Jalen Green

Rockets To Exercise 2023/24 Options For 2021 First-Rounders

The Rockets plan to exercise their third-year team options on all four of their 2021 first-round draft picks, according to Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle (subscription required). The four players, whose salaries are set to be guaranteed for 2023/24, are Jalen Green ($9,891,480), Alperen Sengun ($3,536,280), Usman Garuba ($2,588,400) and Josh Christopher ($2,485,200).

As Feigen writes, it’s normally a formality that teams pick up the rookie scale options after first-rounders have played one season, but exercising Garuba’s after an injury-played campaign limited him to 24 appearances in ’21/22 was a little less certain. However, the No. 23 overall pick of 2021 had a strong offseason and training camp and showcased solid play at EuroBasket, helping Spain win the gold medal, Feigen notes.

Green, the No. 2 overall pick last year, averaged 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 2.6 APG on .426/.343/.797 shooting in 67 games (31.9 MPG). The 20-year-old had a slow start in ’21/22 but an excellent second half, averaging 22.1 PPG, 3.8 RPG and 3.2 APG on .476/.387/.756 shooting in 24 games (34.6 MPG) after the All-Star break. He was named to the All-Rookie First Team.

Sengun, who is set to become a full-time starter in ’22/23, had a productive rookie season on a per-minute basis but struggled with fouls, which is typical for young big men. The Turkish center averaged 9.6 PPG, 5.5 RPG, 2.6 APG, 0.8 SPG and 0.9 BPG on .474/.258/.711 shooting in 72 games (13 starts, 20.7 MPG). He was the No. 16 overall selection.

Christopher, the No. 24 overall pick of last year’s draft, also had a solid rookie campaign, averaging 7.9 PPG, 2.5 RPG and 2.0 APG on .448/.296/.735 shooting in 74 games (18.0 MPG). The combo guard is looking to improve as a decision-maker entering year two.

Texas Notes: Wood, Crowder, Collins, Green

The Mavericks‘ plan to start JaVale McGee at center and utilize his fellow five Christian Wood off the bench may test the limits of the team culture second-year head coach Jason Kidd has been cultivating in Dallas, writes Callie Caplan of The Dallas Morning News. So far though, Wood appears willing to play whatever role is asked of him.

“I’m not really worried about who starts the game, more so who’s finishing the game,” Wood said on Monday, addressing a potential reserve role in Dallas. “If people were asking, ‘How would he feel coming off the bench?’ I’m not worried. It’s something that most likely will happen in talks with extensions and talks with free agency, but during the season, it’s not going to get me off my pivot.” 

Wood enjoyed a typically productive 2021/22 season on a lottery-bound Rockets team. He averaged 17.9 PPG, 10.1 RPG, 2.3 APG, 1.0 BPG and 0.8 SPG in 68 games. He also connected on 39% of a high-volume 4.9 three-point attempts.

Meanwhile, during Kidd’s first season as head coach last year, the Mavericks secured a 52-30 record and returned to the Western Conference Finals for the first time since 2011, when Kidd was the team’s starting point guard.

Ahead of the 2022 draft, Houston flipped Wood to the Mavericks. In return, the Rockets received several veteran role players, but the highlight of the deal was Dallas’ No. 26 first-round draft pick, which Houston then traded to the Timberwolves in exchange for the No. 29 pick and two future second-rounders.

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Though Suns power forward Jae Crowder appears to be headed for a divorce with Phoenix, the Mavericks are not interested in trading for the veteran stretch four, tweets John Gambadoro of Arizona Sports 98.7 FM Phoenix. Crowder served as the starting power forward for consecutive Finals teams from 2020-21, first with the Heat and then for Phoenix. In 67 contests last season, the 6’6″ vet averaged 9.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG, 1.9 APG and 1.4 SPG, while connecting on 34.8% of his 5.4 triples a night and 78.9% of his 1.3 looks at the charity stripe.
  • Spurs power forward Zach Collins, kicking off a new NBA season healthy at last, is excited to show what he can do this year in San Antonio, per Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link). “I don’t think you guys have seen the best of me yet,” Collins said. “Definitely the best I’ve felt physically in my career.” The 6’11” big man missed most of the 2021/22 season while recovering from an ankle injury. In 28 games, he averaged 7.8 PPG and 5.5 RPG on .490/.341/.800 shooting splits.
  • Second-year Rockets shooting guard Jalen Green, the No. 2 pick in the 2021 draft out of the G League Ignite, is a devout workaholic, according to his trainer Mike HillKelly Iko of The Athletic spoke with Hill about how Green approached the second half of his rookie season and his preparations for 2022/23. Among other areas, the duo worked on improving Green’s strength, ball handling, and pick-and-roll abilities.

