Grading the Rockets at the All-Star Break

Feb 8, 2023; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard shakes hands with forward Jabari Smith Jr. (1) prior to the game against the Sacramento Kings at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Erik Williams-USA TODAY Sports

Grading the Rockets at the All-Star Break

The Rockets head to the All-Star break on a seven-game losing streak after Wednesday’s loss in Oklahoma City. Having already clinched their third straight losing season for the first time since 1974, the Rockets sit at the bottom of the NBA’s standings, and since almost their entire roster is 21 years old or younger, let’s hand out some grades for what we’ve seen through the first 58 games of the season.

Jalen Green: C-

It doesn’t always feel like it, but Green is a better player today than he was when the season started. Yes, he is shooting the ball worse from almost every spot on the floor, most noticeably at the rim where he’s gone from a 55% shooter to a 51% shooter, but he has figured out ways to score when his shot isn’t falling. Green’s free throw attempts have jumped to 5.9 per game from 3.5 last season. Green has also made a jump as a playmaker, with his assists increasing to 3.6 per game from 2.6, and he already has 12 games with five or more assists after finishing last season with only nine.

Along with the shooting, Green grades out poorly in his second NBA season because his defense has been bad, and his effort is off and on. Green envisions himself becoming one of the best players in the league one day, but for that to happen, he’s going to have to play harder, and he’s going to have to do it more often.

Alperen Sengun: B

Sengun has responded to a brief demotion from the starting lineup after a bad training camp and turned into the Rockets’ most consistent offensive player. His numbers are up across the board, which is expected with a 40% increase in minutes, but he’s been able to hold up physically under the increased workload, and his biggest issue as a rookie, staying out of foul trouble, has been a major area of improvement. Sengun is only committing 4.3 fouls per 36 minutes this season, down from 5.2 fouls per 36 minutes last season.

Sengun’s defense has been bad, but he at least tries on most occasions, which earns you bonus points on this team. His complete refusal to take 3-pointers is an issue, especially since he’s shooting better from long distance this season, and he must become a better defensive rebounder. He’s been excellent on the offensive glass, but he doesn’t seem as interested in rebounding on the other end of the floor.


Jabari Smith Jr.: C

I might be grading on a rookie curve here because Smith hasn’t been good this season, but it doesn’t mean he won’t live up to the potential of the draft’s third overall pick. Billed as a great shooter, Smith’s struggles in that department have been alarming. He’s converting at just a 39% clip from the field and 30% from behind the 3-point line. His shot looks great at times, like when he made his first three attempts from 3-point land last week in Miami, but he followed it up by missing his last six shots from long distance.

He’s shown flashes of being the defensive star the Rockets thought he would be, but he’s been inconsistent in that area, as one would expect from a 19-year-old. He has to add strength over the summer. On the positive side, Smith is third among all rookies in total rebounds, and he leads this rookie class in defensive rebounds.

Kevin Porter Jr.: C+

Porter hasn’t had the linear development some might have expected, but the 17 games he’s missed with a left foot injury have shown how vital he is to the Rockets’ success. He averages 15 drives per game, most on the Rockets and 15th most in the league, and while the team’s offense has actually been better over the 17 games he’s missed, the Rockets desperately miss his ability to get to the rim when they need a bucket.

The Rockets’ 3-point shooting has taken a dive without Porter. They shot 33.3% on 35.4 attempts through the first 41 games of the season, but in the 17 games he’s missed, those numbers have dropped to 30.9% on 28.2%. Both numbers are worst in the league.  

All that said, Porter is an inefficient scorer; his shooting has gotten worse, his turnovers are up, and his focus is inconsistent. When Porter is good, he’s very good, but when he’s bad, he’s very bad, and there just haven’t been enough of the good nights this season.

K.J. Martin: A-

The only negative you can give Martin is his 3-point shooting has dropped from 35.7% to 32.7%. Every other aspect of his game has been terrific. He’s proven he can impact the game just as much as a starter as he did off the bench, and he’s in line to get a nice payday if the Rockets choose to make him a restricted free agent by declining his option this summer. He becomes an unrestricted free agent in 2024 if they don’t. 

Quick exercise: Look at the players taken in the first round of the 2020 draft, in which Martin was selected 52nd. How many of those players would you take before selecting Martin? You can easily argue he’d be a top-10 pick.

Tari Eason: B+

Eason is just a disrupter. He seems to always be in the right place at the right time on the defensive end of the floor; he gets his hands on a lot of balls and creates offense for a team that struggles to do exactly that. The 17th pick of the draft is averaging close to nine points per game as a rookie, and he’s doing that without having any plays run for him. He just makes things happen.

Usman Garuba: B

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone called Garuba the world’s best defender not playing in the NBA after he drafted him 23rd overall in 2021, and he really has been excellent on that end of the floor. He’s almost always in the right spot, and he can hold his own when isolated against some of the league’s best players, but his offense remains a big work in progress. Garuba is shooting over 45% from behind the 3-point line; he just doesn’t take very many. He’s a very good offensive rebounder, but he doesn’t give you much else on that end of the floor. He’s not a good finisher, his hands are iffy, he’s not a good passer, and he doesn’t make free throws.

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