Jalen Green leads Houston Rockets into post-James Harden era



Note: This is part two of a five-part series on how five different rookies could win the NBA Rookie of the Year award..

Houston Rockets rookie Jalen Green has taken a different path to the NBA than most. Instead of going the traditional route and playing college basketball, Green moved from high school to G League Ignite in the show’s first season.

The Ignite was established in April 2020 as another route for young players to reach the NBA. Ignite players train and play against other G Leaguers and receive a professional salary.

Green was the top player on the inaugural Ignite team which also included Golden State Warriors lottery pick Jonathan Kuminga and NBA veterans like Jarrett Jack and Amir Johnson.

Playing against adult men fighting for a spot on the NBA roster gives the 19-year-old shooter a different – and arguably superior – experience heading into his rookie season.

Houston Rockets took No. 2 Jalen Green overall

Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets drives to the edge of Precious Achiuwa of the Toronto Raptors. | Cole Burston / Getty Images

Green was the second overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and immediately became the face, right or wrong, of the post-James Harden Rockets rebuild.

The organization sold its former franchise player to the Brooklyn Nets at the start of the 2020-21 season, triggering (pun intended) a team-wide retooling. As the No. 2 draft pick, Green is the centerpiece.

In some ways, however, the 6-foot-5 scorer may be better prepared for his task than Cade Cunningham, who was ranked No.1 overall by the Detroit Pistons. While Cunningham played against perhaps a dozen future NBA players in the Big 12 at Oklahoma State, Green was scoring en masse in the G League.

The 5-star rookie from Fresno, Calif., Led the Ignite with 17.9 points per game. He managed a team high of 36.5% on three on a team high of 5.7 attempts.

Green finished the season with a slash line of 46.1 / 36.5 / 82.9.

In The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide, Green was described as a “best reel waiting to happen who can score from anywhere on the court but needs to polish the technical aspects of his game.”

Green’s Rookie of the Year case: pure scoring ability

As evidenced by his stats in the G League, Green is a bucket-getter.

He’s a breathtaking athlete and had no trouble translating this high school gift to the pros. His Ignite highlight coil is filled with the nervous guard passing and leaping over defenders. He plays with sudden acceleration, incredible speed, and jumps out of the gym.

One of the question marks surrounding Green as he left high school was his shooting. In terms of preparation, he could repeatedly use his remarkable athleticism to score easily – but would he be able to do so against a much higher level of competition? The answer was a resounding yes, but the 178-pound wing’s shooting percentage was also better than advertised.

Being a super athlete allows Green to create the shot he wants. More often than not it’s at the edge, but a clip at 36.5% depth shows that he also has the potential to turn into a solid jump shooter. If the defenses have to respect his outside shot, it makes his ability to explode to the edge even more threatening.

And for what it’s worth, Jack launched the word “Kobe” when asked about Green’s work ethic on the Ryen Russillo podcast.

What would a Rookie of the Year campaign look like for Green?

In a Houston team apparently not looking to compete, Green will get minutes and he will get shots. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he is the team leader in minutes played and field goals attempted at the end of the season.

This is where his Rookie of the Year case begins. Stats play a big role in voting rewards, and Green is going to come up with big ones based on volume alone.

Christian Wood is the Rockets’ leading returning scorer after averaging 21.0 points last year. Eric Gordon, 32, was second at 17.8, fellow young shooter Kevin Porter Jr. averaging 16.6 and Jae’Sean Tate averaging 11.3.

None of those players have appeared in more than 41 games for Houston. So the rotation isn’t exactly that of the 2017 Warriors.

This means that not only will Green be featured in the offensive, but there will be plenty of shots to go and the organization should let a group of young players get over their growing pains.

It’s a perfect environment for a player with Green’s abilities.

There is a legitimate chance that the 19-year-old leads all rookies in the standings and scores between 20 and 25 points each night. If stats end up being a deciding factor at the end of the year, and if he gets the expected number of touches, Green could mark his way to becoming the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2021-22.

The case of Cade Cunningham

Sunday: the case of Chris Duarte

Monday: The case of James Bouknight

Tuesday: The Case of Josh Giddey

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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