Stephen Silas Discusses Unexpected Challenges With Rockets

Stephen Silas didn’t know he was walking into a rebuilding situation when the Rockets hired him as their head coach prior to the 2020/21 season. Silas was taking over a team that had two perennial All-Stars in James Harden and Russell Westbrook and was coming off a long string of playoff appearances.

Both players recommended Silas for the job, but they both issued trade requests before the start of training camp, with Westbrook being shipped to Washington during the preseason and Harden forcing his way to Brooklyn after eight regular season games. Silas discusses that sudden transition, and all the challenges that followed, in an interview with Sam Amick of The Athletic.

“You’re trying to just tackle each situation as it came, whether it was the (Harden) stuff that you read in the paper or online and then having to answer questions about it, or the Russ stuff,” Silas said. “All those things weren’t exactly the things that I thought I was going to be talking about in my first few days as a head coach, and my first few days of training camp having to answer all those questions. But the task is there, and you just kind of do it. It’s hard to say that it was especially hard because I think it’s always going to be hard (laughs). But a task comes, there’s a mountain to climb, so you climb it. There’s a big wave coming in; you move out of the way.”

Silas also credited the Rockets’ ownership and general manager Rafael Stone for supporting him amid the turmoil.

“We were tested early, but my relationship with ownership, my relationship with management is good,” he added. “Through all of this kind of stuff that was going on, that was the thing that I was able to grasp onto and hold onto was knowing that they were in my corner because they selected me.”

Silas addressed several other topics during the interview:

On the progress of his young backcourt, Jalen Green and Kevin Porter Jr.:

“I think Jalen Green’s growth and improvement encapsulates our season. Early in the season, he was really struggling. He was pressing, not doing what he was used to doing, which is scoring points easily. And it was hard for him. But he worked through it. We stuck with him. And he got better slowly but surely as the season went along and ended up where at the end of the season, he was playing great. Same thing with Kevin Porter Jr. He started the season off turning the ball over quite a bit, learning how to play the point guard position. I think he led the league in turnovers early in the season, but as the season went along, he started to understand.”

On the challenges faced by center Alperen Sengun as he adjusted to the NBA during his rookie season:

“He makes things happen when he has the ball in his hands, whether he’s in the low post, scoring or making passes in the high post, at the elbow, making plays for his teammates. He does a good job of helping his teammates play well. But part of that growth and part of that struggle at the beginning of the season is that nobody knew how to play with him, and he didn’t know how to play with our guys. So as the season went along, it became more natural for guys to know when those passes are coming, and for him to know that this is where you’re gonna most likely get the ball and this is where you can be effective.”

On what he likes about Jabari Smith, the No. 3 pick in this year’s draft:

“He is a two-way player and very much a difference-maker as far as his length and his defensive instincts and his rebounding and his grit. He’s a quiet kid, and he can fool you sometimes. When he gets on the court, he is intense and competitive and has an edge to him — which I love. So yeah, his shooting is very good, and that will be his thing offensively, as well as his ability to shot fake and drive the ball and get to the rim, use his length, his offensive rebounding and whatnot. But it’s not very often when you have a high, high pick where you can say ‘Wow, he’s really good on both ends.’ And you can see it, where he could be a difference-maker on both ends of the floor.”

On his relationship with Harden and Westbrook, considering the circumstances of their departure:

“All three people who you mentioned (including former Rockets general manager Daryl Morey) had a big part in me being here and being a head coach in the NBA. So when I see them, there’s definitely no ill will. I’ve been around the NBA my whole life, so I understand the business part of it and everything that goes into that. But yeah, I’m good. I’m good with those guys, and I appreciate them for putting their stamp on my head coaching career.”

Western Notes: Iguodala, Kuminga, Grizzlies, Rockets

After ESPN analyst Stephen A. Smith claimed that Warriors guard Jonathan Kuminga hasn’t been focused, his teammate from last season, Andre Iguodala came to his defense, Tristi Rodriguez of NBC Sports Bay Area writes. Smith suggested that Kuminga’s actions and attitude have shown a lack of discipline this year.

“My young fella, I’m on his head,” Iguodala said on his “Point Forward” podcast, as relayed by Rodriguez. “He took some licks from Stephen A. I don’t know how warranted they were because from what I heard he been doing what he supposed to do this summer.” 

Kuminga, 19, averaged 9.3 points and 3.3 rebounds in 16.9 minutes per game last season, shooting 51% from the floor. It’s unclear exactly what Smith heard — possibly related to Kuminga’s work ethic or demeanor — but Iguodala seems to be confident in the second-year player’s progress.

