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With the 2021 NCAA tournament in the rearview mirror, front offices across the league have seen what the best prospects in the 2021 NBA Draft have done on the biggest stage.
With a new champion crowned, fans have seen the first wave of prospects declare early entry for the draft and forego the remainder of their collegiate eligibility. Others, meanwhile, are testing the waters to gain feedback from teams as they decide whether or not to return to college.
Based on the consensus thus far, Rookie Wire’s Bryan Kalbrosky is updating his mock draft for the first time since February. The main difference from the March big board is that this mock also factors in intel, team fit, front office evaluation philosophy and roster construction.
This should act as a barometer for a player’s stock before pre-draft workouts, interviews and the 2021 NBA Draft Combine. As those factors come into focus over the next few months, big changes are possible.
Kalbrosky’s complete mock draft can be viewed at RookieWire. Below, we’ve pulled his insights for the three first-round selections potentially owned by the Houston Rockets. That list includes their own, as well as picks acquired via Portland (lottery protected) and Milwaukee.
This draft order, which factors in trades and pick protections, was pulled from the latest Tankathon update following games on April 12. As a reminder, if Houston does not finish in the top four of the draft lottery, Oklahoma City will swap Miami’s first-round choice for the Houston pick.
Pick No. 1: Cade Cunningham, Houston Rockets
Wing, 6-7, Oklahoma State (Freshman)
After trading James Harden to the Brooklyn Nets, the Rockets are currently in the midst of an organizational rebuild. They would benefit from adding a culture-setter in Cade Cunningham, who is beyond capable of playing lead guard or playing off-ball alongside John Wall.
There are few people on the planet who have the blend of size, shooting and playmaking that Cunningham provides. Based on the way that collegiate defenses lasered in on him at Oklahoma State, where he was not surrounded by shooters, he may be even more efficient with better assist numbers when he has more spacing in the NBA.
Adding someone who has the unique superstar potential and ridiculously high ceiling that Cunningham offers would give the Rockets the best chance of returning to the playoffs sooner rather than later in their rebuild.
NOTE: This pick is protected 1-4 and will otherwise go to the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Pick No. 22: Cameron Thomas, Houston Rockets (via Portland):
Guard, 6-4, LSU (Freshman)
As the Rockets enter their rebuilding phase, they’re going to need a scoring punch, and you’d be hard-pressed to find one more prolific than LSU’s Cameron Thomas. He joins Trae Young, Markelle Fultz, Michael Beasley and Kevin Durant as the only freshmen to average at least 23 points per game at a high-major school since 1992-93.
Even if there are limitations about how that will translate when he isn’t afforded such a high volume of shots, or what he will bring as a playmaker or on defense, that mark is nothing to ignore.
NOTE: This pick is lottery protected and would go to the Trail Blazers, if Portland misses the 2021 playoffs.
Pick No. 24: Ziaire Williams, Houston Rockets (via Milwaukee)
Wing, 6-8, Stanford (Freshman)
While he did not have a particularly good freshman campaign at Stanford, Ziaire Williams is still someone who passes the eye test with flying colors.
He has an NBA frame at 6-foot-8 and is a much better jump shot than his poor shooting splits would suggest. Williams is not afraid to take a pull-up jumper and he can still find ways to score as a slasher until his jump shot starts falling more often.
Kalbrosky’s complete 2021 NBA mock draft, which also includes projected second-round selections for all picks, can be viewed here.