I listen to a lot of NBA podcasts.
It makes things like “doing the dishes”, “cleaning the house” or “staring vacantly into space gripped by existential dread” more pleasant. I respect the best NBA podcasts. (My current favorite NBA podcaster is Wosne Lambre. He needs to do more, of anything, and everything. It’s rare to combine insight, honesty, knowledge, wit and generous good humor in one person. I think he’s going to be a huge media star.)
It’s difficult to come up with 30-60 minutes of interesting things to say about basketball at certain points, such as when the season is winding down, and everyone is waiting for playoff seeding, and the Second NBA Season (Now Laker Free!) to begin.
It’s at this same point in the NBA calendar that a huge percentage of the podcasts turn inevitably, and unfortunately almost full-time, to a topic I’d rather not hear quite so much about. NBA Awards. MVP. DPOY. SMOTY. MIP. All NBA 1-3. None of these are relevant to the Rockets players this season. We can hope they will be, sooner rather than later.
For most of the last decade, while twisting ourselves into knots of outrage over MVP choices, and All NBA, there was one award Rockets fans could comfortably ignore, in terms of direct relevance - ROY, or Rookie of the Year. This was in large part because the Rockets had few to no high first round picks at all, and those players tend to be the winners of the award. The Rockets generally had no picks, and if they did, they were good value bigs taken late, or truly tiny PG “prospects”. The Rockets weren’t sniffing any ROY awards. (JaeSean Tate should have been considered a bit more last year, though.)
This year is different. The Rockets do have a plausibly high draft pick; Jalen Green. You might have heard of him. You might even have heard he wasn’t that good, and promptly forgot about him. You might even have heard the word “bust” foolishly, and prematurely, uttered about a 19 year old. Lots of people were saying it, including some Rockets fans. We have the receipts.
It hardly matters, honestly. The ROY award was seemingly decided by the NBA media sometime back in November when Jalen Green was missing shots, Cade Cunningham was simply missing, and the Toronto Raptors and Scottie Barnes were largely inexplicable, as opposed to potentially insoluble.
Thus, it was inexorably set forth in hour upon hour of gushing 2021 podcasts that the NBA media’s new crush, Evan Mobley, would win the award. No one else need be considered, and it all warped up before the calendar turned to 2022.
Should it have been? Should it be now? We’ve seen excellent, arguably better, seasons from Cade Cunningham and Scottie Barnes. (Don’t believe that no one else is even getting real consideration? Check out the odds link below. )
Mobley, admittedly, started off well. He was a rookie playing exceptional defense next to a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate in Jarrett Allen, on an entire team playing great defense, with a cast of improving young veterans. (He did not look quite as wonderful without Allen or Garland. He looked like a very promising, very rookie-like, big, rather than NBA Athena: a fully-formed amalgam of Kevin Garnett, Bill Russell, David Robinson and Zeus, bursting forth from the forehead of Adam Silver. Context matters, or should.)
Mind you, Mobley has had a fine season, despite missing a good bit of it, and is a worthy winner, even without predestination.
Here’s his stat line:
14pts, 8rbs, 2.5ast 55%TS
This is Jalen Green’s:
17pts, 3.4rbs, 2.6ast, 55%TS - yes, even with his “bust period”.
So we see a points lead for Green, a rebound lead for Mobley.
If you’ve read my writing here for any length of time, you know some of my skepticism regarding rebounding as an important, or determinative stat. Why? Because someone pretty much always gets a rebound, most often very tall guys who play near the basket. Occasionally there’s a standout, or extraordinary, rebounding stat that goes against expectation and is worthy of more consideration. A tall guy getting a nice number of boards isn’t one of those things.
Does this change the ROY narrative? The above stats look pretty close, except an identical True Shooting Percentage should generally favor the guard, rather than an inside player, who is being fed dunks at the rim by a PG, or putting back rebounds. Green’s True Shooting percentage is average for NBA shooting guards, as a teenager. Mobley’s? Slightly below the PF average of 57.6%. (This is perfectly fine and highly encouraging for a rookie, but in context, being league average is finer still.)
Now we’re down to subjective matters: defense. (I am not aware of a truly convincing individual defensive metric, but would be happy to learn more.) Evan Mobley may well turn out to be a generational defender; it’s truly in play.
Jalen Green may well turn out to be a generational scorer, and possibly, a very fine defender. It is also in play.
Which is more important?
Some NBA observers looked at Even Mobley in November, 2021, and projected a ROY, and half-seriously, a Hall of Fame player, based on their observations of his defense, movement and early success.
When projecting Hall of Fame careers for rookies, perhaps the ROY voters should also consider something pretty much ONLY Hall of Famers have done in their rookie season?
Jalen Green has now scored 30pts in five straight games as a rookie. As noted above, he’s doing it at average efficiency for an NBA shooting guard the season, despite a very rough patch of mid-season. Green is scoring at a rather stunning efficiency level in his last month of play. That’s nice, but is there any context?
Michael Jordan did this four times as a rookie. Allen Iverson did it six. That’s it. That’s the list of players close to Jalen Green’s scoring outburst streak as a rookie, and it’s not a usage powered mirage. It’s efficient, and accomplished with comparatively few free throws.
If Green continues this streak over the final two games of the NBA season? He’ll exceed Iverson’s mark. He’ll be the only rookie in NBA history to score 30+ points in seven consecutive games, and he’ll do it while putting up roughly the same stat line as the front runner for the ROY award. ( Various metrics that interact closely with teammate performance seem less relevant in this context, to me, anyway.)
Fight ROY predestination, exercise free will, and choose the only player to exceed the rookie scoring exploits of the finest shooting guard, likely, the finest player, in NBA history.
Choose Jalen Green, if you didn’t cast your vote back in December.
Care to wager on it? It might be difficult. Mobley is a prohibitive favorite at -225, and Green isn’t in the odds picture at all. (Though I guess you could take Franz Wagner at +10,000.)
To witness the Power of the Early Narrative: Rookie of The Year Odds At Draft Kings
Should Jalen Green be in the ROY conversation now?
This poll is closed
No. It is Not His Destiny.
This award was locked on 12/1/21. Please Try Again Next Season.
Defense something something!
Exceeding Hall of Famers? Whatever.