When the Houston Rockets drafted Tari Eason, some people liked the pick and thought Eason would eventually be a contributor. More of a project than anything else this season. There were also some draft experts who felt he didn't have a "high enough basketball IQ," and that's why he wasn't a top-10 pick.
Eason has proved many naysayers wrong, and he isn't halfway through his rookie season yet. In limited minutes, Eason is number one in steals and number three in offensive rebounds for all rookies. He showed again last night why he is one of the best rookies in the league in the Rockets’ win over the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Tari Eason's ranking amongst rookies
Most of the hype around the Rockets’ draft centered around their number three overall pick Jabari Smith and rightfully so. Smith was the number one overall choice for most of the draft cycle before the Orlando Magic pulled a Magic trick (sorry) by selecting Paolo Banchero number one.
Smith has had some good moments this season and shown flashes of what could be, but he has struggled from the field and is still a work in progress. On the other hand, Eason has been going 100 mph since Summer League and hasn't slowed down since. Here are some of the rankings for Eason amongst rookies. Keep in mind he is only 13th in total minutes played for rookies.
1st in steals
3rd in offensive rebounds
5th total rebounds
5th in blocks
8th in three-point percentage (25 or more games)
8th in ft made
9th in total points
11th in three-pointers made
As I mentioned earlier, the stats Eason is racking up are with him playing only 19.4 minutes a game. Number one in steals shows Eason is locked in on the defensive end and puts constant pressure on the opposing team. The fact that Eason is third in offensive rebounding even though he is not a center is pretty remarkable by itself, but in only 19 minutes per game should be talked about a lot more.
The most surprising part of all the stats above is that Eason is eighth in three-point percentage. Coming out of college, one of the main talking points was that Eason was not a good shooter from outside the paint. However, Eason has actually been one of the Rockets best three-point shooters. The sample size is growing and goes beyond just being a fluke.
History-making night for Tari Eason
Eason was everywhere on the court for the Rockets in their win Wednesday night over the Thunder. With his 12 offensive rebounds, Eason did something only one other rookie has done in the last 26 years.
Eason is only the second rookie with 12 or more offensive rebounds since 1996-97. The other rookie was Alex Stepheson, who crazily, ironically enough, did it vs. the Rockets in Houston in 2016. Every rookie ahead of him on the list played 25+ minutes.
Eason had the second-best offensive-rebounding game in franchise history, only behind the great Hakeem Olajuwon, who had games of 15 and 14 in 1985. It was the fifth-most offensive rebounds by a rookie in NBA history. Eason seems to be getting better as the season goes on instead of dropping off like a lot of rookies do halfway through their first season as they begin to hit the rookie wall.
This quote from former LSU head coach Will Wade is a great example of Eason's mindset.
"The best quality he's got is usually when kids have success, they relax," former LSU head coach Will Wade told reporters in March. "The more success he has, the harder he works, which is usually the exact opposite."
Here are Eason's post-game comments on the floor after last night's win.
“I believe I am one of the top rookies in this league.”
Here is Eason in the locker room speaking about getting passed over for the Rising Star Game
“I had to get it out the mud my whole life. I’m going to continue that mentality wherever I go.”
Eason has played with a chip on his shoulder his entire basketball career. He believes he should be considered one of the best rookies in the entire league, and looking at his play and the numbers, it is hard to disagree with him. Eason has been one of the best rookies so far in the entire rookie class.
With this type of work ethic and mentality already in his young NBA career, can you imagine where Eason will be in two or three years? The Rockets seem to have a player in Eason who can be part of the Rockets core for many years.