Since taking over the starting point guard position for the Utah Jazz, rookie Keyonte George has averaged 12.2 points, 6.5 assists, and 3.9 rebounds per game. Only 11 rookies in the last 20 years have hit 12+ points, 6+ assists, and 3+ rebounds for a full season.
Those players? Chris Paul, Derrick Rose, John Wall, Damian Lillard, Michael Carter-Williams, Ben Simmons, Luka Doncic, Trae Young, Ja Morant, LaMelo Ball, and Josh Giddey. I think it’s safe to say that Keyonte will end his rookie season hitting those thresholds, joining a pretty elite list of NBA rookies! Are all of those home runs? No, but that’s one heck of a hit rate even if you just blindly select someone from that group of players. Jazz fans are rightfully excited about the start to the Baylor product’s career.
But it’s not all pretty. For as much as his passing and playmaking has been a big surprise, the poor shooting has been an issue. He’s averaging just 34% from the field, and a hair under 30% from 3. I’ve seen some Jazz fans wonder if this is something that we should be concerned about long term.
Let me just get this out of the way right up front.
Being an NBA rookie is incredibly hard, especially for a 19-20 year old guard. This is more true for point guards, who have to worry about running an offense alongside everything else being thrown at them. They aren’t used to this much length, this much athleticism, this much travel, back to backs, less practice, you name it. I’m sure the transition is brutal.
If there’s 1 skill that should be least concerning to see a rookie struggle with, it’s their shot making. Now, I’m not talking about guys that were known as bad shooters coming into their NBA career. Those guys you already knew would struggle and sure enough, they struggle. I’m talking about guys shooting worse than ‘expected’ as a rookie.
Jazz fans should be well aware of this. In very recent history, another rookie guard exploded onto the scene in even bigger fashion. But apparently many are forgetting that Donovan Mitchell was labeled as an inefficient chucker by many NBA fans. In his first 19 games, he shot just 37% from the field and 32% from 3 on much higher volume than George. Even into Mitchell’s 2nd season, his true shooting percentage was actually worse as his shot volume increased even more. But those complaints are a distant memory now.
And he’s not the only one. Let’s look at some other rookie guards and how they fared shooting the ball in their first year compared to their perception now.
*compares their career average, not current year TS%
On average, this group of guards have improved their true shooting percentage by 6% from their rookie year. That’s a LOT! And most of these improvements happen by their 3rd season. Unsurprisingly, those with the lowest baselines tend to improve the most. The game slows down, they pick their spots better, they attack the rim better, they have an improved feel for the game, etc.
Now, I do have to point out that Keyonte George’s 47.4 TS% would be the worst in this entire group. Like I said before, it hasn’t been pretty at times.
But am I alarmed? Not in the slightest. In fact, I see this improving over just this season as he gets more and more comfortable throughout the year, not too dissimilar from Donovan Mitchell. Additionally, I don’t know that the other players in that table had to start a large portion of their early games with guys like Simone Fontecchio and Omur Yurtseven (no offense, you two). Add in 2nd year pro Ochai Agbaji and it’s no surprise that the Jazz have been very inconsistent. There are possessions where they are relying entirely on Keyonte George to facilitate and create, a tall task for a guy with just 21 total games under his belt.
As the Jazz get healthy and the season progresses, it will be interesting watch how Keyonte’s shooting performance trends. But I want to make it clear that even if he does continue to struggle making shots:
We will be fine— Rudy Gobert (@rudygobert27) January 6, 2018