The Houston Rockets‘ current 16 game losing streak has taken them from a fringe playoff team to having the joint best odds to land the number one overall pick in the 2021 NBA draft. When the Rockets embarked on their plunge down the standings they were 11-10 and resurgent in the aftermath of the trade of James Harden.
The Rockets, whether they wanted to or not, are in a full-on rebuild. As much as a second-half turnaround would be a welcome sight, a charge back up the standings could absolutely doom the franchise’s long-term projection.
The Houston Rockets’ draft dilemma
As part of the ill-fated Russell Westbrook trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder in the summer of 2019, the Rockets surrendered a top-four protected pick swap for the 2021 NBA draft. At the time, the move made sense, the Rockets had James Harden and Russell Westbrook under contract through at least 2022 and a pick swap is only valuable if you’re better than the team you can swap with.
Unfortunately, much like the rest of the world, nothing has gone the Rockets’ way since 2020 got underway. The Rockets only saving grace is for them to bottom out and try to land a top-four pick to keep their first-round pick from going to the Thunder.
What makes the Rockets’ situation more dire is that they won’t actually be swapping their pick with Oklahoma City’s. The Thunder were able to acquire the Miami Heat’s 2021 first-round pick as part of the trade that sent Paul George to the Clippers and have the right to swap that pick with the Rockets.
Essentially, the Thunder will receive the two best picks out of the three and the Rockets get the leftover unless they land a pick in the top-four. As painful as the losing streak has been there is no reason to hope for it to let up.
The Houston Rockets draft odds
As of today, the Rockets have a 52-percent chance of landing a top-four pick and holding onto their first-round pick. Unfortunately, the Rockets’ cannot increase those odds, even by having the worst record in the league.
The Rockets need to keep losing to have a coin-flip’s chance in keeping that pick. If the Rockets were to fall out of the top-four and land anything from the fifth pick and beyond they would get the Miami Heat’s first-round pick, which is currently the 20th pick in the draft.
Adding insult to injury is that the Heat have been absolutely scorching since Jimmy Butler returned from injury and there is a real chance that the pick only decreases in value. Even if they taper off some it’s unlikely they’ll end up with a pick anywhere near the lottery as their second-half schedule is projected to be much easier.
The success of the Rockets’ 2021 draft will come down to a coin-flip. Heads, they get a top-four pick and a transformative player, tails, they’re drafting well in the 20’s. Fate can be cruel that way. Hopefully, the Rockets get lucky.