In a Pro-Am game earlier this month, Oklahoma City Thunder’s Chet Holmgren broke his foot while posting up against superstar LeBron James on a fast break. This past week, doctors confirmed that the second overall pick’s foot will need surgery, ruling him out for the entire 2022-2023 season.
This was something most people hadn’t expected.
Many fans and experts were looking forward to seeing him compete against fellow Top 3 picks Paolo Banchero and Jabari Smith Jr. It will be a slightly easier road to Rookie of the Year honors for the Rocket’s third overall pick. In the long run, OKC has another reason to tank for a high pick given Holmgren’s season-ending injury. This makes the Houston Rockets season a little more intriguing.
Houston’s initial plans
The original goal for the Rockets was to keep tanking until they had enough time to assemble a strong roster. A couple different ways to achieve this is to develop homegrown players and/or trade high draft picks for franchise players. A prime example is to target struggling contenders with franchise players who aren’t happy with their current situation and want a fresh start. This can take at least a few seasons to pull it off, and the Rockets are on the first step.
Forks in the road
Kevin Durant’s trade request from the Brooklyn Nets threw the icing on the cake with Houston’s long-term plan, but it all turned out to be a series of pump fakes. His underwhelming decision turns Brooklyn into more of a title contender this season. While this puts a dent in the Rockets future with their 2023 pick swap, Chet Holmgren’s injury turned it into a stain. OKC’s general manager, Sam Presti, has both championship and rebuilding experience. He will find ways to tank his team again and score another high draft pick. Houston’s goal of recruiting and developing young players has taken a hit, and Holmgren’s precarious status has made matters worse.
A promising young season
There is still something to look forward to; Jabari Smith Jr. is the most underrated top-5 draft pick and could end up being the best pick in the draft. Not only is he underrated, he was snubbed from ESPN’s offseason Twitter survey. The survey indicated who will be the best pick in the draft in five years. Most of the votes went to Banchero and Holmgren, while fewer votes went to fifth overall pick Jaden Ivey and fourth overall pick Keegan Murray. This highly publicized poll yielded zero support for the third overall pick.
This adds to the large collection of Houston’s heavily underappreciated rookie. There’s no telling that Jabari Smith Jr. has the biggest chip on his shoulder right now. With one less rookie in the running for Rookie of the Year, he is extremely motivated to succeed.