Jalen Green was always destined to get buckets in the NBA. He was already a consensus five-star recruit by the time he entered high school, and arguably the most famous teenage hooper of his generation this side of Zion Williamson and LaMelo Ball by the time he left it. Green’s ridiculous leaping ability, explosive scoring outbursts, and California roots helped him draw comparisons to Kobe Bryant from an early age. While it’s never fair to compare such a young player to a Hall of Famer, it was clear this was the type of talent who deserved to be talked about in hallowed terms.
After years of speculation over where he’d play in college (he pioneered the G League Ignite program instead) and how high he would go in the draft, Green has finally reached the NBA. It’s only Summer League, but it’s already apparent the prophecy of Green’s scoring ability at the highest levels of the game is all but a sure thing.
The No. 2 overall pick in the 2021 NBA Draft put his gifts on display in his debut for the Houston Rockets in Las Vegas. He finished with 23 points on 9-of-18 shooting from the floor and 4-of-9 shooting from three in a win against the Cleveland Cavaliers and No. 3 overall pick Evan Mobley.
We had Green ranked third on our big board entering the draft. If there are really two players from this class who have better careers, this will go down as a historically strong draft. Green has the ability to one day flirt with averaging 30 points per game in the league. You can already see his game coming together even in his first taste of what NBA ball can be like.
Jalen Green already bounced into step-backs like a pro
Green’s speed and leaping ability were already well known as he arrived at the G League Ignite for his pre-draft season. His shooting ability was less of a sure thing. While Green had some enticing shot-making flashes in high school and on the international stage in helping USA Basketball win three gold medals at FIBA junior tournaments, the numbers and the tape would tell the story against grown men in a pro league.
All Green did in his 15 games in the G League was average a shade under 18 points per game on brilliant 61.3 percent true shooting buoyed by a 36.5 percent mark from three-point range on solid volume. Those numbers were be impressive in any context, but it was how effortlessly Green could hit some of the toughest shots in the game that really stood out.
Green showed off the full repertoire in his debut in Vegas. This is a pro move for a 19-year-old who already has pro experience in the G League.
Yeah you can't teach this.— Nekias (Nuh-KY-us) Duncan (@NekiasNBA) August 8, 2021
Jalen Green is how old, again? pic.twitter.com/vHLJCYyYD1
Green looks so thin when he walks into the gym, but it takes quite a bit of strength to hop into step-backs like this and still get a good look at the basket. He already looks incredibly comfortable and confident setting his defender up for these shots.
With one false step, the defender can give Green a clear lane to the basket. Even when the defense holds its ground, Green knows he can create a ton of space for his jumper with moves like this:
The footwork Green shows in creating space for his jump shot is just as impressive as anything he does above the rim. He’s a player who gets a ton of easy buckets just based on his athleticism, but he can also get tough baskets in late-game or late-shot clock situations with that remarkable ability to create openings.
Green is an aggressive downhill scorer in the pick-and-roll
While Green was mostly known for his bounce around the rim at the high school level, his first step might be even more important in the league. He has phenomenal standstill burst with the ball in his hands, often able to break the first line of defense with his initial dribble.
Green doesn’t just rely on his speed, though. He’s learning that oftentimes deceleration is just as important as acceleration. This type of patience in the pick-and-roll will serve him well in the league.
Jalen Green strong drive to end the first quarter pic.twitter.com/BbgUOenp5M— Jackson Gatlin (@JTGatlin) August 8, 2021
Green’s burst makes him a natural at turning the corner and exploding to the basket. That’s the type of skill you can’t teach, and the sort of thing that gets a player drafted No. 2 overall. It takes more refined tricks to score at the NBA level, though, and Green already seems to grasp how to manipulate the defense with pace when he starts his attacking drives.
On this play, Green gets matched up with Mobley off a dribble-handoff. Mobley cuts off the paint and opens up to give Green an angle. Mobley might be the best defensive prospect in this draft class and can often hang with guards on the perimeter, but Green burned him with ease before using his left hand to finish the layup.
Off-hand finish for Jalen Green! pic.twitter.com/j9XZStGrcj— Jackson Gatlin (@JTGatlin) August 8, 2021
This is the type of scoring craft that separates Green from so many other elite athletes rising the ranks who couldn’t find a stable career in the league.
Green is going to put a ton of pressure on the rim from his early days in the league. While his size and strength concerns could come into play as a finisher against NBA length, it’s encouraging he already seems to grasp the more refined points of scoring in close.
Green has a mid-range game, too
The mid-range shot became taboo for a few seasons, but we see in the playoffs every year that you need it when the game slows down and defenses are game-planning for your tendencies. Green has the mid-range game he needs to complement his slashing and pull-up threes. It gives him the full package as a scorer.
On this play, the defense loads up to cut off Green’s driving lane. He pivots backwards, and hits a nice turnaround jumper despite a strong contest.
Sheeeesh— Aram Cannuscio (@AC__Hoops) August 8, 2021
Tough J from Jalen Green as he plants and then bounces off the pivot to get just enough separation from a good defender in Lamar Stevens! pic.twitter.com/KE7SM6GSk2
Here’s another example of Green setting up his defender for his step-back, this time from mid-range. These are the shots defenses are built to surrender. If he can hit these jumpers at a high enough clip, the only way to guard him will be to force the ball out of his hands.
This Jalen Green play made me put on a barong and pray the rosary. pic.twitter.com/puUeV97blD— C.J. Toledano (@CJToledano) August 9, 2021
Green can play off the ball, too
Green figures to get plenty of on-ball reps as a rookie with a Rockets team that is just beginning its rebuild. It will also be fascinating to see how he works next to John Wall, another former high school prodigy who lived up the hype and is now on the downside of his career.
Green’s best long-term fit still feels like it’s probably playing next to another ball dominant guard who can help him create easy offensive opportunities. Here’s a good example of how Green’s game works off the ball: he curls around the screen, squares himself to the hoop as he catches the ball, and immediately launches an easy three.
Here's a staple plenty of the best SGs in the NBA have today. Green gets close to Okoro then quickly accelerates away, using his body as a launching pad. Gets open off the curl for a deep ball. Big man is in drop defense. Enough clean space to rise up for a J. Again, pic.twitter.com/rrRxL25Ne8— Naveen Ganglani (@naveenganglani) August 9, 2021
Green will also be a major threat scoring in transition off outlet passes. On this play, he leaks out after a miss, finds himself wide open at the arc, and swishes a triple.
As opposing teams load up in the paint in transition to protect against Green’s rim attacks, he should find himself a lot of open threes before the defense gets set.
Green isn’t a perfect prospect, but he is a great scorer
We had Green ranked third in this draft class because it feels like Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley have more avenues to impact winning deep in the playoffs. Cunningham and Mobley are both bigger players who show better playmaking ability and have way more potential on the defensive end.
Green will likely never be a plus defender, but he just has to prove he’s not a huge minus on that end to return great value. It will likely be a process — NBA defense is hard! — but he can get there eventually. Decision-making with the ball in his hands will be Green’s other big area of improvement. This was an encouraging pass from his summer league debut:
Green doesn’t turn 20 years old until February. He’s going to have a lot of time to learn how to read the floor and make his teammates better. His final step will be controlling the game with his mind as much as his physical talent.
Green’s Summer League debut isn’t really proof of anything. Summer League is often fool’s gold. The level of defense played in Las Vegas is a far cry from what he’ll see in the league. What Green did in his Rockets debut is what he’s been doing for years, though. His talent has been on display competing against in peers in high school, on the international stage with USA Basketball, and against grown men in the G League.
Getting buckets is what he does and what he will do for a long time. This is only the start.