5 players the Rockets passed on drafting who later became stars

LA Clippers Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
LA Clippers Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /
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Houston Rockets
David Lee (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) /

5. David Lee

Coming out of high school, David Lee was one of the top players in the nation, as he was a McDonald’s All-American and a Parade First-Team All-American as well. The St. Louis native even won the 2001 Slam Dunk Contest, which garnered the attention of the best colleges in the country.

Lee ultimately chose to attend the University of Florida, which was then coached by Billy Donovan. Lee made his mark as a freshman, as he was named First-Team All-SEC by the coaches, posting averages of 11.5 points and seven rebounds per game. Lee would improve upon those numbers as a junior, by averaging 13 points and seven boards, which also landed him more all-conference accolades.

But Lee was highly overlooked in the 2005 NBA Draft, as he fell to the 30th pick by the New York Knicks. The Rockets, on the other hand, drafted Luther Head with the 24th pick in the first round. This made sense on paper, because the Rockets already had Juwan Howard, Stromile Swift, and Dikembe Mutombo on the roster, so it didn’t seem like a big man was a position of need.

But Howard and Mutombo were well past their respective primes, as they’d each spent 11+ years in the league at that point, and the Rockets traded Swift after the 2005-06 season. So the Rockets could’ve certainly used Lee, and it could’ve possibly helped extend the career of Yao Ming by reducing his minutes.

Head wasn’t a bad pick though, as he played four seasons in Houston while averaging 8.8 points per game on 39.2 percent from downtown. But the former Illinois product was ultimately released at the halfway point of the 2008-09 season, as he wasn’t able to live upto the Rockets’ expectations. During that season in which the Rockets parted ways with Head, David Lee posted averages of 16 points and 11.7 rebounds, while finishing second behind only Dwight Howard in total rebounds.

Lee would have an even better season during 2009-10, as he would post averages of 20.2 points, 11.7 rebounds, and 3.6 assists. Lee finished third in rebounds yet again, behind only D12 and Marcus Camby, and would be named an All-Star for the first time in his career.

Lee would go on to play seven more seasons in the league, including the next five seasons with the Golden State Warriors, who signed him to a six year deal worth $80 million following his first All-Star season. Smith had another All-Star season in GSW and ultimately won an NBA championship with the Dubs in 2015.

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