Overshadowed by Wembanyama and Spurs, Rockets get even younger in NBA draft | Inquirer Sports

Overshadowed by Wembanyama and Spurs, Rockets get even younger in NBA draft

/ 06:32 PM June 23, 2023

Amen Thompson NBA Houston Rockets

Amen Thompson poses for a photo with NBA Commissioner Adam Silver after being selected fourth overall by the Houston Rockets during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

DALLAS—The young Houston Rockets are getting even younger with another pair of first-round picks.

The Rockets added the first player drafted out of the Overtime Elite pro league to the NBA’s highest-ever G League selection of two years ago. Then they picked an 18-year-old for the second time in three years.


All the rest of the draft moves from Southwest Division teams were going to be footnotes Thursday night after the San Antonio Spurs took French sensation Victor Wembanyama No. 1 overall.


Houston was up first, and left little question that Ime Udoka’s return to coaching will be with one of the youngest set of core players in the NBA.

The Rockets took Amen Thompson of Overtime Elite fourth overall. It was the first choice for the Atlanta-based pro league (his 20-year-old twin brother Ausar went fifth to Detroit).

Two years ago, Houston made Jalen Green the highest choice from G League Ignite at No. 2 overall.

At No. 20, the Rockets ended the slide for Cam Whitmore, the 18-year-old forward who dealt with a thumb injury in his only season at Villanova.

Cam Whitmore  NBA Draft 2023 Houston Rockets

Cam Whitmore adjusts his hair on stage after being selected 20th overall by the Houston Rockets during the NBA basketball draft, Thursday, June 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Add last year’s No. 3 overall pick Jabari Smith Jr. and Turkey’s Alperen Sengun, who was 18 when he was the 16th choice in 2021, and the Rockets have a bevy of players 21 or younger as they try to escape the abyss of a three-season stretch in which they averaged 59 losses.

Defending division champion Memphis made its move late the night before the draft, trading the 25th pick to Boston in a three-team deal that brought Marcus Smart to the Grizzlies. The veteran point guard will help fill the void of Ja Morant’s 25-game suspension to start the season.


Dallas saved its trades for the draft, and is still waiting for the biggest offseason move with a plan to re-sign Kyrie Irving and run back an All-Star pairing with Luka Doncic that flopped in its first two months.

The Mavericks moved down two spots to No. 12 in a deal with Oklahoma City to get Duke center Dereck Lively II while sending Davis Bertans to the Thunder.

Then Dallas worked a trade with Sacramento, which had to give up 24th overall pick Olivier-Maxence Prosper of Marquette in order to unload forward/center Richaun Holmes’ contract on the Mavs, who faded late in the season and missed the playoffs after reaching the Western Conference finals in 2022.

The Spurs went the French route again in the second round, selecting Sidy Cissoko, the first European player to join the G League Ignite.

Here’s an overview of draft night for the Southwest Division teams:


—Team needs: The trade for Smart took care of the pressing need. Tyus Jones went to Washington in the three-team deal.

—Draft picks: GG Jackson, South Carolina, 45th overall (second round); Tarik Biberovic, Turkey, 56th overall (second round).

—Who do the draft picks most compare to: Jackson reclassified out of high school and played just his freshman season with the Gamecocks. The 18-year-old was the youngest player in the draft. Biberovic is a long-term project.


—Team needs: 3-point shooting and center depth.

—Draft pick: Jordan Hawkins, Connecticut, 14th overall.

—Who does the draft pick most compare to: Nets G Mikal Bridges. Hawkins’ ability to catch and shoot 3-pointers is among the best in the draft. At 6-foot-5, 195 pounds, Hawkins has the frame to add muscle.


—Team needs: Defense and rebounding.

—Draft picks: Dereck Lively II, Duke, 12th overall; Olivier-Maxence Prosper, Marquette, 24th overall.

—Who do the draft picks most compare to: The 7-foot-1 Lively is in the mold of DeAndre Jordan as a defense-first big man who will have to work on his offensive skills. Prosper could replace 3-and-D specialist Dorian Finney-Smith, who was sent to Brooklyn in the blockbuster trade for Irving.


—Team needs: Point guard for roster filled with young talent as club tries to get back into playoff contention.

—Draft picks: Amen Thompson, Overtime Elite, fourth overall; Cam Whitmore, Villanova, 20th overall.

—Who do the draft picks most compare to: Though much bigger than Morant, Thompson has drawn comparisons because of his playmaking and athleticism. Whitmore has a 40-inch vertical leap and his size and ability to finish at the rim are reminiscent of Miles Bridges.


—Team needs: Many, but the greatest is a superstar. Gregg Popovich, who has coached the Spurs to five championships, says teams need at least one superstar, perhaps two, to be title contenders.

—Draft pick: Victor Wembanyama, France, first overall; Sidy Cissoko, France, 44th overall (second round).

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—Who does the draft pick most compare to: Wembanyama has been nicknamed “The Alien” because his game is unlike anyone else. At 7-4, Wembanyama has the skills of a point guard and an 8-foot wingspan that could make him a force inside.


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TAGS: Houston Rockets, NBA, NBA draft

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