It’s NBA Draft Lottery night: Here’s why Houston Rockets fans should care

FILE - In this Sept. 2, 2020, file photo, the NBA logo is displayed at center court during an NBA first-round playoff basketball game between the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder in Lake Buena Vista, Fla. NBA training camps open around the league Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020,though on-court sessions will be limited to individual workouts and only for those players who have gotten three negative coronavirus test results back in the last few days. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File) (Mark J. Terrill, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

It’s the night of the NBA Draft, and for Houston Rockets fans, this could be a potential night to celebrate.

It also could be potentially a very disappointing night.

This is what happens when fans root for a team that finished with the worst record in the league at 17-55. The hope for the fanbase after a season at the very bottom is to get the best possible prospect coming into the league. And this year, there is a consensus player expected to be the top pick overall: Cade Cunningham, who starred in his one season at Oklahoma State University.

However, since teams have in similar scenarios showed a tendency to not try as hard to win games, which then leads to integrity issues, the NBA has made it so the bottom three teams now have an equal chance to win the lottery and to gain the opportunity to have the first overall pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.

And to make things worse, if the Rockets end up falling out of the top four picks tonight, the Oklahoma City Thunder will have the right to claim the pick. And if that happens, the Rockets will have the 18th overall pick instead of the previously-hoped-for number-one pick.

Still, at the very least, the Rockets are now tied with two other teams for the highest chance to have the first overall draft pick. And when the Rockets have had the number-one overall pick, they have had a strong track record.

The number-one overall pick in 1968 netted the Rockets Elvin Hayes, who led the NBA in scoring in his rookie year and didn’t look back on his way to the Basketball Hall of Fame.

In 1977, John Lucas was the top overall pick. Lucas’ playing career can be considered as solid, but it’s his impact afterward in helping other players has been his lasting legacy. Lucas currently serves as one of the Rockets’ assistants on Stephen Silas’ coaching staff.

In 1983, the Rockets picked three-time College Player of the Year Ralph Sampson, number-one overall. The 7-4 center formed a solid Twin Towers duo with Hakeem Olajuwon, who the Rockets selected first overall in 1984 when he was still Akeem Olajuwon, fresh off his Phi Slama Jama days at the University of Houston. Olajuwon ended up with a Hall of Fame career and helped bring two NBA championships to Houston. The Sampson and Olajuwon duo reached the NBA Finals in 1986, with the two players being the two leading scorers for the Rockets in that 1986 postseason.

In 2002, the Rockets won the lottery and drafted Yao Ming. The 7-6 center is likely the best basketball player ever for a human of his extreme height, as most others 7-5 or above have historically been mainly defensively oriented. Yao brought a hoops IQ and offensive touch unseen previously for a man of his stature. Though his career was ultimately shortened by injuries, the eight-time All-Star did dominate, averaging a career-high 25 points in 2007.

So while not every first overall pick is a sure thing to have a great NBA career, most in the NBA’s history have been stars. Tonight will be a night for Rockets fans to watch as they begin the journey of their rebuild from the league’s worst to hopefully a brighter future.

About the Author:

Born in Canada but raised in Houston, Howard joined KPRC 2 in 2021 after five years at ESPN. Before that, Howard was a reporter on Houston Rockets and Houston Astros game broadcasts. Among the events that Howard has covered on site: the NBA bubble and the Basketball Hall of Fame inductions for both Yao Ming and Tracy McGrady. He's H-town proud!