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How Paolo Banchero would fit with the Houston Rockets

A look at how the Duke power forward would fit with Jalen Green and the Houston Rockets, now and in the future

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Paolo Banchero Houston Rockets

We are now less than a week away from the NBA Draft and this one will be a doozie for Houston as they now hold three first-round picks, #26, #17 and the highly-anticipated #3 pick.

While we can’t say with 100% certainty who will be available at the third pick on June 23rd, the overwhelming buzz since the lottery results were announced has been that Auburn’s Jabari Smith and Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren are considered the top two prospects, going in some order to Orlando with the #1 pick and OKC at #2.

That could change, but it doesn’t look likely. That would leave Duke’s Paolo Banchero on the board as the sure-fire pick for the Rockets at numero tres

If you’ve followed my comments on the forums or on Twitter, you know I’m much higher on Jabari and Chet for the Rockets than I am for Banchero, but I have to place some perspective on it: The Rockets will still be getting a top-tier talent with upside to be a special player if they stay at #3. Let’s look at how this power forward would fit the current and future Rockets.

Strengths
Banchero’s size is not exaggerated. While some prospects may say they’re 6’10, 250 pounds, there’s no rounding up in Banchero’s case. He looks every bit of his listing.

He is the most polished offensive prospect in the draft, able to handle the ball very well for his size. He’s not uncomfortable facing up the defender as far out as the three-point line, which is rare for a big. Any player remotely resembling a traditional four will have an issue defending Paolo’s fluidity while guards and wings will find it challenging to defend his size and physicality.

He’s got excellent footwork and a spin move that he uses on drives that reminds you of a Pascal Siakam. His arsenal of pullups and moves from mid-range to the basket reminds you of a Carmelo Anthony — bigger and not as quick, but with better vision.

For his size, Paolo has excellent passing skills. His assist percentage would be in the 95th percentile among NCAA players. He sees the floor really well and has plus court vision. There’s potential there for high-level reads out of the high and low post. He could both initiate and finish a pick and roll, which is a rare advantage to have in a player, while also being very effective on short rolls.

This highlight at the 2:06 mark was one of the more impressive plays I saw this year from Paolo, showing both his ability to get to the basket and find his teammates.

Duke has been a home-away-from-home for many of the top one-and-done prospects in college basketball and they have a track record of not featuring some of their best players. Jayson Tatum and Brandon Ingram were both capable of more as Blue Devils. Tatum, in particular, made a significant impact right away as a rookie with Boston. While those players aren’t ideal comps for Paolo, it does suggest he might be able to showcase more in the NBA than he did for Coach K.

Weaknesses
Paolo is not a great three-point shooter, hitting just 33.8% from deep, but he was strong from long range in the NCAA Tournament (10-19 3P in 5 games). He shot between 72-73% from the line, which is pretty good, and his shooting form looks clean so it’s not a mechanics issue. It’s very reasonable to project him to eventually be average in the three-point department, if not better than that.

Paolo Banchero Shot ChartBanchero’s plus effectiveness in college was mainly 14-15 feet and in, where he took almost 63% of his shot attempts. Outside of 15 feet, he wasn’t special.

Banchero is very crafty and smooth, but doesn’t destroy you with burst or elite athleticism (there’s no real weakness here, but it’s not a major strength). He draws comparisons to a late-stage Blake Griffin, which is to say a very strong, big and versatile creator but not the elite athlete we saw in Griffin early on with the Clippers.

Paolo does almost nothing to move the needle defensively. He’s a big body and not completely terrible on this end, but he’s not a rim protector, a lockdown defender or particularly great on switches. He’s prone to lapses in effort, which is a concern. He’s not a plus defender by any stretch. In some games, including Duke’s loss to North Carolina in the tournament, guards hunted him on switches, which is a tactic that has become very popular in the NBA (particularly in the playoffs). He can definitely hold his own defending the post and he’s not bad stopping straight-line penetration. He also has shown the ability to communicate to his teammates defensively, but the lateral speed is not there to stay with guards and wings consistently and he relied heavily on a rim protector to cover for him (Mark Williams).

