When the Houston Rockets made Jalen Green the second player taken in the 2021 NBA Draft, Rookie of the Year was a high priority. Green became an early candidate to become the third player in franchise history to take home the honor after eclipsing 20 or more points during the first month of the season.
Green’s alluring start to his pro career came to a halt following a hamstring injury that sidelined him for 14 games. He fell out of the running for ROY honors by the All-Star break. But by the end of his rookie campaign, however, Green achieved more by establishing himself as the fresh face of the franchise 13 months following James Harden’s jettison to the Brooklyn Nets.
Fewer peaks and more valleys best summarize Green’s first NBA season. But the lows he experienced could pave the way to the promise that drew the Rockets to the California native as the No. 2 overall pick in the draft.
“I was able to see what I could do to be better. There are different ways I can impact the game whether that’s defense or rebounding — I learned how to use my athleticism more.” — Green in April
Green’s hamstring injury could have been a blessing in disguise — similar to his backcourt mate in Kevin Porter Jr.. The additional time off gave Green a chance to correct his mistakes from the sidelines through extra film studies and in-game conversations with John Wall.
The impact Green’s injury had on his on-court production was on display in his return against the Indiana Pacers in December. He scored an efficient 20 points in his return and raved how the game had begun to slow down. Green went on to average 17 points over the next dozen games until the inevitable rookie wall hampered his performance.
He averaged less than 10 points over the next three games while shooting 13.3 percent from the field. But it was during his mid-season struggles Green began to lean on the blueprint coach Stephen Silas provided that helped guide the likes of LeBron James, Stephen Curry and Luka Dončić.
Green embarked on a tear during the final 24 games of the season, averaging 22.4 points on 47.6 percent shooting from the field and 39 percent shooting from behind the arc. The pinnacle of Green’s rookie season took place on March 9, when he scored a then-career-best 32 points in a 139-130 overtime home victory against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Green’s performance showcased his continuous growth throughout the season, which was a testament to the constant work he put in alongside John Lucas on the practice court.
“He has great shot-making ability. Everybody looks at his athletic ability, but his ability to make shots, he’s been doing this for quite a long time now, going back to high school. I feel like he’s just getting better and better, and the great thing about him being (in Houston) is they’re a super young group besides a few guys. It’s allowing him to make mistakes and learn on the fly, and that’s gonna benefit him.” — LeBron James
When Green departed the floor of the Toyota Center in his final game as a rookie on April 10, he scored a career-best 41 points in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks. Green’s performance in the Rockets’ season finale marked the sixth time in seven games he notched 30 or more points, while leading the 2021 draft class in 30-point games this season.
The 14 games missed due to injury and his mid-season struggles resulted in Green missing out on Rookie of the Year honors to Toronto Raptors forward Scottie Barnes — who became the third player in franchise history to win the award.
Green experienced growth both on and off the court by the end of the 2022 campaign. His goals are no longer predicated on individual accolades. Heading into the 2023 season, Green is more fixated on the Rockets’ overall success.
Green appeared in 67 games for the 20-62 Rockets. He averaged 17.3 points on 42.6 percent shooting from the field, 34.3 percent shooting from behind the arc.