"I hope you guys could keep track of tonight, because we couldn't," joked Rockets GM Daryl Morey to the media Thursday night.
He was right -- we struggled for hours to put our finger on the exact players that the Rockets had come away with from the 2008 NBA Draft. No one could/would confirm to us exactly because it had to go through the league office first, which was jammed with trades to approve.
Briefly it was 19-year old French swingman Nicolas Batum, who the Rockets selected with the 25th pick. Word leaked very quickly it would be a trade with Portland for Kansas' Darrell Arthur (#27) and an early second round pick, either #33 or #36.
Then late into the night it was all finalized: The Rockets struck two deals, one with Portland and one with Memphis, that made the final haul for Houston: 6-foot-9 Syracuse forward Donte Greene (#28), 6-7 Memphis forward/center Joey Dorsey (#33) and a 2009 second round pick from the Grizzlies.
Though there were several trades and issues at play here that made it all very confusing, one thing was pretty clear by the end of draft night: Morey is a pretty slick general manager.
Portland GM Kevin Pritchard, who for the third straight year selected the Rockets top target (Brandon Rush), may be on an incredible roll and getting the most publicity right now, but Morey is quietly making terrific moves for the Rockets.
First, he swiped the guy the Spurs coveted in Batum. That alone is a nice bonus. Remember, this comes less than a year after Morey robbed his I-10 rivals of Luis Scola, so on San Antonio's warm and fuzzy list I'd say Daryl ranks somewhere between Joey Crawford and Santa Anna right now.
The Rockets GM then used the pick against Portland, leveraging their interest in Batum to move down two spots (#27) and net the #33 pick for the "trouble". Then he did the same thing again, dangling the Arthur carrot in front of Memphis to move down a digit (#28) and net another high second round pick in the process (Memphis' 2009 second rounder).
So forget for a minute which player you wanted and look at it from a perspective of what the Rockets would have done had they just stayed where they started out. Houston got the guy (Greene) they would have drafted at 25 in the first place and scooped up two assets for absolutely nothing.
Not bad at all, and that's a huge credit to Morey and the scouts for identifying Batum as the value pick that started the domino effect.
I also have to wonder what the Timberwolves thought about the Rockets landing pick 33 after Houston and Minnesota, holding picks 31 and 34, ran numerous draft workouts together. I can see Morey calling Timberwolves GM Kevin McHale around pick #32. "Hey Kev -- remember when you told me you liked Dorsey at 34?" That might have been a good time for an "I drink your milkshake" reference.
Let's dive right in:
The Rockets wanted scorers, and they may have gotten that in Donte Greene. The young Syracuse forward was not the Rockets top target (believed to be Rush) but we were told before the draft that he was one of the top 3.
"We had higher players at the wing, but they went ahead of us," said Morey. "We did attempt to move up and get some players, but one of the players we tried to move up for was Donte and we weren't able to move up."
The 6-foot-9, 220-pound small forward is still a hell of a pick for not having moved up in the draft (in fact, they moved down).
Out of Baltimore, Greene was the 8th ranked recruit on scout.com and #9 on Rivals Top 150 a year ago, with the likes of Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, OJ Mayo and Kevin Love. So he went to Syracuse with high expectations.
As a freshman, Greene was named to the Second Team All-Big East after averaging 17.7 points, 7.2 boards, 1.6 blocks and 1.3 steals. While he once compared his game to that of Tracy McGrady, Greene isn't sure that's an accurate comparison.
"I wouldn't compare it exactly to Tracy McGrady's" said Greene. "It's similar in some ways, but more of a Rashard Lewis."
That may not be what Syracuse fans thought they were getting after watching dunk after dunk by Greene in video highlights online, but they realized quickly that the young man likes the perimeter and is in love with the three-ball. Of his nearly 15 shots per game, half of them were from three-point range where he shot a lets-hope-it-improves 34.2%. There is no comparison to T-Mac in his passing, where Greene had an upside-down assist-turnover ratio (2.0 assists to 2.6 turnovers) and his defense is not anywhere near the NBA level right now.
It will take a few years before Houston knows if they have a more athletic Rashard or a poor man's Tim Thomas, but at just 20 years of age, this is a great roll of the dice as there is a ton of upside here for the Rockets.
