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Marquese Chriss shows his rapid progress in 27 point career high for Phoenix Suns

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Suns rookie Chriss is developing quickly, with two 20-point games in the past week.

NBA: Milwaukee Bucks at Phoenix Suns Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

While Devin Booker gets all the attention, teenage rookie Marquese Chriss is progressing for the Phoenix Suns all season and is now becoming a guy who can produce on a regular basis.

Last night, while the Suns were getting blown out, Chriss quietly showed us that his game is expanding on his way to a career-high 27 points - one week after his previous career-high of 20, which was three weeks after the previous high of 18, which was two months after his NBA debut, which was just four months after his 19th birthday.

Watch all 27 points here, and you’ll get another taste of the range of offensive skills Chriss brings to the court.

He joins Joel Embiid and, as of Friday night, Yogi Ferrell as the only rookies to score at least 27 points in a game this season.

Chriss had a similar progression as a freshman at Washington. He started slow, and his best months were later in the season. Through his first 17 games, he had 9 double-figure scoring nights (3 double-doubles). Over his last 19 games, he scored in double figures 17 times (3 double-doubles). And after fouling out of 11 of first 20 games, Chriss only fouled out of 4 of his last 15.

At the beginning of the year, he was not highly ranked or scouted by NBA personnel. He didn’t even get on DraftExpress.com’s draft board until late March, after his season had ended, and eventually went 8th overall.

Take a look at his 27 point, 11 rebound performance in the NIT for Washington last spring.

He’s already a different player than he was a year ago, when he was mostly just jumping over people to get the ball at the rim.

In Mike Schmitz’ famed strengths/weaknesses videos for DraftExpress.com, the Chriss you know was the Chriss he profiled.

  • Strengths: athleticism, offensive skill set and upside
  • Weaknesses: defensive rebounding, defense, offensive polish and consistency

That’s still the same kid a year later, except that you can see progression in every area - both offensively and defensively. Though mostly the progression is on offense.

He’s still highly inconsistent on the defensive end - either he makes a great play or he gets abused. He still fouls a ton, often because of frustration still boiling over an earlier play that went bad.

His rebounding is not good by NBA standards. As the starting power forward, he’s only 7th on the Suns in defensive rebound rate (14.4%). But a few mitigating factors make that easier for me to swallow: he’s playing against starting lineups, they are all older and stronger than him at this point, and he’s battling his own teammates who comprise a very good rebounding team on the whole.

If you compare Chriss to teenagers in the starting lineup throughout NBA history, you see what I mean. Of all prior NBA teenagers since 1983-84 (as far back as basketball-reference.com goes with advanced stats), Chriss ranks favorably in the rebounding department.

Among players who started 44+ games as teenagers since 1946, Chriss is 8th all-time in defensive rebound rate and total rebound rate.

It’s interesting that there’s only been 22 players since 1946 to START at least 44 games before turning 20 years old, and only one player prior to the 2001-02 season.

Rebounding in the NBA is hard. Grown men rebound the ball. Teenagers just simply aren’t strong enough to hold their own down low, especially against starting caliber opponents. That’s why most teams simply won’t put teens into big roles.

Let’s take it down to just games played >= 44 games to be inclusive of teens who have come off the bench too. To still limit the list to consistent role players, we can use 500 minutes as a minimum threshold. That expands the list to 67 players, dating back to the 1975-76 season.

Now Chriss drops down to 37th among 67 teenagers in NBA history who appeared in at least 44 games, and played at least 500 minutes, as teenagers. Now you see guys like Andre Drummond (10 starts among 60 appearances), Enes Kanter, Bismack Biyombo and Tyson Chandler. But those guys spent most of their teenage minutes rebounding against bench units.

I’m not suggesting Marquese Chriss is a good rebounder. He may never be. I’m simply saying that we need to give him a chance to grow into his body and find his adult strength against his peers before hanging a label on him.