Rockets first half awards

zDec 13, 2022; Houston, Texas, USA; Houston Rockets guard Jalen Green (4) screams before he is introduced against the Phoenix Suns at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Rockets first half awards

With Wednesday’s loss in Sacramento, the Rockets are officially at the halfway point of the 2022-23 season. Let’s hand out some awards for the good and some of the bad of what we’ve seen thus far.

Best Rookie: Jabari Smith Jr.

It was close between Smith and Tari Eason, but Smith gets the nod because he’s been asked to do much, much more. Smith’s numbers through the first half of his first NBA campaign are ugly. He’s shooting just 38% from the field and 32% from behind the 3-point line, while only attempting two free throws each game, but he’s much more involved in the Rockets’ offense, and while he’s been an adventure on the defensive end of the floor, Smith has been tasked on many occasions with defending the opposition’s best player. That’s led to some bad moments, like when he looked completely overwhelmed against Giannis Antetokounmpo in October, but then a month later, Smith locked down the two-time MVP in a Rockets win.

Most improved: K.J. Martin

Martin has gone from one-dimensional dunker and shot blocker to a player who seemingly does everything well on the floor. His numbers won’t jump off the page, but he’s averaging double-figures for the first time in his career, and he plays well no matter who he’s paired with on the floor.

“His growth has been trending towards (Jae’Sean Tate) as far as basketball IQ,” Rockets head coach Stephen Silas said.

The 22-year-old has turned himself into an excellent cutter who always puts himself in the right place on the offensive end, and his defensive improvement is illustrated by how his shot-blocking numbers have gone down. He averaged one block per game as a rookie because those blocks made up for his mistakes, but that number has been cut to 0.3 because he doesn’t need to recover when he’s always in the right spot.


Most disappointing player: Jalen Green

Green entered his second NBA season with lofty expectations based on how he finished his rookie year, but they might’ve been a bit too lofty, and he’s come up well short of those expectations through 41 games. Green’s scoring average has gone up four points through the first half of this season, but he’s been much less efficient. His shooting percentage has dropped from 42.6% to 40.4% following Wednesday’s 9-of-25 outing. His 3-point shooting has also plummeted to 31.9% from 34.3%. His turnovers are also up almost 50% from a season ago, and his defense has seemingly gone backward.

None of this is to say Green won’t develop into the star the Rockets expected him to be when they drafted him second overall in 2021, but it shows how difficult developing players really is, and the good news is this season hasn’t been all bad. The 20-year-old has almost doubled his free throw attempts, and he’s improved his playmaking to where he had five assists in the first half against the Wolves on Sunday.

Best defender: Usman Garuba

Rockets general manager Rafael Stone called Garuba the world’s best defender not currently playing in the NBA when he was drafted 23rd overall in 2021, and the Spaniard is proving his GM right as he has gotten his first real playing time this season after an injury-riddled rookie year. At 6-foot-8, Garuba is a bit undersized as a center, but he allows the team to be more versatile in their schemes. He’s middle of the pack when it comes to defending isolations, which is encouraging for someone who has yet to celebrate their 21st birthday, and he’s shown an ability to survive when left on an island against the NBA’s best scorers, most notably Stephen Curry and Luka Doncic.

Best moment: 128-122 win over the Hawks on Nov. 25

Dejounte Murray drained a three over Jabari Smith Jr. midway through the third quarter to put the Hawks up 13, and he tapped Smith on the head as the shot dropped. The Rockets were just 3-14 at the time, and the Hawks thought they could bully their young opponent. Smith waited for a dead ball and then confronted the Hawks All-Star. That lit a fire under the Rockets as they stormed back to take the lead and eventually win the game.

“It was some disrespect that needed some straightening,” Smith said.

In an interview with Gallery Sports last month, Smith called that moment his memorable up that point, and it started a 10-game stretch that saw the Rockets go 6-4 and included wins over the Sixers, Bucks, and Suns twice. The team hasn’t been able to replicate that good stretch, but they at least showed it’s there and showed what can happen when they are motivated to play together.

Most Valuable Player: Kevin Porter Jr.

Picking an MVP on a team that is 10-31 isn’t exactly easy, but I gave the nod to Porter because of how much the Rockets ask him to do and because of how much their offense craters when he’s off the floor. Porter’s scoring average has increased to 19.2 points per game from 15.6 last season, and his shooting has gone from 41.5% to 43.7%. He’s also rebounding at a higher rate and getting to the free-throw line much more frequently. More importantly, when he’s on the floor, the Rockets are scoring 109.1 points per 100 possessions, when he’s off, that number drops to 104.5.

Related Posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *