NBA Draft

A deep dive on NBA prospect Jalen Green, a scorer with limitless potential

Joe Viray
A deep dive on NBA prospect Jalen Green, a scorer with limitless potential

STAR IN THE MAKING. Whichever team ends up drafting Jalen Green will be blessed with a prime, Grade-A talent.

Jalen Green Instagram page

There is more to Filipino-American NBA Draft prospect Jalen Green than a score-first fireball

There is a viable argument that all of the consensus top-three prospects in the upcoming 2021 NBA Draft – Cade Cunningham, Jalen Green, and Evan Mobley – are overall first-pick-caliber talents. Insert any one of them in last year’s draft, and none would bat an eye if they were picked over the likes of Anthony Edwards, James Wiseman, and LaMelo Ball.

Each of the aforementioned three brings a certain skill set to the table, but Cunningham and Mobley provide none of the of eye-popping athleticism that Green oozes. Search for his highlights on YouTube – from his high school exploits at San Joaquin Memorial and Prolific Prep, to his recent stint with the G League Ignite – and all of them induce the kind of jaw-dropping, head-nodding sense of excitement, the promise of potential, and the raw talent that portends a three-level scoring phenomenon.

Measured at 6-feet-5-inches and weighing in at 180 pounds, Green’s wiry frame gives him the profile of a slithery and agile two-guard. Such physical traits provide him with the base with which to become an adaptable and versatile operator, whether it be with the ball in his hands as an initiator or an off-ball offensive threat who can generate all sorts of schematic chaos for opposing defenses.

Such uncanny versatility was exhibited in flashes by Green. The brief glimpses gave enough evidence for the existence of a premium piece of raw material, already exquisite in its initial visage yet leaving plenty of room for an artist to shape it into a masterpiece.

Green’s natural mindset as a score-first-ask-questions-later type of offensive weapon runs the risk of him being pigeonholed into a pure bucket getter – which is widely regarded as his immediate floor. A bona fide point-generating machine is by no means a negative trait; after all, points are imperative to winning basketball games, and none in this draft class produces points the way Green does.

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FAST FACTS: Who is Fil-Am NBA rookie Jalen Green?

FAST FACTS: Who is Fil-Am NBA rookie Jalen Green?

Three-level scoring entails ownership of a reliable jumper and the willingness and capability, as well as the bravado, to wade amongst the redwoods and relentlessly pressure the rim. Green’s quick first step and the burst he generates off the dribble – complemented by a seemingly mundane dribble package that sacrifices pizzazz for simple effectiveness – makes him a difficult assignment at the point-of-attack. Rarely does he need ball screens to be set for him, since his natural advantages against most defenders allow him to penetrate at will.

Add in the ball-screen element, however, and Green has shown the patience to compute every possible angle of attack, every potential usage of the screen – whether to reject it and use an explosive burst as a misdirection maneuver or to make use of it to manipulate his defender into running smack against a solid wall – and the requisite decision making that empowers him to attack in any way he desires, against any defensive configuration.

Add his efficient rim attack – Green successfully converted 73.8% of his shot attempts at the rim, with a 29.9% rim frequency – and he has the tools to become a slasher extraordinaire.

A small but significant point of concern for Green is his lack of strength, which visibly translates to a lack of physicality. Green doesn’t necessarily shy away from contact, but his inability — at this stage of his development, at least – to fight brawn with brawn has forced him to be adaptive and creative with his finishes, something that he is highly proficient at. The ability to change the angle of his layups mid-air – going one way to lure out an instinctual response from a rim protector, only to go the other direction while at the peak of his jump – is an aesthetically pleasing and effective alternative to forcing finishes against hard contact.

Occasionally, such a strength deficiency reared its head on one-on-one possessions. Against defenders with a rare combination of foot speed, timely positioning, and physical stopping power, Green has found it difficult – even with his burst – to leave his man in the dust. That potential concern will compound itself against NBA-level stoppers.

But make no mistake – Green can improvise on the fly. His varied scoring arsenal leaves him with plenty of counters with which to answer challenges at the rim and at the point of attack. His quick-release jumper serves as a change-of-pace tool, something he can whip out from his holster should defenders leave him with enough space to pull the trigger, such as on possessions where on-ball defenders duck under screens or against bigs dropping back. He sprinkles in the occasional jab step to keep defenders guessing. A slight nudge toward one direction serves as the tug of the string, puppeteering defenders to where Green wants them to go.

In a similar manner to his one-on-one penetration, Green can also pull up for jumpers without the need for a space-generating screen. As aforementioned, his dribble package won’t win a contest of aesthetics, but it does the job with as little unnecessary movement as possible. A right-to-left crossover followed by a behind-the-back dribble creates ample separation, topped off by a step-back that relegates any sort of contest to a futile endeavor.

Green’s shooting mechanics look consistent enough, but his splits in the mid-range are telling of how much work is to be done in terms of consistency. On short mid-rangers (4 to 14 feet away from the rim), Green had a 36.7% success rate; on long mid-rangers (from 14 feet to the three-point line), he knocked in an even more pedestrian 25%.

Green scored 0.92 points per jump shot in the half court – slotting him in the 48th percentile.

With that said, Green has drilled enough jumpers to predict that his shooting potential – with a couple of tweaks and plenty of reps – will be realized at a higher level. His 36.5% clip on threes would slot him a tad below league average in the NBA – but his free-throw percentage of 82.9% is an auspicious indicator of his growth as a knockdown artist.