There are very fair questions about what exactly Paolo does for your team when the ball is not in his hands, and in a nutshell, that’s the big reason he might be available at #3.

Comps
The best comp might be a 2020-21 Julius Randle as far as Paolo’s scoring role as a point-power foward on a team. Two NBA execs told Michael Scotto of HoopsHype that they compare Paolo’s upside to that season of Randle, when he put up 24-10-6, hit 41% from three and made the All-Star Game. Player for player, Randle is not a good comp — he’s possibly stronger and quicker than Banchero and plays more brutish, but he would fall short of Paolo in height, smarts, craftiness and vision.

Detroit Pistons Blake Griffin, Juwan Howard and Jabari Parker also make some sense for their offensive versatility or ability to score as a four. On the offensive side of the ball, a comp of a Ben Simmons-like player who isn’t afraid to shoot and has a three-point shot that has to at least be defended also has some merit.

Fit In Houston
Banchero would be a clear core piece in Houston and the Rockets would have to start looking at their foundation as “Paolo Banchero and Jalen Green”, with the potential that Alperen Sengun and Kevin Porter Jr. could eventually be part of that. Clutch City would feature two gifted and marketable offensive players who potentially could get big baskets in crunch time while also selling tickets at the gate. When you consider where Houston was as a franchise 18 months ago — rudderless and without any top young talent — that’s pretty incredible.

If the chemistry is there between Banchero and Green, there are several ways they could play off each other to be dangerous on the floor. While we’re not talking about Kobe and Shaq, there’s still potential there for them to be a superstar inside-out pairing. They’re different players, but Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns might be a closer model.

The Rockets have several players that are best operating with the ball in their hands, including Green, KPJ and Sengun. Does adding a fourth starter like that bring benefits or pose a problem?

The new starting frontcourt, Paolo and Sengun, would be a gifted 4-5 combo on the offensive end as both have solid hoops IQ, can create for others with their passing ability and can get you a bucket in the post or mid-range. Some of the passing and reads from these two could be a lot of fun to watch and there’s room for growth.

But… the spacing of the floor would be a big issue, especially when you place a priority on clear driving lanes for guards like Green and KPJ to operate. And the defensive concerns would be, well, significant. Very significant. Neither of your two bigs would offer much rim protection, putting more pressure on your perimeter defense — and neither is particularly strong in that department, either.

If the Rockets take Paolo, Sengun is probably not the right fit long-term as the starting center. That’s just the overwhelming likelihood. There would be no need to make any changes over the next year — after all, neither has reached their 20th birthday — but if this weakness proves to be glaring, it becomes mandatory to add a bigger center with defensive upside that backs up Sengun, or more likely, starts over him.

In my opinion, Banchero is the better prospect between the two. So if it comes down to eventual change, Sengun will likely be the target of an adjustment. And it won’t be just Sengun. Drafting Paolo is going to put a few of the young players on the current roster under a microscope. Flanking Green and Banchero with strong defensive options at the three and the five is mandatory and I don’t see much of that on the current roster (Usman Garuba may prove me wrong). Over the next year, I would like to see a more aggressive front office in moving young players for better fits.

Final Thoughts
There is almost no bust potential with Paolo — at a bare minimum, he should be a big presence and solid inside scorer in the NBA. He’s my pick to win Rookie of the Year because he’s the most NBA-ready and should produce out of the gate.

But it comes down to this: Does Paolo project to be an elite scorer in the league? I’m talking about a potent top 10-15 offensive force where defenses have to focus on stopping him? Perhaps even a primary facilitator? If so, the Rockets would be getting the guy who should go #1 in the Draft. Both Orlando and OKC would be silly to pass on him if the path for him to get there is clear. There is no argument there from me.

