No, Cam Whitmore isn't ready to start for the Rockets yet

Houston Rockets v Chicago Bulls
Houston Rockets v Chicago Bulls / Jamie Sabau/GettyImages

After starting the 2023-24 season on a six-game winning streak, the Houston Rockets have been unable to recapture the early season magic. The Rockets have struggled against teams like the lowly Detroit Pistons and have lost five of their last six games.

The Rockets' lack of a closer has been on full display all season, as we've seen Fred VanVleet, Dillon Brooks, and Alperen Sengun all serve as late-game scoring threats in crunch time. And we all know how that goes.

If you don't have a steady single source of buckets in the clutch, you don't have a closer. Jalen Green was expected to take on this role, of course, as he was compared to Bradley Beal and Zach LaVine before entering the draft.

Furthermore, Green was compared to Devin Booker and Anthony Edwards after the first two years of his career, as he was on the same statistical track as those two. Green didn't take the third-year leap that was expected.

In fact, Green has regressed to the extent that he can't be relied on for reliable scoring altogether.

This has led many to clamor for Rockets rookie Cam Whitmore to start in place of Green. And while Whitmore has immense potential, as he's a high-flyer and has averaged 9.7 points while making 50.9 percent of his shots and 38 percent of his threes (on 3.1 attempts), this isn't a viable alternative.

Whitmore's lack of playing time hasn't been because of his offensive capability, but rather because of his defensive inability. So what exactly would change?

Time for Rockets fans to pump the brakes.

Green is not an all-league defender. That much is clear. But he's a better defender than Whitmore at this juncture.

And understandably so. He's in his third season and understands defensive principles and concepts at this level.

He's also been the best version of himself on that end this season, which is aided by his athleticism. The pathway to minutes for young players under Ime Udoka is defensive excellence.

Whitmore isn't capable of providing that right now.

Furthermore, both players are very similar on the offensive end. Neither are high IQ players, as we've seen both players miss open teammates, and opt for lower percentage looks. 

The processing isn't stellar from either player, which is understandable, as both players are pure bucket-getters. Green is further along than Whitmore, however, as he's in his third season, compared to Whitmore's rookie season. 

Green had these same deficiencies as a rookie, so it's not like Whitmore has no chance of improving this facet of his game.

He's just not better than Green right now. As a facilitator, Whitmore is still very raw. Granted, Green is as well, but he's able to scan the floor and make the right reads when necessary. 

This was on display when the Rockets played the Philadelphia 76ers in late December in the waning moments of the game.

Jalen resists the urge to play hero ball and makes the pocket pass to Jock Landale, who was open. Do we think Whitmore would've made the same decision at this moment in the game?

Or would he have had the mindset of getting a shot off, regardless of whether it was the right play? We likely all know the answer to this.

At the end of the day, the frustration with Green's play is warranted. He should be better. He'd even tell you that.

But the yearning for Whitmore to replace Green in the starting lineup is more of a reflection of the lack of other options on the roster. If that's the cause of the conversation, Green should continue to start. 

He's much further along than Whitmore at this juncture.