The Rockets have the No. 4 pick in the upcoming draft, seeing it both as a trade chip for an established star or an asset that allows them to add another foundational player to their young core.
Led by face of the franchise Jalen Green, the Rockets have myriad players that display promise, notably Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Kevin Porter Jr., Tari Eason and Usman Garuba. Nonetheless, in their hopes of building a championship contender — not just a playoff contender — potential must translate into production, and finding the right players to complement their current core helps them do just that.
As of this writing, the Rockets seem to have honed in on Overtime Elite point guard Amen Thompson, a cerebral passer with a breathtaking blend of size and athleticism. To that point, twin brother Ausar Thompson — a connecting wing with a high basketball IQ and the same physical tools as Amen — could be under consideration as well.
Yet, if Houston wants to take what could be considered a safer pick due to the level of competition they've faced already, the following draft prospects might entice the Rockets more than anyone at No. 4.
3 sneaky players Rockets can select with No. 4 pick
Not only does he have an NBA-ready body at 6-foot-7 and 225 pounds, Villanova forward Cam Whitmore could have the most pro-ready game of any forward in the 2023 NBA Draft when considering his two-way upside.
Averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.4 steals per game as a true freshman in 2022-23, Whitmore has the makings of a dynamic scorer that can move up and down the lineup thanks to his blend of size and athleticism.
Speaking of which, Whitmore's strengths as a slasher and transition threat fit the Rockets core and youth well, as younger teams often like to get out on the break to create easy scoring opportunities. Because the Maryland native is also capable of scoring inside the paint and outside of the arc, he should have no issue playing off of Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr. and Alperen Sengun.
Defensively, Whitmore doesn't just have quick hands that generate steals or a quick leap that helps him as a weakside shot-blocker. He also has a combination of fluidity, strength, awareness, and tenacity that should translate well to the next level and make him one of Rockets head coach Ime Udoka's favorites.
The only questions regarding Whitmore are his shooting and passing potential, as he made just 34.3 percent of his 3-point attempts at Villanova and was rarely utilized as facilitator. However, so far as his jumper is concerned, there's evidence that he can be a better 3-point shooter with more coaching and development.
If the Houston Rockets were to bring in former Houston Cougars standout Jarace Walker, the throng of NBA fans that will be in and around the Barclays Center on draft night might not go wild. However, they will give Walker a chance to win them over.
Walker is a versatile 6-foot-8 and 240 pound forward that won AAC Freshman of the Year honors in 2022-23, helping lead the Cougars to a 33-4 record and a Sweet 16 appearance in the 2023 NCAA Tournament. Just 19-years-old, Walker entered college as a consensus five-star recruit, not unlike Villanova forward Cam Whitmore.
That being said, aside from their positional versatility — primarily on the defensive end — and an average 3-point stroke, the similarities may stop there.
Averaging 11.2 points, 6.8 rebounds, 1.8 assists, 1.3 blocks and 1.0 steal per game as a true freshman in 2022-23, Walker's biggest strengths lie on the defensive end. Utilizing his physical tools — which includes a 7-foot-2 wingspan — to their fullest, Walker routinely breaks up passes, alters shots around the rims and hounds players in space. Walker is also an exceptional pick-and-roll defender, which will be highly important in the NBA as it's a pick-and-roll heavy league.
Offensively, Walker may not truly excel in any particular area, but he has spectacular feel and processing ability, especially from the middle of the floor. Walker is also a three-level scorer, shooting 38 percent on unguarded catch-and-shoot attempts, and putting the ball on the floor to create shots for himself in the midrange.
Alabama forward Brandon Miller is the most complete forward on this list, but he also comes with the biggest question mark, as conflicting reports about his pre-draft interviews surfaced amid the controversy surrounding his time at Alabama.
Once the consensus No. 2 in the 2023 NBA Draft, Miller's indirect involvement in a shooting that led to the death of a young woman and the murder indictment of his former teammate had plenty of people wondering just who he is as a person. Not in the least because of players like former Washington Wizards star Gilbert Arenas or Memphis Grizzlies star Ja Morant, whose careers were negatively impacted due to incidents involving firearms.
Incessant questions about Miller's character could end eventually, especially if he demonstrates his capabilities as a leader in the locker room and in the community.
He just has to get that chance first.
That being said, there's no question about the type of impact Miller can make in the NBA, even after an underwhelming NCAA Tournament appearance (which could be, in part, due to the negative media attention he was receiving at the time).
A gifted scorer and playmaker that averaged 18.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.1 assists, 0.9 steals, and 0.8 blocks per game as a true forward, Miller left Alabama as the SEC Freshman of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, SEC Tournament MVP, and a Consensus All-American.
He can score from anywhere on the court, especially from 3-point range, where he knocked down 38.4 percent of his attempts. He makes quick, high-level reads. Lastly, he has length and athleticism to be a respectable defender at the next level.
At the end of the day, Miller is considered the best forward prospect in the 2023 NBA Draft for good reason.