That may seem an unfair standard since the bar on offense is not as high for Jabari Smith and Chet Holmgren, but the brutal truth is it’s not. Jabari and Chet potentially do so much more for your team to impact winning beyond scoring, including defense, spacing and playing off the ball. Banchero will improve in other areas, but it’s unlikely he will do anything else at an elite level in the NBA. It’s got to come from his scoring and facilitating. Just based on the role that he will play to maximize that skillset, you do not want just a “top 50” guy here. If you’re going to give the ball to a player in a high-usage role who doesn’t boost your defense, he can’t be just a good scorer. He has to be elite at it in time if the ultimate goal is to be good enough to win a title.

But there is a possibility here, even if I haven’t been the biggest believer in it, where Paolo could ultimately be that guy, a true superstar player, and perhaps the prospect who proves to be the best player in the draft. That’s enticing.

In the end, however, the Rockets don’t have their choice of the three prospects.

The Magic and Thunder will ultimately dictate which big is available to Houston at #3. If the Rockets passed on Jabari or Chet for Paolo, I’d be second-guessing, but taking him third with those two off the board is not something you can really be upset about, especially when the Rockets could have easily been picking 5th in this draft. There is a guarantee here to get a high-upside prospect, and that has the rebuild continuing on a great path.

Armed with a bizarre fascination for Mario Elie and a deep love of the Houston Rockets, Dave Hardisty started ClutchFans in 1996 under the pen name “Clutch”.

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Podcast: Houston Rockets options with the #3 pick of the 2024 NBA Draft

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Houston Rockets 2024 NBA Draft prospects Zaccharie Risacher Stephon Castle Reed Sheppard Donovan Clingan

The offseason is now underway.

The forecast looks good for the Houston Rockets, but… there’s pressure as well this offseason because there are a handful of other West teams that might have rosier futures. Ime Udoka wants to win and win big. As we are about five weeks away from the NBA Draft, what are the Rockets looking to do this summer?

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Rockets shockingly landing the #3 pick and their options in this draft, including Reed Sheppard, Donovan Clingan, Zaccharie Risacher, Stephon Castle, Matas Buzelis and others. They also discuss the possibility of some big game hunting in Houston.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Podcast: Steven Adams, Mikal Bridges and Trade Possibilities for the Rockets

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Houston Rockets Trade Deadline 2024

The Houston Rockets already made one deal, acquiring center Steven Adams from Memphis for a handful of second-round picks, but we still have several days left before this Thursday’s NBA Trade Deadline.

Are more deals on the way?

Rumors of interest in Mikal Bridges have swirled, with the Rockets holding precious (and unprotected) first-round picks from Brooklyn. They also could use some help inside this season, which Adams can not provide. Shooting is always in demand.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Adams trade, its impact on the Rockets in 2024-25 and beyond, the Mikal Bridges rumors, the Brooklyn picks, other trade possibilities and options for Rafael Stone moving forward. Also discussed is the play of Houston’s core 6 prospects: Amen Thompson, Cam Whitmore, Alperen Sengun, Jabari Smith Jr., Tari Eason and Jalen Green.


CLUTCHFANS PODCAST: SPOTIFY | APPLE

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Rockets trade for center Steven Adams

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Steven Adams Houston Rockets

The Rockets made a surprise trade on Thursday, sending the contract of Victor Oladipo and three second-round picks to Memphis for center Steven Adams.

The deal came together quickly and the Rockets had a small window to get it done, hence why this trade was made with a week to go until the trade deadline.

The Price

When you consider that Memphis did this for cost savings primarily and that Adams would not play for any team in the league this season, the price seemed a little high to me. The Rockets gave up the OKC second-round pick this year, which is no big loss, but they also give up the better of Brooklyn’s or Golden State’s second-round pick this season. That’s a pretty good pick (likely in the late 30’s). They also give up the better of Houston’s or OKC’s second-round pick in 2025. If things go as planned for the Rockets, that pick should be in the 45-55 range.

