The Rockets Daily – June 27, 2014

Draft Night – The 2014 NBA Draft finally came and went last night, and the Houston Rockets ended up with three selections total.  The sole first rounder was 20 year old Swiss big man Clint Capela at number 25 overall.  The Rockets also owned the 42nd pick, and selected Arizona’s combo-guard Nick Johnson.  Then Houston purchased the 53rd pick from the Minnesota Timberwolves, which they used on Italian wing Alessandro Gentile.

Capela will probably be stashed overseas for seasoning and also to avoid any kind of a cap hold while Houston pursues the big names in free agency.  G.M. Daryl Morey said that he believes Johnson will have no problem signing with the team and should be a part of all the Summer League activities.  As for Gentile, Morey has had little contact with him or his agent, as Gentile’s Italian team, Milano, is currently preparing for Game 7 of the Italian Lega A Finals tonight.  Morey believes Gentile could help the team this year, but said he will have to meet with his agent after the Italian season is over and will decide from there.

But never mind where the draft picks will be playing this season – what exactly did Houston get? 

When the Rockets picked at number 25, just about all of the top-prospects had been taken.  There were a few names (P.J. Hairston, Glenn Robinson III, etc), but when Shabazz Napier went of the board one spot before Houston’s pick, there was no clear-cut name for who should go next.  The Rockets went with the guy that they thought had the most upside out of just about anyone in the draft.

Besides fitting the “no new salary” edict that the Rockets were operating by, Clint Capela is a 6-11, 222 lbs marvel with a 7’5 wingspan that has to have Jay Bilas drooling.  He’s a little thin, but at only 20 years old he has plenty of time to grow into his frame.  His ESPN draft profile draws comparisons to a young Serge Ibaka.  Like Ibaka’s profile read back in 2009, Capela is incredibly raw.  He’s got quick feet, can play in transition and finish above the rim, and he is already a plus-defender and excellent rebounder.  He lacks the aforementioned strength and a jump shot, but with time could become a fearsome rim protector.

As for Nick Johnson, Morey couldn’t say enough.

“We think he was the most productive player on the best team in the country, Arizona. He’s a multi-position defender, can defend the one and the two. He’s a big-time athlete, Pac-12 Player of the Year. He’s a great, high character, tough guy and really has driven Arizona’s success the last couple years.”

Johnson would more than likely have been a first round pick if it weren’t for his 6’3 (in shoes), 198 lbs frame.  He doesn’t quite have the handles and offensive IQ to be a full-time point guard, but everything you read describes him as one of the best athletes in the country and capable of playing the 2.  Johnson’s profile is short on weaknesses, save for the lack of height.  But what it does include are phrases like “uber athletic” and “explosive leaper”.  It also labels him as a “tenacious defender”, something that clearly is not lost on Johnson.

“The one person that I’m going to latch onto is Beverley,” Johnson said during a conference call with the media shortly after his selection. “I think we have a lot of similarities. I think his grit and grind that he really plays with is something I have in my game. I think that I can come in from day one and be that person that he’s being: the defensive player, the energy guy and stuff like that. I’m going to come in and listen, work hard and do whatever I can do get on the floor.”

To me, Johnson sounds like a Monta Ellis/Patrick Beverley hybrid.  He’s an undersized 2-guard, but has qualities that would make him the perfect backcourt-mate for James Harden.  He’s got Beverley’s defensive tenacity, competitive fire and above-average rebounding ability but in a longer, taller, more athletic body.  And like Ellis, he can get his own shot and has the ability to get to the rim with ease (albeit a little recklessly at times, also an Ellis trait). He is an absolute terror in the open court, pushing the ball himself or scoring from the wing.  But unlike Ellis, Johnson is best out of the catch-and-shoot, shooting over 38% from deep in those situations.

So you’ve got a point guard-sized 2 with length and elite athleticism, who is a ferocious defender and has legit 3-point range but doesn’t need the ball to be most effective…doesn’t that sound like the ideal compliment to the Beard?  And if he’s not ready to earn a starting spot so early in his career, his game and versatility should pair nicely with Jeremy Lin as well, assuming Lin isn’t dealt to clear space for another superstar.

*BOLD PREDICTION ALERT*  I think Nick Johnson will eventually replace Chandler Parsons as Morey’s prized-find in the second round.  I could not be more excited about a guy that didn’t even go until pick 42.

And lastly, Alessandro Gentile.  Morey described Gentile as “Delfino-like”.  He’s one of the best young scorers in Europe despite not being an elite athlete and, at only 22 years old, is already the captain of the best team in Italy.  Speaking of Italy, with his team facing elimination on the road in Game 6 of the Lega A Finals, Gentile led all scorers with 23 points on 8-15 shooting (2-3 from deep), and chipped in 7 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 steals to send the series back to Milan for Game 7 tonight.

Gentile can be somewhat of a no-conscience gunner, with a streaky stroke and poor shot selection at times, but he uses the threat of his shot to make room for the rest of his offensive arsenal.  He’s not a very explosive athlete, but he’s got good strength and excellent range that he knows how to manipulate to help him get into the paint, where he finishes with craft and a smooth touch.  He will probably never be a plus-defender, but his effort and basketball IQ help negate his lack of lateral quickness.

The Rockets and G.M. Daryl Morey did exactly what they wanted to do in this draft.  They got potential, defensive improvement and shooting.  But most importantly, they avoided the cap hold that comes with drafting first round picks.  Morey may have found another stash of coveted-but-overlooked gems, or he may have found more trade fodder should a mega-deal be his next course of action.  But as always, Morey was creative and intelligent in getting exactly what he wanted out of the board.

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