussion with any other big man who has ever played the game. He's that good. Of course he's number one on this list.
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