As I wrote yesterday, the Rockets figure to retool their roster primarily through free agency and trades this offseason. But they did pick up two intriguing new pieces in last night's Draft, in Louisville's Chinanu Onuaku and Zhou Qi from China. Dwight Howard recently declined his player option, in one of the least surprising moves of the summer, and Dayrl Morey seems eager to backfill the roster with young centers. Second round draft choices are low-risk gambles; the Rockets will be happy if just one of the two new big men become a rotation player.
With Mike D'Antoni now coaching the team, it makes sense to look at each new player acquisition in the context of how they will fit D'Antoni's unique system. Here's a breakdown of each player with a sense of how they might exist in Houston's future.
#37 - Chinanu Onuaku
Onuaku became the Rockets' second straight second-round pick out of Louisville, joining 2015 selection Montrezl Harrell in Houston. Louisville's season went down in flames with a postseason ban due to a prostitution scandal that Rick Pitino knew absolutely nothing about (he swears!). Anyway, Onuaku was a rare bright spot on last year's Louisville squad, improving considerably in his sophomore season. He became a proficient rebounder and defender, while scoring in the paint at an efficient rate (64 percent).
The immediate question mark for Onuaku is his position in the NBA. He is just 6'9" without shoes, though he has a long standing reach (9'1") and wingspan (7'3"). He can move pretty well, but it remains to be seen if he can guard power forwards, especially the trendy stretch four on the perimeter. D'Antoni will be thrilled with his screen-setting ability and great hands. He could be groomed as an efficient roll man who can either clean up the glass or catch passes in traffic on his way to the basket. He lacks elite leaping ability so he will find it much more difficult to finish at the NBA level. He'll have to work on some post moves, as he will not be a threat as a face-up guy. He's young and give the Rockets much-needed defensive toughness. As a second-round flyer Onuaku makes a lot of sense.
Wait...he shoots free throws underhanded?! How did I not know this? Maybe I do need to watch more college basketball. On second though...nah. That's what YouTube is for:
#43 - Zhou Qi
I predicted yesterday that there was a good chance Qi made his way onto the Rockets' roster, given the obvious Yao Ming parallels and the business sense it made in the Houston market. Chinese players are a huge crapshoot in the NBA. Remember Yi Jianlian? Or Wang Zhizhi? Yao is really the only one who's been a hit. Qi is a bit of a mystery but here's what we do know: He's 7'2", skinny as hell (218 pounds), 20 years old (probably) and his 7'7" wingspan seems superhuman. Qi can take up the whole painted area with arms outstretched. Fittingly, he was a shot-blocking machine, leading the Chinese Basketball Association in that category last season.
I'm not sure how well he runs the floor or thus fits with D'Antoni's style. But this pick was all about upside.
Even if he is more Yi than Yao, the pick was worthwhile as a lottery ticket. What made Jianlian such a disaster was he was drafted sixth overall by a team he didn't want to play for. There's virtually no risk with the 53rd pick that Houston used on Qi. He will play this summer in the Olympics with the Chinese national team and it remains to be seen when he'll be brought over to play with the Rockets or in the D-League.
Morey, for what it's worth, was glowing about both picks last night:
It's on to free agency in H-Town!