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Amen Thompson and Cam Whitmore were snubbed in the NBA Rising Stars Game

Both Rockets rookies were excluded from the exhibition. Was that right?

New Orleans Pelicans v Houston Rockets
Isn’t Cam Whitmore a rising star?
Photo by Logan Riely/NBAE via Getty Images

Injustice. Travesty. It can be unbearable. It isn’t right - it just isn’t right.

Neither Amen Thompson nor Cam Whitmore made the NBA Rising Stars game?

On the other hand, as fans of teams, we have our cognitive biases. I try (and occasionally fail - I have a life, OK?) to catch every Rockets game. Granted, I write about the team. Still, as the reader, you probably watch a lot of Rockets games as well. At the same time, we watch other teams. You’re up for Kings/Hawks on a Tuesday if you love this sport.

Still, watching the Rockets is different. There’s an investment. That’s where those biases come into play. There’s no way this many rookies have been better than Cam “Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am” Whitmore this season.

Is there?

How do Rockets rookies compare?

Looking at the rookies who were selected, they mostly fall into a handful of categories.

You’ve got players on bad teams (Victor Wembanyama, Brandon Miller, Scoot Henderson, Bilal Coulibaly) with an opportunity to post lofty basic counting stats. You’ve got players on decent-to-good teams playing a relatively scaled-down role (Lively II, Jaime Jacquez Jr., Cason Wallace, Brandin Podziemski, Keyonte George, Jordan Hawkins). These guys have the advantage of playing off of the gravity of established superstars.

Then, you’ve got Chet Holmgren.

We will remove him, Wembanyama, and Miller from the equation. Neither Thompson nor Whitmore should have been selected over any of that trio. In fact, we’re going to remove Lively II as well. He’s a starter on a playoff team - he’s in.

What about the rest?

The first thing we’re going to do is look at each of these guys on a per-100 possession basis. That levels the playing field - if we adjust their basic counting stats to account for time played, how do they stack up?

Thompson and Whitmore vs the field Per-100

Amen Thompson: 18.9 points per game (PPG), 12.8 rebounds per game (RPG), 6.4 assists per game (APG), 3.1 steals per game (SPG), 3.7 turnovers per game (TO), 53.7 True Shooting % (TS%)

Cameron Whitmore: 32.9 PPG, 11.0 RPG, 1.1 APG, 1.8 SPG, 1.7 TO, 59.8 TS%

Bilal Coulibaly: 14.7 PPG, 7.1 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.6 SPG, 2.4 TO, 56.7 TS%

Keyonte George: 21.9 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 8.4 APG, 0.8 SPG, 3.0 TO, 52.7 TS%

Jordan Hawkins: 23.2 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 3.1 APG, 0.8 SPG, 1.8 TO, 56.5 TS%

Scoot Henderson: 22.9 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 8.5 APG, 1.1 SPG, 5.6 TO, 47.4 TS%

Jaime Jaquez Jr.: 22.3 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 4.4 APG, 1.8 SPG, 2.8 TO, 58.9 TS%

Brandin Podziemski: 18.0 PPG, 10.5 RPG, 6.3 APG, 1.6 SPG, 0.5 TO, 54.9 TS%

Cason Wallace: 15.3 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.7 SPG, 1.1 TO, 63.0 TS%

My goodness. If you felt righteous indignation before...

Quick side note: yes, I know that per-75 is better. That’s how many possessions a starter typically plays, blah blah. Basketball Reference only provides per-100. This took about 20 minutes. The author wasn’t about to divide each stat by 0.25 to add another 10 minutes to an already-tedious task. The point holds - this is how each player stacks up in terms of basic counting stats on an even playing field.

Yet...these are still just basic counting stats. We should be looking at more before we gather the pitchforks (although, spoiler alert: keep them in reaching distance).

Thompson and Whitmore vs the field in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) and Box Plus/Minus (BPM)

Amen Thompson: 0.3 VORP, 0.4 BPM

Cam Whitmore: 0.3 VORP, 1.5 BPM

Bilal Coulibaly: -0.5 VORP, -3.8 BPM

Keyonte George: -0.4 VORP, -3.7 BPM

Jordan Hawkins: - 0.0 VORP, -2.0 BPM

Scoot Henderson: -1.3 VORP, -6.9 BPM

Jaime Jaquez Jr.: -0.1 VORP, -2.2 BPM

Brandin Podziemski: 0.3 VORP, -0.6 BPM

Cason Wallace: 0.4 VORP, -0.4 BPM

Don’t shoot the messenger. Unless your name happens to be Scoot Henderson, that is. In that event, you’re likely to miss anyway.

Did the Rockets get ripped off?

Per-100 stats and two advanced metrics still don’t capture everything. Here’s where watching teams comes in handy. There’s a spiritual war between stat nerds and hoop heads, and as with most (not all) wars, both sides have a case. The eye test counts - and it probably counts for more.

Cason Wallace is perhaps the best point-of-attack defender on the second seed in the Western Conference. He scores with absurd efficiency for a rookie. He belongs in the Rising Stars game.

Jordan Hawkins does too. The Pelicans are much better than the Rockets, and Hawkins is a legitimate role player for that team. It’s fair to reward rookies who come into a situation with pressure and expectations and thrive.

That’s why Jaquez Jr. deserves his spot too. The Heat are on a skid now, but things looked different when these rosters were announced. He’s a high-feel, do-it-all wing who the (previously) contending Heat are content to put on the floor.

George is a fringe case. I’d lean towards arguing that the BPM is too nasty to merit selection over Thompson or Whitmore, but you could make the case that he’s been pretty good for a better team. It’s a toughie.

Otherwise? Hogwash. Malarky. There aren’t enough silly, old-timey words to describe how brutal the exclusion of Thompson and Whitmore is.

It’s fair to say that none of the above stats capture what Coulibaly is about either. He’s flashed the potential to be an elite multi-positional defensive wing in this league. Yet, that’s true of Amen Thompson as well, and he’s blowing Coulibaly out of the water by every measure we’ve looked at here - and he plays for a much better team.

Podziemski is good. He’s going to be a good player. He’s also been less impressive than either Thompson or Whitmore across the board, and his team has a worse record. Let’s dabble in some conspiracy theory stuff here. Podziemski was selected over Thompson and Whitmore because he’s a Golden State Warrior. Sorry, not sorry.

Henderson? Are you kidding me? A -6.9 BPM. A sub-50% TS%. Ten thousand turnovers per 100. The Blazers are one of the worst teams in the NBA.

What’s the message here? Just getting shots and ball-handling reps up merits a reward? If Thompson or Whitmore were on a tanking team, they’d have the big counting stats too. They’d each look better than Henderson.

Yes, he still has a high ceiling. That’s not the point at all. Scoot Henderson is having an abysmal rookie season, and he’s representing the Blazers in the Rising Stars Challenge anyway.

That’s just not fair.