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
LA Clippers Kawhi Leonard (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

1. Kawhi Leonard

Although Kawhi Leonard only spent two years at San Diego State, he certainly left his mark on the program, as he became the first player in school history to have his jersey retired. As a freshman, Kawhi averaged 12.7 points and 9.9 rebounds, which led the Mountain West Conference. Kawhi led the Aztecs to a 25-9 record and and was also named the Mountain West Conference Freshman of the Year.

Kawhi would follow that up with an even better sophomore campaign, as he posted averages of 15.5 points and 10.6 rebounds, while also carrying San Diego State to the Sweet 16. All in all, Kawhi was named an All-American that year, and decided to enter the 2011 NBA Draft.

For as much success as Kawhi had in college, the scouting report on the 6-foot-7 forward didn’t necessarily bode confidence. It was stated that Kawhi was a strong defender, in part due to his size and his long frame, but that he would need to develop the necessary outside shot in order to thrive in the league. It was stated that Leonard had a high upside due to his strong work ethic.

The player comparison was Scottie Pippen, citing his upside and his 7-foot-3 wingspan. Kawhi fell out of the lottery picks, and was ultimately selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 15th pick. This  which was one pick after the Houston Rockets selected Marcus Morris with the 14th overall pick.

Morris starred at the University of Kansas, and was highly successful, to say the least. As a sophomore, the younger Morris twin averaged 12.8 points per game on 37.5 percent from deep, while grabbing 6.1 rebounds. During his junior season, he averaged 17.2 points and 7.6 rebounds, while making 34.2 percent of his triples.

During his final year, Morris was named Big 12 Player of the Year, while also being named an All-American, much like Leonard. The scouting report on Morris was that he was a bit of a tweener, as he was undersized to play power forward, but that he was athletic and a good shooter. Unlike Leonard, it was stated that Morris had a low ceiling, due to a lack of elite rebounding and defensive ability.

To the Rockets’ credit, Morris was viewed as the more NBA ready player of the two, due to his offensive game, but Kawhi was viewed as the better defender and rebounder. All in all, Morris only played 71 games in Houston before being dealt for a second-round draft pick, which landed Isaiah Canaan.

But Morris has had a successful NBA career, just not from a Rockets standpoint, and certainly not in comparison to Kawhi Leonard. Kawhi has developed into a superstar, as he’s made four All-Star teams, won two Defensive Player of the Year awards, won two NBA titles, and won NBA Finals MVP in both of those championships.

When you consider the fact that Kawhi is still only 28-years-old, Kawhi is unequivocally the best example of a player the Rockets passed on, who later became a star. This has also become one of the biggest dream scenarios to develop after the fact, while also becoming one of the biggest what-if scenarios in Houston Rockets history. You could even look at it from the Morris perspective. What if the Rockets got the Morris version he later became?

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Even if the Houston Rockets did draft Leonard, does he still have the same growth trajectory in Houston? Does he develop the same shooting abilities he developed in San Antonio? We’ll never know the answer to any of these questions, which is why this is atop the list.