But they didn’t sacrifice a first-round pick, which would have been brutal, and they were not going to use all those seconds this season. So it’s just a matter of opportunity cost — who else could they have gotten for this package?

My understanding is they (particularly Ime Udoka) are very high on Adams.

The Rockets also did this move for cap purposes as well. By moving out the Oladipo contract, which was expiring, and bringing in Adams’ deal, which is signed for $12.4M next season, the window for the Rockets to put together a trade package for a star player is extended out until the 2025 trade deadline. They continue to wait to see which players, if any, shake loose here and become available. They want flexible (see: expiring) contracts that they can combine with assets and this gives them another year to be in that position.

The Trade

It’s not often that the Rockets acquire a player I had not considered beforehand but that’s the case with Steven Adams. The Rockets sorely need a big with size that provides more traditional center strengths, making Clint Capela, Robert Williams, Nick Richards or Daniel Gafford potential candidates, but Adams was overlooked for a few reasons.

First, the 30-year old big man is out for the season after knee surgery cost him the entire 2023-24 campaign, so the Rockets won’t get any benefit from this trade this season. Secondly, Adams is not your traditional center either when it comes to rim protection.

But what Adams does do, he’s really good at and he has some of the same strengths of Brook Lopez, who the Rockets tried to sign in the offseason. Adams is quite possibly the strongest guy in the league and a legitimate 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5 wingspan. He’s an outstanding screen-setter, something that could really benefit the likes of Fred VanVleet, Amen Thompson and Jalen Green. He was also an elite rebounder last season, finishing 6th in the league in caroms at 11.5 a game despite playing just 27.0 minutes a contest.

After watching Jonas Valanciunas absolutely bully the Rockets inside on Wednesday, it should be apparent by now to everyone that this was a pretty big need.

In 2021-22, the Memphis Grizzlies finished #2 in the West at 56-26. Their top two players in Net Rating that season were Dillon Brooks (+11.0) and Adams (+8.3), key cogs in a defense that held opponents to 108.6 points per 100 possessions. They’re both now Houston Rockets.

So this adds another trusted vet to Ime Udoka’s rotation.

The question is will the 30-year old Adams return to form after the knee injury? Adams sprained the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee a year ago, which cost him the end of that season and the playoffs. He tried rehabbing it and it never got better, so surgery became the option just as this season was kicking off.

I like to think the Rockets did their due diligence on that, despite the short time it took for this deal to come together, but that’s unclear.

If he does bounce back, then Udoka has a big man he can turn to reliably in situational matchups or on nights when the younger bigs struggle. He wouldn’t be Boban or even Jock Landale in that scenario — he’s going to play, so the frontcourt depth in 2024-25 should be better. In the end, they got a starting-caliber center who will have no problems coming off the bench, and that’s what they were looking for.

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On the KPJ trade and future of the Rockets

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The Houston Rockets are back to being a professional NBA team once again.

The Rockets finally ended the Kevin Porter Jr. era on Tuesday, coughing up two second-round picks in order to unload his contract to the Oklahoma City Thunder, getting back the contract of Victor Oladipo and third-year forward Jeremiah Robinson-Earl. The move puts an end to a long investment and very rocky tenure with KPJ.

David Weiner joined Dave Hardisty on the ClutchFans podcast to discuss the Porter Jr. Experiment, the price paid to move him, Houston’s potential trade options moving forward, the new culture and the current state of the Rockets young core.

ClutchFans Podcast: On Apple | Spotify

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Heavy investment in Kevin Porter Jr raises serious questions about Rockets front office

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Kevin Porter Jr. Rafael Stone

Soon-to-be-ex Rockets guard Kevin Porter Jr was arrested last week for allegedly assaulting his girlfriend, resulting in a fractured neck vertebra and a deep gash above her right eye after an attack at a hotel in New York. He allegedly woke her up by punching her repeatedly, strangled her and did not stop hitting her until she ran out of the hotel room screaming for help and covered in blood.

