Houston Rockets’ rookie, Jalen Green, is in the midst of a rough patch. Over his past eight games, he is averaging 10.1 points per game on 28.8% shooting and 15.9% from 3-point range. Some people have described his recent stretch as the “rookie wall,” but, in reality, Green has struggled the entire season.
His -5.8 box plus/minus (BPM) is the worst in the league for qualified players. While that’s not a good sign, it doesn’t mean Green is a bust. He’s super young, lacks NBA physicality, has very little surrounding talent, and has only played 33 games. Plus, he can do this.
Players have different development curves, but one thing remains true, the sooner you play well, the brighter your future is. For example, Luka Doncic and LeBron James were above average NBA players as rookies, a far more rare occurrence than one would expect, and were then MVP candidates by year two. In contrast, Anthony Bennett was horrible as a rookie and out of the league before he turned 25. Your rookie season doesn’t seal your fate, but it can tell us an awful lot.
To get a better idea of what a rookie’s performance means for their future, I took every top-five pick from between the 2008 NBA Draft and the 2018 NBA Draft. The sample of 55 highly drafted players is a good proxy for Green, who was drafted 2nd overall in the 2021 NBA Draft.
In the next step, I took BPM and VORP from each of the 55 players’ first three seasons.
(I chose BPM because it is a better all-in-one metric to compare players than win shares. It gives bonus’ to high usage players even if their efficiency isn’t league-average, something win shares can punish. It also does not overvalue rebounds which can see centers produce massive win share totals as marginal players. VORP is based upon BPM and game time)
After finding the average BPM and VORP of top-five picks in their rookie, second, and third seasons. I then added a little subjectivity to the science.
I decided to break the 55 player sample into five different groups; multiple All-NBA appearances, multiple All-Star appearances, good player or potential future All-Star, solid starter or career, and busts. Due to the brevity of some players' careers, multiple-time All-Star and All-NBA players may not have reached that distinction as of yet, but are tracking to do so.
As a rookie, players that turned out to be busts, on average, produced -3.3 BPM, players that were solid starters averaged -1.95 BPM, good players or potential All-Stars averaged -1.71 BPM, multiple-time All-Star talents averaged -0.91 BPM, and All-NBA talents averaged 1.53 BPM.
Once all of that was done, I then found players who posted similar BPM’s to Jalen Green as rookies.
The Rookies Jalen Green has Produced Most Similarly To
The cutoff I determined for Green was -3 BPM and lower. As stated earlier, Green is currently at -5.8 BPM and even if he were to turn it around in the second half of the season, it’s highly unlikely he’d surpass -3 BPM for his rookie season.
The -3 BPM group contains 13 players. Of that group, seven would be considered busts (Thomas Robinson, Anthony Bennett, Alex Len, Dante Exum, Mario Hezonja, Dragan Bender, Josh Jackson), two became solid rotation players (Derrick Favors, Tristan Thompson), two are borderline All-Stars (Otto Porter Jr, De'Aaron Fox), and two became actual All-Stars (Brandon Ingram, Jalen Brown). Green’s rookie season, unsurprisingly, gives him more in common with recent busts than it does with recent All-Stars or All-NBA players.
However, the four recent success stories offer a roadmap for Green to avoid the dreaded bust distinction. Otto Porter Jr, Brandon Ingram, Jalen Brown, and De’Aaron Fox all struggled mightily as rookies and have ended up being borderline All-Stars or actual All-Stars.
The quartet shares a few similarities with Green. Porter Jr and Ingram were both incredibly thin and ill-equipped to handle NBA physicality as rookies, and Jalen Green and De’Aaron Fox were both incredibly athletic guards who needed to iron out their jumper and harness their athleticism around the rim. If Green does one or both of those, there’s a good chance he avoids busting.
There’s still plenty of time for Green to turn around his rookie season and his career. However, his first 30 games are a reason for concern.
Speaking in probabilities, Jalen Green’s rookie season has significantly reduced the chances that he will ever be a perennial All-NBA caliber player. As no player in the sample with a sub -4 BPM as a rookie has come close to sniffing an All-NBA team, although, Brandon Ingram could one day change that.
Green’s chances of being a multiple-time All-Star have also taken a massive hit. Speaking in probabilities, there’s a greater chance he ends up as a bust than any other outcome.
Fortunately, time is on Green’s side. He has an entire second half to change his projections, and probabilities aren’t prophecy, there will always be those that buck trends. Jalen Green is young and looks young while competing against adults. The start of his career has been abysmal, but what matters is how you finish it.