Here are some other notes from the West:

  • Damichael Cole of the Memphis Commercial Appeal examines which young NBA cores may challenge the Grizzlies the most in 2022/23. Led by Ja Morant‘s stellar campaign, Memphis finished with the second-best record in the league last season, surprising onlookers. Among the teams Cole listed are the Timberwolves, who sport a trio of D’Angelo Russell, Anthony Edwards and Karl-Anthony Towns — plus recently acquired Rudy Gobert from the Jazz.
  • In the second part of a series, Kelly Iko of The Athletic examined the results of his Rockets fans survey. Among the questions Iko asked was which Rockets player needs to take the biggest leap next season, with Jalen Green finishing first. Green averaged 17.3 points during his rookie campaign last season, shooting 43% from the floor and 34% from deep.

Southwest Notes: Pelicans, Ntilikina, Green

Following an exciting, albeit brief, postseason run this spring, the Pelicans face an intriguing 2022/23. The team expects to get 2021 All-Star forward Zion Williamson back from the foot injury that kept him sidelined last year, and hopes to build on the chemistry its players exhibited in their hard-fought six-game playoff loss to the Suns.

In a new mailbag, Will Guillory of The Athletic addresses questions about the team’s willingness to add 33-year-old All-Star forward Kevin Durant in a trade package centered around draft picks and young star forward Brandon Ingram; guard CJ McCollum‘s standing as a scorer in the NBA; the breakout potential of second-year small forward Trey Murphy III; and more.

There’s more out of the Southwest Division:

  • Mavericks reserve guard Frank Ntilikina will not suit up for France in this year’s World Cup qualifiers or EuroBasket competition due to a lingering injury, per a statement from the French Federation of Basketball. Ntilikina showed off his defensive upside during his first season with Dallas, though he boasted relatively modest offensive numbers of 4.1 PPG, 1.4 RPG and 1.2 APG across 58 games.
  • In a conversation with Andrei Felix of CNN Philippines (YouTube video link) young Rockets shooting guard Jalen Green spoke about the skills he’s been focused on developing during the 2022 offseason. Alykhan Bijani of The Athletic supplied the transcript (Twitter link). “I’ve been working on decision-making, tightening up my handle, and knowing what shots I want to get on the floor,” Green said. “Getting comfortable getting to my spots and just rising up. Catch-and-shoot.” He also preached patience to Houston fans hoping for a return to deep postseason runs. We’re working,” Green continued. “We’re in the lab. We’re going to make sure this happens as soon as possible.” The second pick in the 2021 draft out of the G League Ignite, Green made the All-Rookie First Team while averaging 17.3 PPG, 3.4 RPG and 2.6 APG for a rebuilding 20-62 Rockets club.
  • In case you missed it, the Rockets agreed to sign veteran center Willie Cauley-Stein to a one-year deal, with a chance to compete for a roster spot in training camp.

Rockets Notes: Rebuilding, Porter, Gordon, Beauchamp

The Rockets own three first-round picks in tonight’s draft, which marks the latest step in a rebuilding project that began when James Harden was traded 17 months ago, writes Tim MacMahon of ESPN. Instead of seeking immediate contributors in the Harden deal, Houston opted for a package from the Nets that was heavy on draft picks, including the 17th selection this year.

Another reported option was an offer from Philadelphia centered around Ben Simmons, but the Rockets’ front office decided Simmons wasn’t a player they wanted to build around. Instead, they made what Patrick Fertitta, son of owner Tilman Fertitta, calls a “hard and, at the time, very unpopular decision” to undergo a complete rebuild.

“There wasn’t an equally attractive alternative at the time,” general manager Rafael Stone said. “Not even close from our perspective. I am a big believer in going all-in. Whether it is to go all-in to rebuild or all-in to win a championship.”

There’s more from Houston:

  • The Rockets are sold on Jalen Green as the centerpiece of their future, but there are concerns around the league that backcourt partner Kevin Porter Jr. may not be reliable enough for a long-term commitment, MacMahon states in the same story. Porter, who is eligible for a rookie-scale extension this summer, improved as a defender and three-point shooter last season, but there are questions about whether he should be the starting point guard or a sixth man. “He is not a finished product,” Stone says. “He just turned 22. He needs to grow and improve, on and off the court, but we are excited about him and his trajectory.”
  • Houston is also facing a decision on Eric Gordon, the last veteran remaining from the Harden era, MacMahon adds. The 33-year-old guard could be moved if the Rockets get a first-round pick in return, but the front office likes having him around to mentor the young players. “It’s a tough situation,” Gordon said. “When you’re doing a rebuild, it’s a long-term type thing. Guys have to know that this is a long-term plan. If it’s a long-term plan for these young guys, then I have to know there’s a long-term plan for me, too.”
  • MarJon Beauchamp remembers when the Rockets were the only team to send a scout to watch him play at Yakima Valley College, per Kelly Iko of The Athletic. Beauchamp worked out for Houston a few weeks ago and appears to be a candidate to be selected at No. 17 or 26.

