The Rockets have their first foundational talent
Jalen Green has erased any lingering doubt about his potential
The 2021 NBA Draft is on-pace to go down as an all-timer. Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes have dueled it out all season for Rookie of the Year honors in a race that is poised to go down to the wire. Cade Cunningham, Jonathan Kuminga, and Franz Wagner have also gotten attention for their impressive showings. Ironically enough, a rookie that hasn’t drawn much national attention until this week is perhaps the one who grabbed the most headlines during the draft process: number two overall pick Jalen Green.
No pick was more divisive among the draft community than Green’s selection at number two by the Houston Rockets. And it wasn’t because Green was some polarizing prospect. Green was a freak athlete with a great first step, shifty footwork, and shooting ability off the bounce - all hallmarks of your classic star shooting guard that has succeeded in every of the NBA. Few doubted the kind of ceiling he had coming out of the draft. It was more how he placed among his peers as a prospect, particularly USC big man Evan Mobley.
Mobley is possibly the best big man prospect the NBA has seen since 8-time All-Star Anthony Davis. There’s very little Mobley can’t do as a defensive anchor in today’s game: protecting the basket, switching in the pick-and-roll, communication, and shot blocking. Offensively, Mobley has the promise for that same do-it-all ability with his rolling, passing, running, and mid-range shooting potential. He’s just a moldable piece of clay in today’s league and many argued that this versatility made him a worthy number two overall pick to Cade Cunningham (including myself).
And for the first half of this season, Mobley looked like the clear best prospect of the 2021 Draft. However, there’s a reason it’s considered unwise to do victory laps about your draft opinions after only a few months. Trae Young, Anthony Edwards, and Ja Morant are all great recent examples of players that didn’t find their stride in the NBA immediately. All of these players look like cornerstone pieces for their respective franchises right now.
It’s probably time to add Jalen Green to that list.
Dissecting Green’s hot streak
Since the All-Star break, Green is averaging:
59.0% True Shooting
This includes a run of five straight 30-point games where Green is shooting a ridiculous 42.6% shooting from three-point range. The efficiency is what’s truly startling here. Before February, Green was arguably the least efficient scorer in all of basketball, averaging 14.1 points on a putrid 49.7% true shooting. Since then, he’s completely flipped the script from every area of the floor. This has resulted in a true shooting percentage of 59.3% since February.
Green looks infinitely more confident on the floor. At Rockets training camp, he talked about the game speed being something that caught him off guard and it certainly looked like it at the beginning of the season. Basic game-processing like adjusting to big men dropping in pick and roll coverage made him freeze up. Now in these situations, he’s gotten back to the comfort shot he leaned on as a prospect in the G League: mid-range shooting.
Green loved shooting mid-range jumpers with the G League Ignite, averaging 2.3 attempts per game on 35% shooting. However for the first 35 games of his season, he was only attempting 1.2 attempts per game on shooting 28.6% shooting. Whether it was the poor shooting percentages or rookie tentativeness, Green was uncharacteristically gun-shy from mid-range. As the season progressed and his confidence soared, his attempts from that area nearly doubled and it’s become a part of his regular arsenal again.
Green vs. other star shooting guards
He’s just been on an absolute tear to close the season. It’s gotten many to compare Green’s stretch to Anthony Edwards’ closing stretch last season. That’s natural. Edwards’ had a historic closing stretch for a rookie season, averaging 23.8 points per game, 5.3 rebounds, and 3.4 assists per game on 56.7% true shooting after the All-Star break. But there’s one difference: Green’s been more efficient from pretty much every area of the floor compared to Edwards’ rookie season.
Edwards’ bigger wingspan and filled out frame leads one to believe he has better defensive potential, but in terms of just efficient scoring, Green has a clear leg up. In fact, that’s the case for a lot of the star shooting guards Green was compared to as a prospect.
Zach LaVine as a rookie:
10.1 points on 51.5% True Shooting
Devin Booker as a rookie:
13.8 points on 53.5% True Shooting
Bradley Beal as a rookie:
13.9 points on 53.9% True Shooting
Jalen Green as a rookie:
17.0 points on 54.6% True Shooting
From a scoring standpoint, what Green is doing right now is absolutely insane. Rookies shouldn’t be able to put up 30 points on this kind of efficiency so consistently. It’s not what we’re used to seeing. And yet, he keeps doing it.
What does it all mean?
It means the Rockets can pretty safely say they’ve found a young cornerstone talent and they need to put all their efforts into finding (or developing) another one. An obvious solution here is the 2022 NBA Draft, where the Rockets are expected to have a top five pick (as of now). Chet Holmgren, Jabari Smith Jr., Paulo Banchero, and Jaden Ivey are all extremely intriguing and will be in the mix if Houston lands in the top four at the draft lottery.
They also have premium assets to shop in their own near-future first round picks and the Brooklyn first round picks they acquired in the James Harden trade. If a star player becomes available, Houston has to be aggressive suitors and willing to put these assets on the table if push comes to shove. Obviously they can be a little picky about the kinds of stars they chase. For example, they would presumably be reluctant about trading for a star in his 30s.
Then there’s the in-house young talent: Alperen Sengun, Kevin Porter Jr., and Josh Christopher are the most likely on the roster to develop into more than complimentary young players. Sengun specifically has already shown flashes of being a high-end starter in the NBA. He’s a very efficient post scorer, he’s got a high basketball IQ, and is gifted at finding players who like to score on the move - like Jalen Green.
If this latest explosion hasn’t caused you to recalibrate how you think about Green as a player, you’re being intellectually disingenuous. It’s true that Green has a lot to round out in his game. He’s still a bad defender, he’s not a great playmaker, his rebounding numbers are atrocious, and he still has to fill out his frame. The Rockets will have to surround Green with strong playmakers and gritty defenders to compensate for these weaknesses. It has to be a deliberate approach.
With all that said, these are luxury conversations. Just 13 months after trading away the second best player in franchise history, it’s clear that Houston has yet another special talent on their hands to build a championship nucleus around. Rockets fans have every reason in the world to be on cloud nine right now.