NBA

The arguments for and against Jaden Ivey for the Rockets

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At this embryonic stage of a rebuild, we know very little about the Houston Rockets.

We would like to convince ourselves that yes. Nothing is more universally feared than the unknown. I think that’s why so many Rockets fans will tell you that this team is lined with potential superstars throughout the roster. Call it a working theory.

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Collectively, we struggle to process what little we know about the future of this team. In a reconstruction, the questions become broader. The scope of the conversation stretches a decade into the future. Gone are the days of “Can Tucker and Ariza make up the difference after Mbah A Moute’s injury?”

Just a few years ago, the issues were this granular. Now they are downright philosophical. Is Kevin Porter Jr. a playmaker? Can athletically limited big men survive the playoffs? Is the spacing of five outlets optimal?

So many questions, so few answers. However, one fact is widely accepted among the fan base:

The Rockets already have their backcourt of the future.

Right?

The case of Jaden Ivey

There’s a very simple case for Ivey to make: if Rafael Stone thinks he’s the best player on the board, he should draft him. It’s the same old debate about best player available vs. in-form that has inspired so much twist on Twitter.

In the Rockets’ situation, it seems counterintuitive to even consider him. Jalen Green is a likely superstar. Kevin Porter Jr., whatever your assessment of him, has star potential. Josh Christopher looks like a long-term spinoff piece at the very least.

Ivey’s case is that none of that matters. The Rockets have been the league’s worst team for two consecutive seasons. Stone must take the player he sees as having the best future in the NBA.

Ivey surely has the tools to become a superstar. His athleticism is well documented. His brilliance will instantly rank among the best in the league. Its vertical is impressive. He has long arms that allow him to cross the lane at will.

If the Rockets select Ivey, all debate about what constitutes a point guard in 2022 will be rehashed among the fan base. He has a clear goalscoring mentality. Does it have the necessary processing speed to execute an offense?

This Twitter user’s criticism of Ivey’s decision is entirely valid. He should have tried the draping. The clip still indicates the kind of ground awareness and quick decision-making that even a modern playmaker needs.

Ivey shouldn’t have passed at all, but his acknowledgment that his man was open, so late in the game, is impressive. You could even say “point guard-esque”.

If a piece doesn’t convince you, congratulations. At least you have a critical mind!

It’s not even a particularly impressive pass. It’s obvious. Ivey is locked up, he has nowhere to go. He finds his man in the paint because Butler’s defense challenges him.

It is still remarkable that he made the pass. A pure outguard could have forced a crossfade. The shooters will shoot. Combo guards will react to defenses and make decisions.

Two clips shouldn’t convince you either. If you’ve watched Ivey throughout the NCAA season, chances are you’re conflicted over his long-term position in the NBA. He made impressive readings throughout the year. He also had mental lapses that led him to make ill-advised shot attempts at the expense of ball movement.

For the Rockets, the critical question about Ivey is whether he can be a point guard. If he can, he’s a perfectly acceptable pick with the third pick.

Combined with Green, he could give the Rockets the most athletic backcourt in league history. Surely that’s attractive to Stone. Of course, the counter-argument goes back to an earlier premise: The Rockets already have their backcourt of the future.

This is not a convincing argument against Ivey’s writing. Writing around a prospect’s fit with Kevin Porter Jr. would be perilous. The team simply can’t afford to be so confident in the mercurial young man that they would shy away from a prospect on his behalf.

On the other hand, I would personally be willing to trust Jalen Green. If Ivey can’t adapt to him, the Rockets should go with one of the consensus top three (rather).

The case against Jaden Ivey

Back to the BPA vs. fit question. In reality, this is a false dichotomy. There is no scientific method to determine the “best” player available. If there were, all the big boards would be the same and many project analysts would be out of work.

Perhaps in the inevitably dystopian future, computers will be able to predict a prospect’s professional career with 99% accuracy. Until then, parsing drafts is largely a guessing game.

The best approach is to divide players into tiers and select based on their suitability from that point. If Stone has Ivey on a totally different level from Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr. or Paolo Banchero, he should be the Rockets guy.

It seems highly unlikely.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that Stone has the top four prospects in a similar tier. It’s hard to justify Ivey’s form under these conditions.

Paolo Banchero looks like the presumptive choice for Houston right now. For all the debate about Ivey’s ability to run the point, Banchero is a certified point forward. Concerns about his defense and ground spacing are fair, but his ground vision is flawless.

If he’s the main initiator of the Rockets’ future, that makes Porter Jr.’s job much easier. He will be primarily responsible for ground spacing and attack closures rather than setting up the attack. With the addition of Banchero, Porter Jr. is more “queuing up” rather than “playing point guard”.

I’ll save space on Holmgren and Smith Jr. because most observers expect them to be off the chart. If they’re not, they’re both more obvious on this list than Ivey as well.

The Rockets have been atrocious on defense in 2021-22. Holmgren projects himself as the best defensive player in this class.

Meanwhile, Smith Jr.’s floor as an elite three-and-D makes him a player all 30 teams could use. If he can upgrade his shot-creating abilities, his cap is unlimited.

Rafael Stone is expected to select the best available player with the third overall pick. If he’s convinced that player is Jaden Ivey, Rockets fans should welcome him with open arms.

Otherwise, it may be that the backcourt of the team of the future is set after all. In this case, it’s time to start locking the front area.

Either way, we’ll know a bit more about the future of this team once this crucial decision is made.

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