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Rockets 2021-2022 player previews: Jalen Green

Let the rookie be a rookie.

NBA: Preseason-Houston Rockets at San Antonio Spurs Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Remember when probably the wildest college football season to ever kickoff took place back in 2007?

Throughout the year, there became a common theme where whoever was ranked second in the AP Top 25 poll would end up losing. If you were to use that same ideology, and apply it to the NBA Draft and change being ranked number two to being drafted number two, you’d notice that in recent years — there’s been great players drafted at that spot, but most didn’t (or haven’t yet) lived up to what their draft position would imply.

Jalen Green, the latest number two pick, has echoed often that he believes he is the best in the draft and should’ve been the top pick. If he does end up being the best in his class, in my eyes, he’d be just the third player since 2000 that was picked second but ended up being the best of his class; joining a list of Kevin Durant who was picked in 2007 and Brandon Ingram who arrived in 2016.

Whether it’s a press conference, Summer League, or pre-season game, Green always gives off the impression that he has something to prove. Most guys believe that they should’ve been number one or at least say it to build confidence, but this feels different.

It’s almost as if he was insulted, irked, by the fact that the Detroit Pistons crushed his dream of going number one by giving Cade Cunningham a dial instead of him. As time’s passed, there’s been a metaphoric chip that has grown upon his shoulders — and the Rockets are quietly celebrating its emergence.

If Houston is going to tick this year, they’ll need Christian Wood, Kevin Porter Jr, and the rest of the guys to be special, but it can’t be done without Green. In his rookie season, he’ll likely be tasked with two things, which are to get buckets and then stay in front of his man on the other end. The facilitating duties are KPJ’s and the rebounding will be a committee effort by the bigs, so all he has to do is do what he does best, which, of course, is putting the ball in the hoop.

During the pre-season, Green was more or less looking to find his footing and adjust to the speed of the game. He started with a 4-14 outing where he scored 12 points against the Wizards, then shined against the Heat where he dropped 20 points on 6-15 shooting and knocked down 4 treys. He followed his best outing with his most subtle one, as he scored 5 points on 2-6 shooting against Toronto before wrapping things up with a 4-12 performance against the Spurs where he scored 16.

But overall, those rough pre-season nights just aren’t a big deal.

The reason why we praise rookies for big nights but then say be patient when they have off-nights is that when they are great, they are flashing their potential, but when they struggle they’re just doing what they are supposed to.

Rookies aren’t supposed to dominate the league. Sure, more young players have become stars as the sport continues to evolve, but they still are going to have their bad nights. Regarding Green, what’s most intriguing is how many nights will he flash that all-time scorer potential that many have been raving about.

Truthfully, since he’s a scorer, he’ll be slandered whether he struggles or excels. There has been an ongoing trend where young players are labeled as empty stat guys because their numbers don’t lead to wins (as if they weren’t drafted in the lottery, by a team who typically stays in or around the lottery for a few years).

An example of this is Devin Booker, who went from being dubbed as an empty stat guy to being the best player for Phoenix during their run to last year’s NBA Finals, or Trae Young who heard that same tune then orchestrated a run to the eastern conference finals earlier this year.

Don’t buy into the empty stats dialogue with Green. Let him go out and play his game as he gains experience and develops a feel for the league’s speed and physicality, because as we saw with Booker, Young, and others - those numbers will become anything but empty once the team is ready to compete.