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Houston Rockets: How Jabari Smith Jr. can win Rookie of the Year 

N.B. Lindberg
2022 NBA Rookie Portraits
2022 NBA Rookie Portraits / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages
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The Houston Rockets haven’t had a Rookie of the Year since Steve Francis split the award with Elton Brand in 1999-00. Jalen Green, last season’s second overall pick, finished a distant fourth in Rookie of the Year voting, leaving Jabari Smith Jr., this season’s third overall pick, to end the Rockets’ two-decades-long drought.

For a player who was the projected first overall pick for much of the lead up to the 2022 NBA Draft, Smith feels like one of the more under-the-radar top three picks in recent history. In an ESPN poll, not one NBA scout, coach, or executive believed Smith will be the best player from the 2022 draft.

The general sentiment is that Smith is a player with a tremendously high floor but whose ceiling is more hobbit hole than Sistine Chapel. However, last season’s Rookie of the Year, Scottie Barnes, was viewed in a similar light. 

A player’s long-term trajectory has little bearing on their Rookie of the Year odds, but it does influence who enters the year as a front-runner. Here’s how Jabari Smith Jr. can prove the doubters wrong and join Ralph Sampson and Steve Francis as the only Rockets to claim the Rookie of the Year. 

The anatomy of a Rookie of the Year 

Going back to the 2000-01 season, when Mike Miller won the Rookie of the Year, the average Rookie of the Year recipient has averaged 17.1 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 4.5 assists per game on 46.2% shooting and 31% shooting from three. Which is essentially Tobias Harris’ full-season line, but with slightly worse shooting efficiency. 

In terms of advanced metrics, the Rookie of the Year averaged 5.4 win shares (WS), .102 win shares per 48 (WS/48), a box plus/minus (BPM) of 1.14, and a value over a replacement player (VORP) of 1.96. That line translates quite well to Derrick White’s marks last season. 

Contributing at the level of Tobias Harris and Derrick White as a rookie is incredibly impressive. These are two players who play vital roles on championship contenders. We tend to look at ROY winners as future stars, but when they’re winning the award, they’re usually producing like a high-end role player. 

A key variable in winning Rookie of the Year is availability. The winner, on average, played 74.3 games and averaged 34.1 minutes per contest. The lowest game total was 51, shared by LaMelo Ball and Kyrie Irving, and the lowest minutes per game was Malcolm Brogdan’s 26.4, who also has a compelling argument for the weakest Rookie of the Year of the millennium. 

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