Ideally, Jalen Green will see an opening and look to work his way through. It’s built for that, with a bunny-like first step and rebounding half-time dunks aided by trampolines. However, he can’t just want the opening to appear.
The Pelicans would not allow a path to the rim on Sunday, choosing instead to fill the lane with a mosh pit of packed bodies. The Rockets don’t score much, but they score more points in the paint than all but four NBA teams. No team has scored so much on the pitch in March. The Pelicans noticed.
Green, however, had been preparing for such circumstances, and not just living in them for most of the season as the Rockets failed to provide enough 3s to open lanes for him to attack.
She spent the off-season lifting weights for more than just photo shoots. And you spent the season studying players who draw fouls.
Ultimately, the Rockets will need to hit off-lane shots to keep up with the runs they’re giving up at the other end. That was clear thanks to a 117-107 loss to the Pelicans on Sunday, snapping their three-game hitting streak.
But when Green scored 40 points, largely by throwing his body into the crowd inside, it demonstrated not only one way he’s grown, but what could be gained by adding some muscle to some of the other young players. of the Reconstruction of rockets.
“He’s learning the little tricks that are required to get to the free throw line, … but he’s been so diligent this summer in the weight room,” said Rockets coach Stephen Silas. “He and Willie Cruz (the Rockets’ director of athletic performance) were all over the world this summer, but they were together, and he made sure to work the weight room because we knew that… the weight room was going to be the thing for him.
“The fact that he’s able to soak up that contact and figure out the angles to get 14 free throws (against the Pelicans on Sunday), shows some good sense he’s gaining.”
Jabari Smith Jr., 19, and Alperen Sengun, 20, the Rockets’ youngest players, often talk about the weight room work they plan for the offseason. The Pelicans’ Jonas Valanciunas spent the two games in Houston showing why.
“Jabari, especially, as he gets stronger, that’s going to be a problem, because he’s going to make all that contact and end up on the edge, or not get pushed out of his seat,” Silas said. “Same thing for Alpi. He’s strong in the lower body, but he can get stronger and adapt better, and when he does, it will be a problem too. They’ll have some full-grown man strength on the way here.
“The strength part is a big key. I remember when I had Steph (Curry) as a rookie, he completely changed his body in just a few years, and he completely changed his game where he could do all the amazing things that he does. I expect the same for these guys in regards to their progression with the added strength.
Curry coming to town with the Warriors on Monday for the Rockets back-to-back second half will remember that. The Rockets’ inability to knock down open 3s will likely be a problem to overcome again, with the Warriors road fights so often over difficulties defending 3s, a flaw the Rockets are unable to exploit.
However, Green had to find another way, especially on Sunday. He hit 11 of 22 shots, including 4 of 9 from 3 (with a handful of errors when he was forced to hit the clock or the final two minutes too late). But Green attacked the teeth of the New Orleans defense so regularly, he hit 14 free throws, hitting all 14 of them.
“I’m just trying to figure out how to draw that foul,” Green said. “Just watching guys get to the free throw line already, like Shai (Gilgeous-Alexander) really helps, studying their game and doing it on the court.”
There are times when Green’s determination to attack the paint leads to forced strokes through thickets of arms. That would improve if the Rockets’ 3-point shooting improves.
The Rockets made a season-best 36 of 38 free throws. But aside from Green, the Rockets made just 5-for-24 3s. KJ Martin knocked down a pair and Kevin Porter Jr. went 3-for-9. No one else made a 3, giving the Pelicans little reason to leave the paint.
“For him to hit 40 on 22 shots, that’s great,” Silas said. “He Proves that he’s getting the points of him. He did a good job of letting the play come to him and reading if he had a corner or someone who was slower to attack.
Green has made at least 10 free throws 12 times this season, three times in his last seven games. He attempted so many free throws once as a rookie. He had his fourth 40-point game of the season. His five in his career is the fourth for a player 21 years of age or younger in the 132 games Green has played.
Green knelt in his right thigh and limped after treatment, but said, “I’m straight. I am fine.”
This is also what will happen when rushing into crowds of very large bodies, which will inspire a few more summer repeats.
“Every trip that J and I took, basically four dudes were there to clog the lane,” Porter said. “We didn’t shoot our 3 well. That was the game right there. We all know he is a gifted scorer. We all know he is a gifted scorer. We expect him to have such evenings, but we don’t take them for granted. He will continue to improve and get stronger ”.