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Does Suns’ Marquese Chriss deserve to make first-team All-Rookie?

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NBA: Phoenix Suns at Chicago Bulls David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns rookie Marquese Chriss is a polarizing prospect.

You either love him for his swagger, his highlight-heavy skillset and his high-ceiling potential, or you hate him for otherwise being clueless out there on the court as a teenage rookie.

M.C. Hammer

Let’s review the good side of Chriss first.

Chriss is the first rookie in 16 years to post at least 67 three-pointers, blocks and steals (per basketball-reference.com) in his inaugural season in the NBA. The ONLY other two rookies to post 67+ in all three of those categories since the 1963-64 NBA season are Jerry Stackhouse and Shane Battier, both wing players. And those guys nearly doubled Chriss’ total minutes played!

Let’s go one step further.

Chriss also led all rookies this season in dunks with 103. And they were spectacular.

Neither Stackhouse nor Battier had anywhere close to 103 dunks as rookies.

That makes Chriss the only rookie since 1963-64 (as far as b-ref goes) with such a diverse, highlight-heavy game.

Threes and steals are the hallmarks of wing players. Blocks and dunks are owned by bigs.

Chriss, still just 19 years old, checks all those boxes in a 6’10”, 233 lb. frame not even close to reaching it’s athletic peak.

Here’s a great all-around game with 17 points, 7 rebounds, 5 blocks and 2 steals.

Making the case for First-Team All-Rookie

Chriss won the Western Conference Rookie of the Month for January and was great in several categories compared to his contemporaries:

  • led all rookies in total rebounds (348)
  • 2nd in Win Shares (1.8)
  • 4th in points scored
  • 5th in minutes played
  • 5th in VORP (value over replacement player)

You can see why he should be considered for first-team All-Rookie.

Buuutttt...

Of course, there’s context to apply here.

Chriss’ totals are somewhat a product of playing time and being a focal point on a bad NBA team. If you look at his per-minute productivity, he doesn’t look quite as good.

  • 4th in rebounds per game
  • 19th in Win Shares per 48 minutes
  • 5th in points per game
  • 7th in minutes per game
  • 11th in BPM (Box Score Plus-Minus)

And if you’re a scout who spends a whole game watching Marquese Chriss, you will see a kid who has little clue what’s going on most of the time.

On offense, he starts out at the three-point line and watches for a chance to catch-and-shoot or cut to the basket for a finish or an offensive rebound. That’s it. Nothing more complex than that.

“Overall, Marquese, earlier in the year,” teammate Jared Dudley said last week to Bright Side. “He was just trying to figure it out, he was floating more on the perimeter, moreso like a Channing Frye would, but his game, his athleticism and potential, is so much bigger than that.”

On defense, he often fails to make the right switches when the opponent throws any kind of set play, too many times getting lost and guarding no one, and even worse doesn’t box out or crash the boards in traffic enough to make up for it.

“Marquese, overall, he can guard 5, 4, 3,” Dudley said. “The biggest thing about Marquese is the mental aspect, not getting frustrated with the refs. I would say 90% of his fouls are fouls. I think he doesn’t realize it. It’s just the speed of the game. When you’re so athletic you can be late and still get there, but for Marquese he has to be early. In this league, I don’t care how athletic you are when you’re not there those little side blocking fouls… you’ll get in the bonus real fast.”

When things go bad for the teenager, he lashes out. His 11 technicals this season were among the highest in the league this year and among the highest ever for a rookie.

“He has a tendency to look at the refs every time, every call,” Dudley said. “Overall, you don’t want to get that reputation. For rookie to have 10+ technicals, even he would tell you that’s ridiculous. to have that, going forward, he’ll get that DeMarcus Cousins reputation where you’ll get technicals even though you don’t deserve it.”

The contrast is so stark that some pundits discount Chriss’ highlights in the wake of their assessment.

In fact, Zach Lowe of ESPN didn’t put Chriss on either his first- or second-team all-rookie ballot.

The easy guys ahead of Chriss are the Sixers’ Joel Embiid and Dario Saric. Each is four years older than Chriss, if you care about that kind of thing. Philly teammate Ben Simmons did not even see the court due to injury, and Embiid played only 31 games but they were an incredible 31 games.

Rookies like Malcolm Brogdon (Bucks), Rodney McGruder (Heat), Jamal Murray (Nuggets) and Jaylen Brown (Celtics) played more impactful roles on competitive teams.

Caris LeVert (Nets), Buddy Hield (Kings) and Willy Hernangomez (Knicks) arguably flashed better in the season’s second half through the finish line.

Lowe on the final spot on his second team:

(Brandon) Ingram and Chriss were hard to evaluate. They played more than most rookies, but they walked into those minutes on teams trying to lose. They contributed to that losing. How do you weigh that against Yogi Ferrell shooting almost 41 percent from 3 for a Mavs team that flirted with playoff contention before wheezing into submission? Or Taurean Prince surging late into a starting role for an actual playoff team? Or Domantas Sabonis serving as a placeholder starter on a good team until a trade brought in someone better?

In the end, I just liked the way Ingram played more than I did Chriss.

...

Chriss has better stats (than Ingram), and he's going to be good. But he spent most of the season sort of running around with no idea what was happening -- especially on defense, where he was chronically confused and out of position. The Suns were right to play him: He learned on the court, and helped sabotage their season.

Does it even matter?

No, not really. It would be nice to have on his resume, but a lot of guys have been named to the All-Rookie team and didn’t have good NBA careers after that.

And likewise, very good NBA players missed out on All-Rookie honors.

Whatever happens when the All-Rookie teams are named, happens.