When Marquese Chriss was named last week to the Rising Stars Challenge on All-Star Weekend and then this week was tabbed with Rookie of the Month for January in the Western Conference, many Suns fans reacted with...
Just how does a guy who plays only 20 minutes per game, fouls a ton, and tallies less than 9 points and 4 rebounds per game win a prestigious honor like ‘Western Conference Rookie of the Month’?
On the one hand, Chriss really has shown some serious basketball skills this month for the Suns.
Against Miami on January 2, Chriss posted what was at the time a career high 18 points and grabbed 5 rebounds in 30 minutes of playing time.
And then at the end of the month, he set a new career high with 20 points against the Grizzlies.
In between, he’s had games of 12/4 and 3 blocks, 15/5 and 13/3.
In each of these games, you get to see the best of the rookie teenager in action. He can dunk, he can make threes and he can even show off a mid-range game when he gets the chance.
But you only see snippets of greatness because the dude is just a baby. Not only does he look so young he couldn't get past a bartender with a fake ID, he’s just been playing basketball for a few years. There’s lots of room to grow.
While he had a few really good games in January, he played 18 minutes or less in 7 of his 14 January starts due to foul trouble or poor play.
Chriss has a tendency to let bad plays compound into dumb fouls on the other end, a habit he’s going to have to grow out of in the coming years.
All in all, January provided a half dozen good games from Chriss out of 14. Not bad for a rookie teenager learning the NBA ropes against the NBA’s best in a starting role, but not ‘Rookie of the Month’ material either.
For heavens sake, a year ago Devin Booker led all rookies in scoring in January 2016 with 17.3 per game, but lost out to Rookie-of-Every-Month Karl-Anthony Towns who came in just behind Booker in scoring (16.9) while also posting 10.9 rebounds per game.
Besides those two, Emmanuel Mudiay, D’Angelo Russell, Nikola Jokic and Trey Lyles all posted better January 2016 numbers in the West than Marquese Chriss did in January 2017.
But this isn’t 2016.
All the best performing rookies this season are in the East, including third-year rookie Joel Embiid, Malcolm Brogdon and Dario Saric all posting 10+ points per game in January 2017. Part of their advantage is age at 22, 24 and 22 years old respectively.
Here’s Chriss’ competition in the West in January 2017, which appears to have gotten all the teenagers.
You have to immediately exclude Yogi Ferrell and Ivica Zubac because they didn’t play the whole month of January. If Zubac keeps up his production into February, we might have a new ROTM candidate, for January he does not qualify.
So that leaves Brandon Ingram, Buddy Hield and Jamal Murray as Chriss’ primary competition for Western Conference Rookie of the Month.
Of those players, Chriss was #1 in FG%, steals and blocks, and #2 in 3P%. And on a per-minute basis, he was #1 in scoring and rebounding among the four players.
So, given the context, Chriss was the best option for Rookie of the Month, in January, in the Western Conference.
Let’s embrace the growth of Marquese Chriss and celebrate that he gets to revel in his early accomplishments with a Rookie of the Month honor and a Rising Stars roster spot at the tender age of 19.
Come on, Suns fans, turn that frown upside down.
Drop all the pretense for a moment and just let it out that maybe, just maybe, we have more than one player with high potential on this team.
Chriss is the first Suns player to win a Rookie of the Month honor since Amare Stoudemire in 2003, and only the fourth in franchise history. Only Stoudemire won it more than once (January and April, 2003). Stoudemire averaged 14 points and 9.6 rebounds in January 2003 and then 14/7 in April 2003 when he won the awards.
With Devin Booker joining him in the Rising Stars Challenge, the Suns will have two players in the game for the first time in more than two decades.
Chriss and Booker are the only teenagers in Suns franchise history with 10+ double-digit scoring games on their Suns resume.
Per the Suns stats gurus:
Chriss is the 10th player in franchise history to participate in the Rising Stars Challenge, joining Wesley Person (1995), Trevor Ruffin (1995), Michael Finley (1996), Steve Nash (1997), Shawn Marion (2001), Stoudemire (2003; 2004-MVP), Markieff Morris (2012), Miles Plumlee (2014) and Booker (2016; 2017).