One way or another, the Houston Rockets’ future is tied to the development of Jalen Green and Alperen Sengun. The pair of rookies have flashed impact potential but have also mixed in their fair share of rookie mistakes.
Green has had two games where he has looked like a superstar and five where he looked like he should be back on the G-League Ignite.
Sengun, in his quest for highlight-reel passes, has been a turnover machine, but when it works, it’s a thing of beauty.
The pair have tremendous individual potential, but what may ultimately define the Rockets is how well they work together. And to unlock the pair’s potential, the Rockets need to look north deep in the Rocky Mountains and take a page out of the Denver Nuggets playbook.
Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray have grown together to become one of the most dangerous pick-and-roll combinations in the league. The pair have similar skillsets to Green and Sengun as well. Green and Murray are three-level scorers capable of creating their own shot, and Sengun and Jokic are both skilled bigs with incredible passing abilities.
Green and Sengun have a long way to go to match Murray and Jokic, and in Sengun’s case, he’ll likely never be an MVP, but how the pair is used on the court should be implemented into the Rockets offense.
Here’s a simple pick-and-roll between Jokic and Murray that gets Jokic an easy shot as the defense gravitates toward Murray.
No play in the NBA is simple, and making it look that easy takes thousands of reps. Green has only assisted Sengun twice this season, but he has set up both Wood and Theis five times apiece. The Rockets should feature the pair in the pick-and-roll more often.
However, what makes the pair’s pick-and-roll potential so tantalizing is Sengun’s passing abilities. Sengun has elite passing vision and the daring to attempt them. He isn’t a finished product, but the tools are there for him to be one of the best passing bigs like Nikola Jokic.
What has made the Murray-Jokic pick-and-roll so dangerous, is that it can just as easily be the Jokic-Murray pick-and-roll. Murray routinely set screens for Jokic to create opportunities for the MVP center but it also creates easy looks for himself.
Will Sengun and Green look that stellar early on? Absolutely not. Jokic might be the best passer in the league and Murray is miles ahead of where Green is now. However, the pair didn’t enter the league with a psychic connection, they built it over years of practice.
It is still early but the pair have flashed the potential to run an effective two-man game. In this clip, Green finds Sengun on the perimeter, Sengun wastes no time driving towards Green’s man to set up an easy dribble handoff that gets Green an open look from three.
In this clip, the pair operate a standard pick-and-roll. Sengun sets a screen for Green and then darts quickly to the basket. The Lakers try to jump the action and both defenders converge on Green. Sengun aborts the screen and cuts to the rim, which gives the Rockets the advantage if Green can complete the pass. Green keeps both defenders engaged and then throws a bullet to Sengun in the post who does a spin before slamming it home.
The Rockets should explore more actions where Sengun is the primary ball-handler. His jumper isn’t there yet, but this season isn’t about offensive efficiency, it’s about developing for the future.
The Rockets should take a look at what has been going on in the mile-high city the past few seasons to unlock their precocious rookies. Because when they do, they already look special.