For teams like the Rockets, All-Star weekend is mostly time off. Three of the young guys will get their first chance to enjoy the festivities, but everyone else will get a break from the grind. No doubt they would prefer to be in the thick of the All-Star action because it would mean that had a better team than the one that is currently third worst in the NBA, but this is part of the process (we hope) that eventually leads to brighter days ahead.
So, as the Rockets head towards the break, we have some thoughts about the weekend and where they go from here.
Jalen Green has a shot at winning the dunk contest, but does it matter?
One of the early concerns one might have about the Rockets No. 2 pick in the last draft is that he is loaded with highlight plays, but beset by inconsistency everywhere else. Getting into the dunk contest, but not being even in the discussion for Rookie of the Year is a perfect reflection of the fact that he has an incredibly high ceiling, but he hasn't come close to reaching it in his first year. Having just turned 20, there is time, but we wonder if the recognition of his freakish athleticism comes without other merits that seem more important to not only his development, but that of the entire franchise. After all, the last Rocket to be in the dunk contest was Chase Buddinger, who is now playing professional volleyball.
Jae'Sean Tate and Alperen Sengun deserve to be in the Rising Stars tournament.
Perhaps no one more so than Tate, who, when you look up the word "hustle" in the dictionary, his photo is next to it. But Sengun as well, who, a few no-look passes aside, is perhaps the least flashy rookie we've seen in a while who has the chance to be a starter for a long time in the NBA. Neither are particularly poised to take home Rising Stars MVP honors — games like these are built more for players like Green, who will also participate — but for all their hard work and progress as young players, it feels like a just reward for the both of them.
Only one trade at the deadline means the game plan has not changed.
The Rockets still have Eric Gordon. They've added Dennis Schroder. They didn't get younger and even more inexperienced at the trade deadline as some expected, but that just means they will continue to do what they have done all year: feature as many young players as possible. And the one trade they did make opens up additional minutes for Sengun. By the end of the season, they want every young player deserving of minutes to get as many opportunities as they can. This season is not about this year, but about what is to come.
Whatever improvements we see, they clearly won't be that dramatic.
And with plenty of minutes for youngsters comes more losses and likely fewer glaring signs of improvement. Expect everything to be incremental. It's a marathon, not a sprint and the plan is to have players who feel more like veterans by year two and three even if they are barely into their twenties. So, don't expect Green to suddenly average 30 points per game or Kevin Porter, Jr. to suddenly turn into Chris Paul. All that really matters here is the trajectory of the team's growth, not the total amount of it, by the time the offseason rolls around.