Barnes, Cunningham, Mobley Head All-Rookie Team

Scottie Barnes, Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley, Franz Wagner and Jalen Green comprised this year’s All-Rookie First Team, the NBA announced in a press release.

Barnes, Cunningham and Mobley were all unanimous selections, receiving the maximum total of 200 points each. Wagner received 183 points, followed by Green with 158. Strangely, one media member left Wagner off their ballot completely, as he received 99 of 100 possible votes.

Raptors wing Barnes, who narrowly edged Cavaliers big man Mobley for the Rookie of the Year award, ranked third in points (15.3) and rebounds (7.5) among all rookies, and fifth in assists (3.5). Mobley was fifth in points (15.0) and led all first-year players in rebounds (8.3) and blocks (1.67) per game.

Pistons guard Cunningham, the No. 1 pick in the 2021 draft, was first among rookies in points (17.4), second in assists (5.6) and fifth in rebounds (5.5). Magic forward Wagner also had a great year, averaging 15.4 points (fourth among rookies), 4.5 rebounds and 2.9 assists in 79 games. Rockets guard Green finished the season strong, scoring 20+ points in 17 of his last 25 games on his way to averaging 17.3 points, second among first-year players.

Pelicans defensive ace Herbert Jones (123 votes) and Thunder floor general Josh Giddey (122 votes) headline the Second Team. Jones averaged 9.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.7 steals (first among rookies) and should at least receive votes for an All-Defensive nod, even if he doesn’t end up making one of the two teams.

In addition to averaging 12.5 points, Giddey was second among rookies in rebounds (7.8) and first in assists (6.4), but he only appeared in 54 of 82 games, having missed the final 23 contests with a hip injury, which is likely why he didn’t receive more First Team votes.

Here are both All-Rookie teams in full, with their voting point totals noted in parentheses. Players received two points for a First Team vote and one point for a Second Team vote.

2021/22 All-Rookie First Team:

2021/22 All-Rookie Second Team:

Ten other rookies received votes — you can view the full voting results right here. Among the group that missed the cut, Warriors forward Jonathan Kuminga (47) was just behind Duarte, with Kings guard Davion Mitchell (28) the only other player receiving a significant number of votes.

Rockets Notes: No. 3 Pick, Lottery, Hornacek, Weaver

Having snagged the third overall pick in the 2022 NBA draft, the Rockets are in good position to add one of the best prospects in this year’s class without having to worry too much about that player’s fit alongside last year’s No. 2 pick Jalen Green.

As Jonathan Feigen of The Houston Chronicle writes, big men Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith, Paolo Banchero are widely considered to be this year’s top three prospects and don’t overlap positionally at all with Green. All three have been mentioned in the conversation for the No. 1 pick and are different from the frontcourt players on Houston’s current roster, Feigen adds.

Still, general manager Rafael Stone isn’t closing the door on the possibility that the Rockets could make a trade involving that No. 3 pick.

“There’s going to be a really good player available at three,” Stone said, per Feigen. “It’s on us to make sure we pick him, assuming we pick it. Nobody ever believes me, but that’s always in the cards: that it might make more sense for us to trade it.”

Here’s more out of Houston:

  • Within that same Houston Chronicle story, Feigen also takes a behind-the-scenes look at the experience Rockets general counsel Clay Allen had in the lottery drawing room on Tuesday. Allen was pleased with the end result, expressing relief that the team didn’t slip to No. 4 or No. 5. “The whole day was nerve-wracking,” he said.
  • Rockets assistant coaches Jeff Hornacek and Will Weaver won’t be returning to the coaching staff for the 2022/23 season, reports Mark Berman of Fox 26 Houston (Twitter link). Both Hornacek and Weaver were hired as part of Stephen Silas‘ initial group of assistants in the fall of 2020.
  • According to Kelly Iko of The Athletic, “early intel” points to the Rockets hanging onto the No. 17 pick, even though it’s their second first-round pick this year and their sixth in the last two years. However, Iko expects that selection to draw interest from rival teams.
  • Jalen Green, Kevin Porter Jr., and Josh Christopher were among the players in attendance last week when the Rockets held an informal workout at their facility, only about a month after their season ended, Iko writes in the same story.

