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Houston, We Don’t Have A Problem

Newly Houston Rockets Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore
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Beware NBA teams. The Houston Rockets are back and better than ever. After falling to the 4th pick in the 2023 NBA Draft, it appeared the Rockets transition to a playoff team may take longer than initially expected. Tied with the best chances against the San Antonio Spurs and Detroit Pistons of landing the 1st overall pick, the Rockets luck appeared to run out, landing the 4th pick in the draft lottery. This was a big blow to the chances of landing Victor Wembanyama, a prospect already hallowed as the best generational talent the NBA has ever seen in its history.

A Heavy Pill To Swallow

To make it even spicier, Victor appeared to be relieved he wasn’t going to the Rockets following the results of the draft lottery. This struck a cord in many Rockets fans and media.

Given this news, it was initially believed the Rockets would lick their wounds and pick the best possible choice after all the good ones were gone.

Well, the draft is concluded. What kind of tricks did Rafael Stone have up his sleeve given this dilemma?

It started as predicted. Victor was drafted first overall by San Antonio. All Houston could hope for was a shot at the next possible NBA ready prospect: Amen Thompson.

Following the Charlotte Hornet’s questionable choice at Brandon Miller, the Portland Trailblazers picked G-League Ignite guard Scoot Henderson, a player many Rockets fans dreamed of having play for their roster.

Silver Lining

This left Amen Thompson: A forward capable of playmaking when needed and a force on the defensive end. Athletically built, this prospect has the perfect formula for NBA toughness right out the gate. What more could the Rockets have hoped, given their unlucky setback?

If Scoot was still available there’s definitely a capable argument for choosing Amen Thompson over him. The Rockets were one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA last season. Hypothetically, Henderson would assume the point guard duties. Without a doubt, he would surely make his teammates better. But at the expense of poorer defense?

Amen, Amen, I Say To You

While they surely need a point guard capable of facilitating and shot creating, it wouldn’t have outweighed the defensive issues that needed to be addressed this year. Amen Thompson, a capable facilitator in his own right, surely answers the call.

Thompson’s performance at G-League Ignite brings significant life on defense. In 16 games at Overtime Elite, Thompson had a plus minus average of 19, as he excelled at both ends of the floor. With an exceptional amount of equal assists and rebounds per game (5.9), the G-League Ignite product provides some much needed box out defense as well as getting cuts to the basket or passing it to the open man at the wing. Amen’s versatility will allow his teammates in Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Jabari Smith Jr. take less iso contested shots, a technique that often hampers the teams overall pace of play.

Most of Amen’s 16.4 points per game came off of handoffs and cuts to the rim, shooting 66.2% from the field. His shot will need some work, but it’s very possible that Ben Sullivan, assistant coach of the Boston Celtics, will re-join Ime Udoka on his coaching staff. Sullivan was the primary culprit of guard Derrick White‘s shooting from deep, improving it from 30% to 38% this past season.

Riding The Luck

Following this blessing in disguise, Rockets next available pick was No. 20. Fans urged Stone to be aggressive and trade up to the tenth pick to possible draft Villanova forward Cam Whitmore. Whitmore was a consensus five-star recruit as well as one of the top players in the 2022 class, according to major recruiting services. According to reports, he was initially slated to be a top 5, possibly top 10 pick in the draft. His 6’7 size at small forward provided his ability to play well of his teammates. Based on Paul Kasabian of Bleacher Report, Whitmore was compared to the likes of Hornets’ Miles Bridges. His body was also deemed “NBA ready.”

Kasabian also mentioned that “Whitmore’s power and explosiveness should easily translate to transition scoring, driving offense and finishing. He also showed promise with his shot-making, but he still needs to improve his overall shooting consistency and off-the-dribble play.”

A Likely Top Five Pick Overlooked

So, given the mostly positive feedback, he likely would have been scooped up by any team that is in a dire need of athleticism, size, and a potential slasher. In reality, as the draft slots continued to go down the list, Whitmore’s name wasn’t mentioned early in the draft as expected by commissioner Adam Silver at the podium.

Many analysts, including Jonathan Wasser of Bleacher Report and Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN, cited the poor decisions most clubs made in taking a pass on Whitmore.



Apparently, many teams were not only haunted by Whitmore’s injury history, but also the “not great” demeanor with each team that interviewed him during his workouts. These concerns inevitably slid Whitmore’s draft stock value down the slots. This prompted Houston to take him late in the first round, nullifying the need to trade up for him in the draft.

What’s fortunate for Houston is that they initially considered Whitmore as the primary objective to draft over Thompson. Instead, they killed two birds with one stone, essentially catapulting their chances to come out of their long rebuild.

A Match Made In H-Town

The Rockets have not only answered their defensive prayers with Thompson but also added a dynamic, NBA-ready body in Whitmore, who has the potential to become a difference-maker, provided he can keep his injury woes at bay and adopt a team-oriented mindset. Pair these draft picks with Jalen Green, Jabari Smith Jr., Alperen Sengun, and you’ve got a diverse set of players who potentially fill each others holes.

Yes, there are uncertainties, and the path forward won’t be free from challenges. The team’s chemistry, coaching staff’s ability to develop their new talents, and the players’ own commitment to growth will all be decisive factors in the coming seasons.

Despite missing out on the first overall pick and the exceptional Victor Wembanyama, the Rockets have managed to turn around their fortunes with some clever drafting. Instead of resigning to their fate, they’ve shrewdly capitalized on the situation, picking up two top talents and exponentially bolstering their rebuilding efforts.

So, NBA teams, you have been warned. The Rockets may have encountered rock bottom over the last few seasons, but they are back with a vengeance. Their journey to the playoffs might still be a work in progress, but it’s certainly more visible than ever. Prepare yourselves; a revitalized and resolute Houston Rockets are once again ready to take flight.


Jeremy Gretzer is a contributor on Back Sports Page. Along with receiving his MBA in Marketing, He has over a year in sports journalism, and has interviewed various NBA figures such as Mark Jackson and Jeff Van Gundy, along with players such as Jarred Vanderbilt, Jabari Smith Jr. and Alperen Sengun. Gretzer has a podcast on YouTube called Cut The Nets which airs every Tuesday night along with his co-host Brian Ramos. For more on Jeremy, his Twitter is @Jr_Gretzer and Instagram (@J.r.gretzer).

For more of Jeremy’s works, click here

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