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Rockets Draft Grades: Houston Gets Defensive-Minded

The first of many evaluations, grading the prospects the Houston Rockets drafted during the 2022 NBA Draft.

Houston — The 2022 NBA Draft concluded Thursday night inside the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The draft did not ensue as the general public thought, as the Orlando Magic took Duke's Paolo Banchero with the first overall pick. 

With Chet Holmgren going No. 2 to the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Houston Rockets drafted Jabari Smith Jr. at three.

The Rockets still managed to end the night by acquiring a trio of players who can impact the franchise as rookies next season. LSU's Tari Eason and Kentucky's TyTy Washington Jr. fulfilled the Rockets draft class of 2022. But how did the organization fair after the Magic threw a wrench in their original draft plan? 

Jabari Smith Jr., Auburn, No. 3:

Houston fell short of landing the prospect who sat at the pinnacle of their draft board since May. But the draft selection of Smith is a great contingency plan for the Rockets. 

Smith is taking the helm as Houston's starting power forward and will create one of the most intriguing frontcourts in the league playing next to Alperen Sengun.

His elite jump-shot will give the Rockets a chance to add a prospect who can develop into a tear-one scorer to pair alongside Jalen Green. He shot 42.0 percent from deep during his lone season at Auburn, which will give Houston a prominent pick-and-pop option as a screener. 

Outside of his scoring, Smith can help the Rockets improve their defensive struggles with his ability to rebound and protect the rim. He averaged 7.4 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks across the 34 games played for the Auburn Tigers. 

"When he shoots the ball, I notice that it normally goes in," general manager Rafael Stone said during his post-draft press conference. "I think he is the best shooter in the draft. At his height, that is extraordinarily unusual. And we are beyond excited to have Jabari."  

Grade: A+

Tari Eason, LSU, No. 17:

Before playing a single NBA game, Tari Eason has already established himself as the Rockets' best defensive player. 

Eason can guard positions one through five, while his length and athleticism will make him a nightmare match-up for the opposing team.

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After allowing an average of 118.2 points while netting a defensive rating of 116.4 in 2022, coach Stephen Silas has expressed his desire to enhance Houston's defensive production next season. And the draft selection of Eason is a significant step in the right direction. 

Eason can create havoc in the passing lanes and challenge his opponent's perimeter shots with his 7-foot wingspan. He averaged 6.6 rebounds, 1.9 steals, and 1.1 blocks across 33 games for the LSU Tigers and became one of the most sought-after defensive players entering the draft. 

"Tari can play defense," Stone said. "He plays hard, and he is a great athlete. He is committed on the defensive end. And I would consider Tari a playmaker on the defensive end."

Grade: A

TyTy Washington Jr., Kentucky, No. 29:

The Rockets addressed their frontcourt needs with the draft selections of Smith and Eason. But with their final pick of the night, Houston added to their point guard corps with the draft selection of TyTy Washington Jr.

The Rockets acquired a solid pass-first point guard who can fill Houston's backcourt needs if Daishen Nix falls short of expectations as the backup to Kevin Porter Jr. But given that the Rockets chose to draft Washington over Jaden Hardy, Houston could have benefited from adding one of the best 3-point shooters in the draft.

Outside of his modest defensive struggles, Washington can do a little bit of everything on the court. He entered the draft as a consensus top-10 player at his position after averaging 12.5 points on 45.1 percent shooting from the floor, 3.9 assists, 3.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals during his freshman campaign at Kentucky.

"We are excited," Stone said. "I think we are going to be fun again, and we are going to play hard. For right now, that's the puzzle. Be fun. Be exciting. And play really hard. As a team, we got more talented. And because we got more talented, we have improved."

Grade: B- 

You can follow Coty Davis on Twitter @CotyDavis_24

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