Sports

Grading the Rockets Young Players at the Halfway Point

Jae'Sean Tate is the most consistent of all the Rockets first and second-year players.
Jae'Sean Tate is the most consistent of all the Rockets first and second-year players. Screenshot
This season has been almost entirely about growth for the Houston Rockets. Wins were never going to come easy and they haven't. At the halfway mark, the team is 11-30 having lost nine of their last 10. This was expected given the complete overhaul of the roster with a bunch of teenagers and young veterans.

But, how exactly have the young Rockets fared individually? Let's take a look at the rookies and second-year players.

Rookies

Jalen Green
Grade: C+


Much was expected of the number two draft pick, but injuries and inconsistency, particularly on the defensive end, have been a problem for the young swing man. The talent and athleticism are certainly there. If he could get more consistency from his outside shot, he could quickly average 20 points per game. But, he needs time to understand defensive concepts that have so far eluded him. He also needs to be stronger. The good news is he clearly works hard and his mistakes are based almost entirely on the inexperience and simply being young. All the tools are there. He just needs time to bring them to bear on the NBA.

Alperen Sengun
Grade: B+


From a standpoint of expectations, few knew exactly what to expect from the youngest Rocket after the draft, but Sengun surprised many people with his footwork and court awareness. From an overall standpoint, he has been the best rookie on the squad before a foot injury temporarily derailed his season (he is expected to return in the next week to 10 days). Like the other young players, Sengun will need improvement going forward. His three-point shooting is better than advertised, but the Rockets are certainly hoping he will be much better in time. He also needs to bulk up, but he is definitely the most advanced in terms of his court skills with still tons of room to improve.

Josh Christopher
Grade: B


Christopher, the only college player and last first round pick taken, struggled to get playing time early in the season. But, injuries and health and safety protocols gave him a window. He has not disappointed. He has rapidly improved his outside shooting and is tenacious on the floor defensively. Christopher needs time to get used to the speed of the NBA game, not in the break at which he excels, but in the half court. And as good an on-the-ball defender as he is already, Christopher, like the rest, will need to get better at defensive rotations. But, his improvement is measurable even in just half a season.

Usman Garuba
Grade: Incomplete


The big man from Spain was considered the biggest project of the four first round picks. He has spent some time in the G League as well as on the NBA roster, but it has been difficult to gauge his progress or where he goes from here. The good news is that he is already a very good defender. He was coming out of Spain. The question is will he be able to add any offense to his defensive resume. We just don't know as of yet and so it's unfair to grade him at the moment.

Young Veterans

Kevin Porter, Jr.
Grade: B-


Setting aside his halftime tantrum and suspension, Porter is taking on perhaps the most difficult adjustment of any Rocket this season, learning to play the point. There are still questions as to whether that is the best spot for him, but the Rockets believe in him and put John Wall into cold storage so Porter could learn the ropes. Porter remains an above average scorer in the NBA and has shown some measurable improvement as a floor general. But he still has a long way to go, which was expected. Where he has really gotten better is defensively, at least in one-on-one situations, but he will need to rein in his temper and cut down on turnovers to be the presence the team needs at the point.

KJ Martin
Grade: C


The highlight reel dunks and blocks remain a staple of Martin's game, but there are still strides he will need to make in order to become a quality NBA player long term. Martin has tended to rely on his athleticism, which is all world, but his distance shooting has regressed slightly since last season and outside of his recovery defense in the paint, he still finds him out of position too often on D. Martin is a talented athlete with a lot of upside, but it feels like he continues to struggle to get time in the rotation, which certainly limits his opportunities.

Armoni Brooks
Grade: C


Like so much of the team, Brooks' numbers have regressed this season thanks to an inconsistent lineup and very young team. Despite his fantastic outside shooting, Brooks is down about 7 percentage points from beyond the arc this season as compared to last. He is taking on a more outsized role as what the Rockets hope will be a off-the-bench sniper and backup point guard, but the struggles of the entire team have no doubt suppressed some of his overall abilities. He'll need to push through the rough season and improve if he wants to make a run in the NBA as a solid rotation role player.

Jae'Sean Tate
Grade: B+


It's almost unfair to put Tate in this group given he is in his mid twenties, but he is in only his second year with the Rockets, so here we go. It's arguable that Tate, after Christian Wood, has been their best player. He has certainly been their most consistent. It's easy to see why teams love the guy. He is all over the floor, a constant source of hustle. He has yet to gain any real consistency from behind the three-point line, but he has not regressed. He remains a very good if undersized defender. Where he has really improved this year is his leadership. When Porter was out, Tate played some point forward and helped to steady the team on offense. There is plenty of room for growth, particularly on offense, for Tate, but he is a consistent bright spot on the roster.
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Jeff Balke is a writer, editor, photographer, tech expert and native Houstonian. He has written for a wide range of publications and co-authored the official 50th anniversary book for the Houston Rockets.
Contact: Jeff Balke