“This is a serious domestic violence case,” said assistant Manhattan district attorney Mirah Curzer.

First and foremost, I wish the victim healing. I don’t know what to say about the nightmare she went through. She and her family will forever be impacted. As for KPJ, if this is true, he doesn’t belong on the Rockets or in the NBA at all. He belongs in jail.

Secondly, this can’t be overlooked and just swept under the rug: Why did the Houston Rockets bank on and invest so heavily in this guy?

Kevin Porter Jr. being accused of crimes of this severity should not be shocking – at all. Before he even came to the Rockets, he had a long list of serious problems. He was suspended multiple times in high school. In 2019, he had a “conduct issue” significant enough that USC suspended the 5-star recruit indefinitely. He fell to the end of the first round of the 2019 NBA Draft because of his behavior liability. He was accused of punching a woman in the face in Cleveland. He also had a gun and marijuana charge later dismissed after getting into a car crash. He went into a tirade and got into a nasty confrontation with both the Cleveland coach and GM, resulting in the Cavs severing ties immediately and dumping him to the Rockets for nothing.

You could make the argument that initially giving Porter Jr. a second chance in Houston was praiseworthy, but the Rockets experienced KPJ’s anger management and immaturity issues firsthand on several occasions.

Former Rocket Austin Rivers said this week that this isn’t the first, second or even seventh issue with Porter Jr. and that Rockets “higher-ups” confided in him that they had no idea how to handle him.

“I remember talking to guys in the Houston Rockets organization, higher-ups, [and] they were having issues then,” said Rivers. “They were like, ‘We don’t know what to do with him.’ And that’s when he just got there from Cleveland!”

Porter Jr. was routinely a nightmare for Rockets coaches to deal with. On several occasions, he confronted and cussed out members of the coaching staff, saying they didn’t have the “credentials”, per source, a reference to the fact that him playing heavy minutes at point guard was a decision they did not control.

Once at a night out, Porter Jr. had a disagreement with a DJ over music choice and he snapped, smashing the DJ’s laptop to the floor. He needed to be restrained and removed. Rockets personnel and several of Porter’s teammates witnessed the incident.

Curzer also dropped a bombshell at the arraignment in saying that Porter Jr. has a history of abusing his girlfriend, who he had only been dating since early last year, his second season with the Rockets. Curzer specifically cited an incident in which KPJ allegedly rammed his car into hers.

There were dozens of maturity issues visible on the court to anyone paying attention. He refused to check out of games. He got into an argument on the bench with assistant Lionel Hollins. On numerous occasions, he would visibly shut down when he wasn’t passed the ball. I invite you to watch this video from a game against Memphis on March 20, 2022. Just listen to the Grizzlies broadcasters, particularly starting at the 1:40 mark, talk about what they are witnessing here:



Privately, people around the league would say they were baffled by the Rockets continued fascination with Porter Jr. Nobody could understand it.

That fascination starts with Rockets general manager Rafael Stone, who by every account over the last two years was the driving force behind the investment in Porter Jr. It has been no secret. Trading for him in January 2021 was seen by some with the team as his “Harden acquisition”, code for a signature move that makes an executive’s career, much in the way landing James Harden did for Daryl Morey in 2012.

For example, former Rockets head coach Stephen Silas never considered Porter Jr. to be a point guard, per sources — playing him there was a Stone mandate because the GM believed that is where his future lied.

John Wall also told us as much publicly when he explained the phone call he got from Silas about coming off the bench. He said Silas told him “This is what the GM wants,” adding again that Silas said, “Man, you don’t deserve that. You should be the starter. This is just what they want to do.” Wall was upset because he believed KPJ should have to earn the spot.

“I have a hard time finding anybody outside of the Rockets front office that believes that Kevin Porter Jr. is a starting point guard in the NBA,” said ESPN reporter Tim MacMahon in December.

