Re-grading the Houston Rockets' 2023 draft one year later

Could the Houston Rockets' Cam Whitmore be the steal of the 2023 draft?
Could the Houston Rockets' Cam Whitmore be the steal of the 2023 draft? / Chris Gardner/GettyImages

The NBA draft is right around the corner. You know what that means...

It's time to talk about the last draft.

In 2023, the Houston Rockets made two selections. They selected Amen Thompson with the fourth overall pick, and Cameron Whitmore was picked 20th overall. How do those choices look?

Here, we'll compare each rookie to the field. We'll compare Thompson and Whitmore to the next five players who were still on the board when the Rockets selected them. In doing so, we'll try to determine whether they were the right choice.

Without further ado...

Did Houston Rockets choose wisely in Amen Thompson?

Thompson is perhaps the most polarizing player on the Rockets. Some believe that he's the future of the franchise. When it comes to Thompson, uncertainty is the only certainty we have.

His profile makes for a confusing case. Thompson has remarkable athleticism and floor vision, but he can't shoot. Time will tell whether he can fix that flaw. If he can't, the Rockets could opt to build around it - or keep him in a long-term wing role.

On the bright side, Thompson is already a productive NBA player. He was the fourth overall pick. How does he stack up with picks five through nine in Box Plus/Minus (BPM)?

Amen Thompson (1.8)

Jarace Walker (0.2)

Taylor Hendricks (-1.6)

Ausar Thompson (-2.2)

Anthony Black (-3.0)

Bilal Coulibaly (-4.2)

These numbers don't tell us much without some contextual analysis.

After all, BPM often corresponds with a player's role, and their team's success. Take a player like Coulibaly. As a raw teenager, it would be remarkable if he was able to post a decent BPM on the basement-dwelling Wizards.

Yet, it's worth noting that Thompson isn't just ahead of his peers - he's lapping the field. Thompson's mark of 1.8 puts him on par with players like DeMar DeRozan (2.0), Mikal Bridges (1.8), and Brandon Ingram (1.7). Jarace Walker's 0.2 was the next highest mark on this list, which is comparable to players like Russell Westbrook (0.2), Gary Trent Jr (0.2) and Grayson Allen (0.1).

Is BPM a perfect stat? No - there is no perfect stat. Michael Porter Jr. also clocked in at 0.2 in 2023-24, and many would put him on par with Bridges, DeRozan and Ingram. Still, it's worth noting that Thompson seems to be significantly more impactful than anyone the Rockets would have considered picking at fourth.

Can we say the same about Whitmore?

Did Houston Rockets land a steal in Cam Whitmore?

Let's just get right to the list.

Cam Whitmore (0.1)

Noah Clowney (-0.7)

Marcus Sasser (-2.6)

Olivier-Maxence Prosper (-2.9)

Kris Murray (-3.6)

Dariq Whitehead (N/A)

Again, caveats apply. Whitehead played two games last year - we didn't even bother to check his BPM.

More broadly, one could argue that the Rockets provided a perfect environment for their rookies in 2022-23. They were competitive enough to avoid tanking their impact metrics, but young enough for those players to carve out roles in meaningful lineups.

By contrast, a player like Prosper spent his season the NBA Finalist Mavericks. He was never likely to be a pillar for Dallas. Moreover, Sasser was on the woeful Pistons.They didn't have many positive lineups to insert him in this season.

So in both cases, the Rockets seemingly took the best player available. Is that because their environment facilitated success?

Or, are Thompson and Whitmore just good?

Houston Rockets nailed 2023 draft

We'd say it's a little of column A, and a whole lot of column B.

We don't know if Thompson will be a primary ball-handler. Questions also persist about Whitmore's feel for the game. These players both have star potential, but stardom is an awfully high bar in the NBA.

Still, the Rockets walked away from one draft with two potential stars who, so far, have made good on their potential. Thompson was the obvious choice at 4, but give the Rockets credit for drafting Whitmore. He was once viewed as a lottery pick and slipped in the draft due to the aforementioned questions about his feel.

In time, Whitmore may answer those questions. Here's something we won't question:

The Rockets had a fantastic 2023 draft.

Grade: A+