Green does most of his damage with the ball in his hands; that creates the notion of him being a ball stopper. One can easily conclude that offenses which emphasize a plethora of secondary actions and movement die a painful death with Green on the floor, since he seeks to score once he touches the leather. While that isn’t entirely a false notion, it also doesn’t paint the whole picture of what Green is capable of as an off-ball menace.
Brief and scarce as they may be, Green is a willing mover without the ball in his hands. The mobility and agility that serve him tremendously well on ball screens and isolations also benefit him in transition (1.38 points per possession, 96th percentile) and cuts. Live-ball turnovers with him on the floor turn into Olympic track meets that often result in photo finishes.

When presented with the opportunity – and the openings – Green won’t hesitate to punish defenders who mindlessly overcommit to top-locking him on “Zipper” cuts. He is a willing mover around off-ball screens of all varieties, whether it’s on “Flare” screens or the more cookie-cutter down screens, in addition to more complex actions such as “Iverson” cuts or the more basic back-door/baseline cuts, some of which provide him with the platform to flash his pogo-stick leaps.

It’s not something Green will be primarily known for, nor is it likely that such play-types will constitute a heavy diet of his offensive reps, especially as a lead initiator and secondary playmaker. But keeping it in his back pocket and unleashing it occasionally will keep defenses honest.

Leveraging Green’s value as a scorer – both as a primary option and on the margins as an off-ball presence – is of utmost priority for potential landing spots. But if Green is to command a significant chunk of possessions in a fairly high-usage role, there is the necessity of him developing playmaking chops. While he is certainly not helpless nor hopeless in that aspect, it is perhaps the singular facet of his offensive repertoire that needs extensive refinement.

The so-called “feel for the game” – the preternatural proclivity for seeing things develop on the floor before they come to pass – is something that Green visibly lacks at this point, and it is considerably unfair to expect him to have already developed a gift a chosen few have internalized. But it is fair, however, to expect Green to possess a rudimentary understanding of basic passing reads; at the most, he should be able to read multiple defensive coverages and act accordingly.

Green has some of the basic reads down, such as passing out of doubles/traps and leveraging his burst to generate minor gravity and attracting stunts and nail help that leave a teammate open for a kick-out pass, drop passes to bigs down low upon attracting a bevy of defenders on one of his forays into the paint, and hitting cutters with pristine ball placement.

Flashes of his high-level vision and processing have come in transition. Green has an adept touch – he sees leakers and cherry pickers and accurately places outlet passes to where they are headed. Touch passes aren’t foreign to him.

The passing warts are still glaringly obvious and hard to ignore. Green occasionally forces passes through tight windows, and his laissez-faire demeanor on typically routine passes such as post and wing entries turn into avoidable turnovers. He needs to be more cognizant of which passes are worth making, and which ones require better passing angles.

Whereas his offense has shown a full satchel of promising aptitude, Green’s defense is more of a mixed bag. He is by no means a turnstile – he has the basic understanding of defensive schemes and concepts. As the low man guarding the weak-side corner, he is often ready to step up on drives as the help-side defender, although his effort in that aspect could improve a bit. He knows when to provide help from the wings through stunts and digs at the nail. He can deny usage of ball screens and prevent ball handlers from going middle through “Icing” or “Bluing” side pick-and-rolls.

He even has the makings of a competent one-on-one perimeter stopper. If he gets into a low stance, rarely does he submit himself to basic mistakes such as leading too far in with his feet. His hips are mobile and swift, rapidly opening up to swallow and absorb paint drives.

Occasionally, he will get beat to the punch by shifty perimeter creators, but any team drafting him will take the bad with the positive flashes, considering how much room to grow there is.

The real defensive concern lies with Green’s difficulty with screen navigation. Half of it is due to his physical profile – being a lanky, 180-pound teenager isn’t going to help against rock-solid screens set by the mountainous behemoths of the NBA. The other half is a general lack of urgency and a tendency to surrender prematurely. Green’s effort level around screens suffers a dip when he has to expend energy trying to navigate one; when he has to navigate a second on staggered screens, he rarely shows the effort or knowhow to shoot gaps or take shortcuts, even if it means going under on some of them.

All of these inadequacies should not disqualify Green from being a top-level prospect, nor should teams at the head of the draft order hesitate to take him should he be available. There are certainly viable arguments for taking Cunningham or Mobley over him – a high-floor lead playmaker who can command an offense from day one, and arguably the best defensive prospect since Anthony Davis, respectively. But Green’s explosive burst, trampoline athleticism, and potential to score at all levels is an asset no team should pass up on.

All of those warts can be wrinkled and phased out, with the proper developmental approach and the willingness to improve on Green’s end, which is far from lacking.

“I think I need to work on my defense the most,” Green said during his media session. “The offense will come over time. On top of that I want to begin training a whole bunch of things. I’m going to tighten up as we go. On top of that we’ve been working out way before this draft comes so it’s been a good five months of just us working out.”

“I think the main focus going in is probably just slowing down, the playmaking, and the defensive side.”

Green perfectly fits the timeline of a rebuilding organization. He would fit nicely alongside Killian Hayes’ lead playmaking and defense as a secondary playmaker, and his shot creation meets the needs of the Detroit Pistons. Should he find his way to Houston, he would form a dynamic pick-and-roll tandem with Christian Wood, with veteran mentorship from John Wall. The fit with the Cleveland Cavaliers is murkier – he clashes with the skill set of Collin Sexton, who will probably have to be moved should Green fall to the Cavaliers.

Whichever team ends up drafting him will be blessed with a prime, Grade-A talent. He isn’t as finished of a product as his two other peers in the top three are, but the sheer talent and high floor that a raw Jalen Green has exhibited is a foundation upon which team-building dreams are made of, the first piece of a puzzle that will quickly take form should his transcendent talent be cultivated into a transcendent superstar. –