The Houston Rockets have lost three tough games in a row during their first west coast road trip of the season. Even during the losses, players like Alperen Sengun and Fred VanVleet have continued their excellent play, becoming the Rockets’ two best players this season.
On the other hand, Jalen Green has had an up-and-down season to this point. During last night's loss to the Golden State Warriors, Green was benched for the fourth quarter as Aaron Holiday closed the game and would finish with more minutes than Green. This goes in line with what Ime Udoka said before the season started about how everyone is fighting for minutes.
Green is shooting a career-low from the field and a career-low in effective field goal percentage. His points per game are down from last season, and at times, he seems to be out of the play completely. He has not been as aggressive, and his percentage on drives to the basket has plummeted from over 44 percent last season to under 38 percent this season.
Green has not taken the much-talked-about third-year jump, but there are some legitimate reasons. Here is why Green has had an inconsistent start to the season.
For the first time in his career, he isn't the first or second option
Green has been the main guy on every team he has been on since his AAU days. If you think about it, Green has always been the first option, and at worst, 1B on any team he has been on. Even in his one year in the G-League, he was the primary option most nights.
In his first two seasons in the NBA, the Rockets prioritized him even when they had veterans like Eric Gordon, Christian Wood and John Wall. This season has been different for a few reasons I will get to later.
The Rockets, who were tired of being at the bottom of the standings and were focused on winning more than player development going into this season, made bringing in quality veterans a priority. The Rockets brought in former All-Star Fred VanVleet to run the offense, as well as Dillon Brooks, Aaron Holiday and Jeff Green.
VanVleet's arrival has been a breath of fresh air as he has been top-five in assists all season, and the Rockets went from a bottom-tier passing team to one of the best. With the arrival of a more traditional point guard, Green would have the ball less than at any time during his AAU, G League and NBA career.
Green’s touches are down from 65.9 last season to 57.7 this season, with VanVleet having more touches per game than any other player Green has played with in his NBA career.
That is a huge adjustment for any player, let alone someone who hasn't even made it past 21 years of age yet and is used to being the first option. Green doesn't have the offensive skills of an Alperen Sengun, which makes an adjustment like this even more difficult.
First time playing in a structured system
As mentioned before, Green has been "the guy" on every team he has been part of until last season. This season, as mentioned earlier, Green at times is the third option on the offensive end.
The Rockets are running the offense through VanVleet and Sengun, who has become the Rockets’ best player this season. The Rockets went from a bottom-tier offensive team ranking at the bottom regarding assists per game. Last season, the Rockets ranked last in assists per game, and they are at number 12 this season. That means the Rockets are playing more team ball, which means less one-on-one play.
Green’s game has always been more isolated and less moving off the ball. Part of it was the coaching staff's fault, but some of it has been on Green, who hasn't always been the best at playing off-ball. That is years of playing mostly isolation ball, and now you are expected to be more of a pass-first guard at times instead of an attacking guard.
Players like Sengun thrive in any system because they can adapt and have the offensive skills to fit with any player. Green is the type of player that needs more time to adjust to a complete overhaul of an offensive system.
Please make no mistake about it: Jalen Green has to be better. He was the number two overall pick, and the Rockets passed on several good players to take him as number two. Fans and the team itself will only be patient for so long. The NBA is a result-driven business.
However, we should keep in mind when you have been the center of the universe on every team you have played on, it takes time to adjust to having to take a back seat. VanVleet is the player who controls the team, and Sengun is the best player. Green has to find a middle ground between being "the man" and making that "third-year leap."