Texas Notes: Green, Garuba, Bertans, Finney-Smith, Holt

Rockets rookie power forward Usman Garuba has great expectations for the future of fellow Houston first-year player Jalen Green, projecting Green’s scoring to ascend in the coming seasons, per Raul Barrigon of HoopsHype. The second pick in the 2021 draft, Green averaged 17.3 PPG on .426/.343/.797 shooting across 67 contests this year.

“He’ll be an All-Star for sure,” Green raved. “And I think he’s going to be the NBA’s leading scorer in a few years. We have to help him to achieve those goals. He’s by far the player that has surprised me the most this year. We all know how good was Anthony Edwards this season, right? Green will play like him next year, maybe even better.”

The 6’8″ Garuba, selected with the No. 23 pick by Houston in the 2021 draft, did not get a ton of run during his first year on a developing Rockets club. The 20-year-old averaged just 10.0 MPG across 24 games in 2021/22. He confirmed his interest in a return to the Summer League and to Spain during the 2022 offseason, with the blessing of the Houston front office.

“What I need now is to play games,” Garuba said. “After a season where I suffered some injuries, I started to play regularly by the end of March. Just when we played the last game I was like ‘Is that it? I want to play more!’ The Rockets know that if I’m healthy, I want to play for the Spanish team (in EuroBasket) – if they call me – and they’re OK with it.”

There’s more out of the Lone Star State:

  • Sharpshooting new Mavericks big man Davis Bertans has made his mark for Dallas in the playoffs thus far, writes Eddie Sefko of Mavs.com. Bertans was fairly demure in addressing his postseason performances, particularly a strong Game 4. “That is always a big deal every game, not just the playoffs,” Bertans said. “You have the guys bailing out the starters. Very often that boost comes when the team is leading, and the second unit comes in and lifts the team up even more. That just gives more confidence to the team and the starters for the rest of the game.”
  • The $55MM contract extension the Mavericks lavished on forward Dorian Finney-Smith earlier this year is looking better as the playoffs progress, writes Callie Caplan of the Dallas Morning News. Finney gave the Mavs a much-needed boost in Game 4 of their second-round series against the Suns on Sunday, scoring 24 points while going 8-of-12 from long range. “When he’s playing like that, when he’s aggressive and not thinking about the shot and just catch-and-shoot, he’s as good as anyone,” head coach Jason Kidd said. “We needed that lift, and he picked us up.” Finney-Smith’s two-way play has been a massive help to Dallas throughout the postseason. In the first round of the playoffs, he averaged an efficient 13.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG across 43.3 MPG while guarding All-Star Jazz guard Donovan Mitchell the majority of the time.
  • Spurs owner Peter J. Holt has reiterated to Spurs fans that he intends to keep the club in San Antonio for the long haul in a statement published on the team site. “There are no Spurs without the city and the people of San Antonio,” Holt wrote. “Your team, our team, together we are the silver and black. Spurs fans – we are here to stay, Por Vida.” The letter reassured Bexar County Commissioner Tommy Calvert, per Tom Orsborn of the San Antonio Express-News (Twitter link). “It makes one feel better,” Calvert said. Fears of the team possibly relocating may have been stirred after news broke that the team wants to play four “home” games away from their home arena during each of the next two NBA seasons. The Spurs are eyeing home games elsewhere in Texas (Austin and San Marcos) and in Mexico (Mexico City and Monterrey).

And-Ones: Cotton, 2021 Re-Draft, Pro Days, G League Camp

Veteran guard Bryce Cotton, the top player in Australia’s National Basketball League, isn’t planning a return to the NBA. The Perth Wildcats have reached a contract extension agreement with the three-time NBL MVP, Sportando’s Dario Skerletic reports. Cotton, 29, averaged 22.7 PPG and 4.8 APG last season. He played a total of 23 games for Utah, Phoenix and Memphis from 2014-16.

We have more from around the basketball world:

  • How would last year’s draft look if it were held now? The Athletic’s Sam Vecenie explores that topic, ranking those players on how they performed this year, whether they can improve upon their weaknesses and how they figure to grow and mature. The top five, in order, would be Cade Cunningham, Rookie of the Year Scottie Barnes, Evan Mobley, Jalen Green and Franz Wagner, Vecenie says.
  • The NBA has sent memo to teams informing them that agency Pro Days will only be permitted during two windows — the week of the NBA Combine from May 16-21 and in Southern California from May 25-27, Jonathan Givony of ESPN tweets.
  • The NBA G League Elite Camp will have workouts May 16-17 in Chicago and the Combine will run workouts from May 18-20, Adam Zagoria tweets.