Most people who tune into the Houston Rockets on NBA League Pass this season will want to see rookie Jalen Green in action. Green has star-level expectations and is going to be a major key in Houston's rebuild moving forward, so it's not a surprise that he's already billed as the main attraction.
However, even if Green has an extremely productive rookie year, 19-year-olds typically have a tough time impacting winning right away. That's because they're usually pretty bad defensively, turnover prone, and not as efficient as they'll be later in their career.
This is why none of the rookies Houston took from the 2021 draft class should be considered an ‘x-factor' next season. It's also hard to count veteran guards John Wall and Eric Gordon as x-factors given the fact that they may not end the season on the roster.
The Houston Rockets' X-Factor Next Season
If there is an x-factor on the Rockets, it's probably a young player that may or may not take a step forward. There are only two players on Houston's roster that fall under that category: Kevin Porter Jr. and Kenyon Martin Jr.
If Kevin Porter Jr. takes a step forward next season, it changes the entire trajectory of Houston's rebuild. It's improbable he'll reach it, but Porter Jr.'s ceiling in the NBA is without a doubt All-Star level.
His instincts as a passer, his comfort taking step-back threes, and his creativity off the bounce are tangible qualities that you see in star players. To be fair, it's also something you see in sixth or seventh man types so fans shouldn't expect the high-end of outcome when projecting forward.
Even in the short term, Porter Jr. taking step towards being a helpful contributor next season alters Houston's trajectory. For example, it may fast-track an Eric Gordon trade or Houston's willingness to eat money on a John Wall buyout
Kevin Porter Jr. last season:
52.8% True Shooting
Obviously, Porter Jr. will have to be much more efficient next season. This is fine considering he's only played 76 total games in the NBA, but getting to a league average true shooting (around 55%) and lowering the turnovers would go a long way to securing a contract extension.
Because Houston was kind of directionless last season, it went under the radar how dreadful Porter Jr. was as a defender. That's also got to be an area of growth during the 2021-22 season.
While not on the same level, Kenyon Martin Jr. taking a step forward as a really helpful role player also impacts Houston's 2021-22 ambitions. Martin Jr. coming on as a role player who could theoretically shoot and defend was a nice development for Houston late last season. The Rockets gave up nothing but cash considerations to acquire the pick and while it seemed like a reach at the time, Martin Jr. had a surprising rookie campaign and an impressive Summer League performance. Houston utilizing him as a positionless player was smart as there will be logjams at a few positions for the team next season.
Kenyon Martin Jr last season:
36.5% from three-point range
The biggest area to watch will be Martin Jr.'s three-point shooting. This was purported to be his greatest weakness entering the NBA, but he surprised a lot of people with how comfortable he looked shooting them. If he can maintain a similar percentage next season and doubles his attempts (currently 2.1), the Rockets have to take that as a significant win.
Solid wing prospects that can shoot threes and defend are really valuable in the modern NBA and it would be massive if Houston ended up finding one of those guys late in the second round of last year's draft.
It's kind of a tossup which player ends up fulfilling his potential more next season, but these are definitely the guys that could swing Houston's fortunes one way or the other.