NBA Rookie of the Year ‘Making the Case’: Jalen Green Leading Houston Rockets into Post-James Harden Era

Note: This is part two of a five-part series detailing how five different rookies could win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year Award.

Houston Rockets rookie Jalen Green took a different path to the NBA than most. Instead of going the traditional route and playing college basketball, Green went from high school to the G League Ignite in the program’s debut season.

The Ignite was created in April of 2020 as another pathway for young players to take to reach the NBA. Ignite players practice with and play against other G Leaguers and are paid a professional salary.

Green was the best player on the inaugural Ignite squad that also featured Golden State Warriors‘ lottery pick Jonathan Kuminga and NBA veterans like Jarrett Jack and Amir Johnson.

Playing against grown men fighting for an NBA roster spot gives the 19-year-old shooting guard a different — and arguably superior — experience heading into his rookie season.

The Houston Rockets took Jalen Green No. 2 overall

Houston Rockets rookie Jalen Green drives to the rim.

Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets drives to the rim on 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, fair or not, of the post-James Harden Rockets rebuild.

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

In some ways, though, the 6-foot-5 scorer may be more prepared for his task than Cade Cunningham, who was taken No. 1 overall by the Detroit Pistons. While Cunningham was playing against maybe a dozen future NBA players in the Big 12 at Oklahoma State, Green was scoring in bunches in the G League.

The 5-star recruit from Fresno, Calif., led the Ignite in scoring at 17.9 points per game. He shot a team-high 36.5% from three on a team-high 5.7 attempts.

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

On The Ringer’s NBA Draft Guide, Green was described as a “highlight reel waiting to happen who can score from all over 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 jaw-dropping athlete and had no trouble translating that gift from the high-school level to the pros. His Ignite highlight reel is filled with the sinewy guard blowing by and jumping over defenders. He plays with a sudden burst of acceleration, incredible quickness, and jump-out-of-the-gym hops.

One of the question marks surrounding Green coming out of high school was his shooting. At the prep level, he could repeatedly use his remarkable athleticism to score with ease — but would he be able to do that against a much higher level of competition? The answer was a resounding yes, but the 178-pound wing’s shooting percentage was better than advertised too.

Being an uber-athlete allows Green the ability to create whatever shot he wants. More often than not, that’s at the rim, but a 36.5% clip from deep shows he has the potential to turn into a solid jump shooter as well. If defenses have to respect his outside shot, that makes his ability to explode to the rim even more threatening.

And for what it’s worth, Jack threw around 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?

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

That’s where his Rookie of the Year case begins. Stats play an important part in awards voting, and Green is going to put up big ones based on sheer volume alone.

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

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

That means not only will Green be featured in the offense, but there will be plenty of shots to go around, and the organization is expected to let a group of young players work through its growing pains.

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

There’s a legitimate chance the 19-year-old leads all rookies in scoring and puts up between 20-25 points on a nightly basis. If stats end up being a deciding factor late in the year, and if he gets the number of touches expected, Green could score his way into becoming the NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2021-22.

The Case for Cade Cunningham

Sunday: The Case for Chris Duarte

Monday: The Case for James Bouknight

Tuesday: The Case for Josh Giddey

All statistics courtesy of Basketball Reference.

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