No more Rockets in the dunk contest, please.
I’ve watched the contest with my girlfriend for the last two years. Last year’s contest was obviously a source of deep shame. I could scarcely look her in the eye for a week after. This year was supposed to be vindicating.
It wasn’t. Kenyon Martin Jr. wasn’t Green bad. There were no NFTs. Still: no more Rockets in the dunk contest, please.
The All-Star game is a different story. Believe it or not, a Rocket will participate in the big dance again someday.
Which player on the current roster is most likely to do so?
Most likely future Rockets All-Stars?
As a rebuilding team, the Rockets are in an interesting position at the moment.
There is no clearcut franchise player on this team. You can’t point to one player and say “don’t worry, this is our hero”. The Rockets wouldn’t have the worst record in the NBA if you could.
At the same time, this group has plenty of All-Star potential. At the moment, Alperen Sengun stands above the rest.
Pick an advanced metric. Sengun is leading the pack as far as rotation regulars are concerned. He’s the best player on this Rockets team unless you’re willing to swear by Boban Marjanovic’s per-75 stats.
Box Plus/Minus? Sengun’s mark of 1.8 stands above the rest. His 4.1 Win Shares hold a comfortable team-wide league. His 1.9 RAPTOR is the best on the team as well.
None of this is hard to account for. Sengun is the only player on this team you could safely assume could be the focal point of a good NBA offense someday. His crafty footwork and prodigious passing vision give him the makings of an offensive engine.
By contrast, let’s not talk about Jalen Green’s advanced metrics. You’ve already had to relive his dunk contest in the process of reading this piece. Your eyes can’t handle any more bleeding.
With that said, volume scorers like Green generally need a longer developmental curve. He still has all the tools we typically associate with All-Stardom. In all likelihood, he’ll get there once this team has some structure.
In terms of the most likely future All-Stars on the Rockets, it’s a toss-up between these two. If you wanted to project from current stats into the future, Sengun is the most likely candidate. On the other hand, if you think the All-Star voting process tends to reward athleticism, charisma and more conventionally starry qualities, Green is the guy.
Are there other potential All-Stars on this team?
The other Rockets candidates
This is what makes the Rockets interesting. To my eye, they’ve got three more players with some All-Star potential.
With that said, Jabari Smith Jr.’s rookie season has been rough. There’s no kind way to put that. Green struggled in his freshmen campaign, but there were flashes. We haven’t seen much to portend stardom from Smith Jr.
Frankly, he may never make the team. He doesn’t even need to. If Smith Jr. can be one of the best three-and-D wings in the NBA, he may just be one of those guys who doesn’t make the All-Star team but is actually more impactful than some of the guys who do. That’s a realistic outcome for him and an acceptable one.
Still, we’ve got to hold some faith that the third overall pick could be an All-Star someday. Smith Jr. has actually flashed a little more self-creation than expected this season. He’s got a better face-up game on the elbow than advertised. Here’s hoping the abysmal shooting is a career aberration.
With that in mind, Tari Eason has been a breath of fresh air as a rookie. The 17th pick in the draft doesn’t typically flash All-Star potential, but Eason has been an exception.
Here’s a really great blog post from Tim Schmitz that does my work for me. The long and short is this: Eason has the best combined steal percentage and offensive rebound percentage in the entire NBA by a considerable margin.
Eason’s ability to generate extra possessions is an outlier ability. Often, outlier abilities get rewarded with All-Star appearances. Granted, rebounds and steals are usually the domain of role players. That’s fine. Eason has a great opportunity to be one of those “such an elite role player that we have to name him an All-Star” guys.
Alternatively, if he can finish layups consistently, he could be one of those “I’m an All-Star, period” types of All-Stars. Eason is an agent of chaos, and we all love him for it. The next step for him will be to learn to harness that chaos.
Finally, Kevin Porter Jr. certainly has All-Star potential as well. I just don’t see him fulfilling it with the Rockets.
I’ve been pretty transparent about the fact that I don’t think he’s a point guard. Even if he is, he’s not the type of point guard that Jalen Green should be playing alongside. Some fans would have the organization trade their 2021 lottery pick to cater to Porter Jr.
Yeah... good luck with that.
I don’t think Porter Jr. is a small forward, either. I think he can handle minutes at either position, but in my mind, he’s a two. So is Green. It’s something the team needs to sort out ahead of next season.
Porter Jr. would make for an outstanding sixth man, but sixth men don’t normally make All-Star teams. We’ll see what this organization decides about its backcourt - arguably, it’s the most pivotal decision facing them moving forward.
Still, having two guards with All-Star potential isn't the worst problem to have, either.