There were plenty of warning signs about KPJ to the public too.

After Porter Jr. got into a heated argument in which KPJ “physically shoved” Rockets assistant coach John Lucas and quit on the team in the middle of a game against Denver in January of 2022, leaving the arena at halftime, Sports Illustrated’s Chris Mannix famously wrote that the Rockets should “Cut Porter Jr. Waive him. Release him. Whatever. Eat what’s left of the $1.8 million he’s owed this season and the $3.2 million he’s got next and move on.” It became a source of mockery for Porter Jr’s fans, a line they would bring up after each game he hit a few threes or handed out some assists.

In February of this year, ESPN’s Jonathan Givony, one of the most connected reporters in the league, flat out warned us that he was hearing awful things about the Rockets culture and locker room. He was blunt in what the Rockets needed to do — waive Kevin Porter Jr. outright and bring in a new coach and GM.

“Just cut him. That’s it,” said Givony of Porter Jr. “And you’re sending a signal to the league that we’re going to do things differently from here on out.”

“When you talk to people around the NBA about Houston, you just don’t hear good things about their culture, about that locker room. You talk to people that are on that team, and they are like, ‘We are a mess’,” said Givony. “Do people want to work with this organization? But you can change that fairly quickly if you come in, get rid of the bad apples and you change the coaching staff, and all of a sudden, you’re Houston. It’s the third-biggest city in America. There’s a history here of you actually being good.”

Porter came to the Rockets for “free” (in exchange for a top-55 protected second-round pick, which was designed not to convey), but he proved far from it as the Rockets continued to pour investment into him. Over the last 2-3 seasons, no Rockets player got more developmental capital than Porter Jr. – not Jalen Green, not Alperen Sengun, not Jabari Smith Jr. The Fertittas paid John Wall $85+ million over two years to sit at home so the team could groom Porter Jr. to be their future point guard.

Then they doubled down. With restricted free agency on the horizon and a seemingly non-existent market for KPJ’s services, the Rockets gave Porter Jr. an extension a year sooner – a contract that was presented as a four-year, $82.5 million deal. The deal was more team-friendly than that, putting team options in it after years 1 and 3. Going from the potential disaster that was initially reported to a deal they could escape after one season felt like a “win”, but the biggest question was why they wanted him long-term at all. The unprecedented nature of a contract that size with that kind of club control clearly showed the Rockets knew there was unique and significant risk here.

After KPJ signed the extension, The Athletic’s Kelly Iko summarized the Rockets view of Porter Jr. – “As has been [their] stance for months, the Rockets have maintained the notion that Porter is a priority and is considered a huge part of their core, along with Green and Jabari Smith Jr.”

The Rockets actions to kick off the 2022-23 season showed exactly that – that he was a priority. They benched Sengun to start the season, in large part to give KPJ a “lob threat” and defender in the starting lineup. They gave him the superstar “Harden Locker”. They introduced him last in the starting lineups. They treated him as the star and empowered him to be the self-proclaimed “Head Honcho” of Clutch City.

But the extension proved unwise and foolish. Porter Jr. never even made it to the first year of it. With over $80 million on the line, he snapped again. The Rockets signed him to one of the team-friendliest deals ever and still managed to both overcommit and overpay as Stone now scrambles to attach real assets to it to get another team to take it off his books.

Is it fair to question the judgment of the Rockets front office? Absolutely and without question. Whether you look at their ability to value character, evaluate risk, scout basketball, build culture, manage assets or allocate development resources, they failed at every level here. Why didn’t they act sooner? Why did they double down? Why didn’t they hold him accountable? Why did everybody in the league see it but them?

“We value the player and the person that [Kevin Porter Jr.] is becoming and are eager to invest in him and his journey,” said Stone after rewarding him with the extension less than a year ago.

The question you have to ask yourself now is, with all they knew and witnessed about Porter Jr. both on and off the court — why were they eager at all?

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