At 6-7 and a ripped 265 pounds, Dorsey is an imposing figure. He was a big (and often overlooked) piece of the juggernaut Memphis Tigers, which went to the Elite Eight twice before making it to the NCAA Championship game last season.
He is a tad short for the NBA power forward and center positions, but his standing reach of 8-foot-11 and nearly 7-foot-2 wingspan are very good measurements. He also makes up for his shorter height with his strength and tenacious defense -- as we passed along on draft night, Morey called him the "best defensive big in the country".
He might be right. Dorsey played just over 25 minutes a game in both his junior and senior seasons, but still averaged 9.5 boards, roughly 2 blocks and 1+ steals. His energy and toughness remind many of a young Ben Wallace.
Dorsey was a bigger hit than WALL-E at the press conference Friday when he, among other things, referred to himself as "Ray Lewis with a basketball". That's a pretty clear visual. Looking for an enforcer next to Yao Ming? You may have just that in Dorsey.
"That's what all the coaches and GMs said to me, that it's a good fit for me to play alongside Yao," said Dorsey. "That's been my role since I've been at Memphis -- bringing that physical presence. I like to get down and play dirty and rough. That's me."
Did he just say he "likes to play dirty"? Bye, bye Scolandry, hello Scolandorsey.
Let's be frank though: Outside of brutal dunks, Dorsey is offensively-challenged and even Shaquille O'Neal would call him a bad free throw shooter. In four seasons at Memphis, Dorsey never hit above 46.7% from the free throw line and was 37.8% as a senior. When you shoot worse from the line than Rafer Alston does from the field, you know it's bad, so unlike Carl Landry, Dorsey has no touch on a shot whatsoever.
But for a high second round draft pick that you basically got as a freebie? This is an excellent choice.
Hey, the 54th pick -- remember me?
The Rockets nabbed sharpshooting Oregon forward Maarty Leunen with their late second rounder and made it clear that this is a stash pick. Morey said Leunen will join the team's summer league squad but already has a deal overseas, so the Rockets will be keeping an eye on him.
Leunen, who was a teammate of Aaron Brooks with the Ducks, just went nuts from downtown as a senior, hitting 49.2% from beyond the arc. The 6-foot-10 forward averaged 15.2 points and 9.2 boards.
"We believe in spacing fours as an important asset," said Morey, citing current Rocket Steve Novak as an example. "We feel like Maarty is someone who could potentially be a future bet at that spot as well."
Outside of his Pop-a-Shot skills, he needs some work. He joins Lior Eliyahu and Brad Newley in the pursuit of the 2008-09 BBS' "Most Asked About Non-Rocket Rocket" -- aka the Malick Badiane Award.
Any time there is a draft day trade, the prospect you traded away will forever be linked to your team, even if it was never really your selection (see: Eduardo Najera, Richard Jefferson, Rudy Gay). That shouldn't be the case here, but some will watch Batum and Arthur with a critical eye.
Still, the Rockets are taking good risks with their choices. Don't expect anything from Greene this coming season and who knows -- you may be pleasantly surprised. By 2009-10 they may have something. Dorsey, if he can play some minutes at the NBA five, can be a real asset to the Rockets defense right away and, long-term, can give them a guy who can replace Dikembe Mutombo and spell Yao. However, that's a big leap right now.
As far as immediate grades go, my opinion was this was an A- draft, only because I considered a trade-up for Rush to be the only A+. The Rockets came into this draft with the 25th pick, and as Morey pointed out, the odds are 20-25% that you hit on a player there. Not great. That is why the draft day moves that the Rockets made are so impressive. They got one of the guys they wanted and got a couple of extra hands at the table at those same odds in picking up Dorsey and the Memphis 2009 second round pick.
Whether they keep them or trade them, that's asset building and Morey is doing it well.
If Dorsey is ready for the rotation, I think the writing is on the wall that Chuck Hayes will be moved in a trade. Morey seems very confident that he's going to make a trade that improves the team. Free agency is set to start. They still need to acquire a scorer who is ready for the 2008-09 season.
Despite that, the draft was a great start to the offseason.