Revisiting Houston Rockets star Jalen Green's insane month of March

Houston Rockets star Jalen Green had an absurd March in 2023-24. Why?
Houston Rockets star Jalen Green had an absurd March in 2023-24. Why? / Tim Warner/GettyImages

Everybody likes a neat, tidy explanation. Phenonom A is explained by Variable X. Great. Now we can move on.

Only, life can be complicated. Sometimes, there are competing - if not conflicting - explanations. This could have happened for one of several reasons, and we're still determining which.

The Houston Rockets must wonder why Jalen Green was so incredible this March. With averages of 27.7 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 3.9 assists per game, Green looked like one of the best players in the NBA.

If you're new around here - Green doesn't always look like one of the best players in the NBA. His struggles have been well-documented throughout the first three years of his career.

What happened?

Houston Rockets star has mysterious March

There are two, competing explanations.

The first is that Green's statistical output increased in the absence of an injured Alperen Sengun. There's at least some validity in that position. Sengun is typically operating on the interior. With Jabari Smith Jr. at the 5, Green suddenly had wide open space to operate in.

Some will protest that the Rockets' spacing scarcely improved in Sengun's absence. Amen Thompson, an even poorer shooter, was inserted into the starting lineup. Sure, but there's a marked difference between a wing trying to cut into the dunker's spot and a big man who mostly camps in the paint.

So, problem solved - right? Fire up the trade machine: Green is better without Sengun.

Not so fast. The Rockets' schedule was exceedingly light in March. Green didn't explode because Sengun was hurt. He exploded because beating up the Washington Wizards is easy, didn't he?

That depends - how did Green fare against superior competition?

Houston Rockets star still shines against stiff competition

We isolated Green's stats against the seven teams with playoff aspirations that the Rockets played in March. For context, those teams were the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Clippers, Sacramento Kings, Cleveland Cavaliers, Chicago Bulls, Oklahoma City Thunder, and Dallas Mavericks.

In those seven games, Green averaged 24.1 points while shooting 46.6% from the field and 32.2% from three-point range to go with 6.4 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game. In other words, outside of a shaky three-point percentage, Green was still outstanding against competitive teams during March.

Let's talk about sample size. Sure, seven games isn't much. Keep in mind that we're filtering out Green's games against lottery teams. When you include those games, the numbers look a lot gaudier. The good news is that the Rockets will play against lottery teams every year.

Even a full month of NBA basketball is a limited sample size. Yet, it's large enough to hold at least some significance. The facts remain: Green played well against playoff teams, and exceedingly well in general, for an entire month alongside a stretch big. That's noteworthy.

There are other caveats. The Cavaliers were playing without Evan Mobley. The Thunder were missing Shai Gilgeous-Alexander. The Kings and Bulls had playoff aspirations at the time of these games, but neither made the cut.

Don't be myopic. Green shouldn't have to run the gauntlet against a slate of superteams to prove his worth. Alex Caruso plays on the Bulls, and he's supposed to make Green's life difficult. Gilgeous-Alexander wouldn't have been his primary assignment anyway, and the Cavaliers often appear better without one or the other of Allen or Mobley.

These were good teams, and Green played well against them anyway. Sure, he turned in stinkers against the Mavericks and Clippers. Green will likely always be inconsistent, but his run in March undeniably points to his remaining potential as a volume-scoring star.

Can he reach that potential alongside Sengun?

Houston Rockets should evaluate duo next year

We're not sure. The Rockets shouldn't be either. They should be keeping an eye on the synergy between Green and Sengun in 2024-25.

It's worth noting that one of Green's best performances in March came when Sengun was still healthy. In a win against a healthy Suns team on March 2, Green had 34 points on 12/23 shooting from the field to go with 9 rebounds and 4 assists.

If March is a small sample size, seven games against playoff teams are even smaller - and one game can't be found with a microscope. Still, there are basketball reasons to believe that the pair can co-exist.

It may require some adjustments to Sengun's usage. He can draw his defender out of the paint and open up driving lanes by functioning as a passing hub in the high post or from the elbow. Sengun can also add more dribble hand-off actions to his attack.

He can also hang around the perimeter in a 5-out system. Sure, he's a suspect shooter. He's still a threat to knock down a wide-open three. Sengun's primary assignment will stick with him on the perimeter, or else he'll make them pay one way or another.

At least, we hope so.

Otherwise, this might get complicated.