In the 2021 NBA Draft, the Houston Rockets held the second overall pick and selected Jalen Green, a high-flying athlete who displayed polished three-level scoring chops with the G-League Ignite program. Green’s improved distance shooting and glimpses of playmaking/defensive energy helped his draft stock rise throughout the season. General manager Rafael Stone collected a haul on draft day alongside Green, snagging Alperen Sengun, Usman Garuba, and Josh Christopher outside of the lottery. The Rockets rebuild was in full swing, the post-James Harden era had arrived, and Jalen Green was presumed to be the new face of the franchise.
Although it was far from a disappointing season for Green, there was a lot left to be desired following his rookie year. He started out the year poorly, posting inefficient shooting numbers and struggling to adjust to the pace of the game and the improved rim protection of NBA centers. The burst and athleticism was on full display despite early handle issues, but his driving process still left a lot to be desired. However, despite all of these issues early on, Green ended the season on a tear. Post all-star break, he was significantly more efficient from all three levels, turned the ball over less, and showed improved defensive instincts as a team defender. He ended the season scoring 30 or more points in five of his last six games and finished with averages of 17.3 PPG and 2.6 APG with a 54.7 TS%. His late season push was enough to earn him a spot on the prestigious All-Rookie First Team.
The pressure will be on Green to take a leap in his sophomore season. With Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes already being high-level starters on playoff teams, he’s going to have to improve his two-way consistency and efficiency to take the next step in his development. He won’t be tasked with trying to drag a tanking Rockets team to a playoff berth in a brutal Western Conference, but substantial improvement will be expected thanks to the brilliance of his rookie class. But in what ways can Green improve to take a big leap forward?
A Developing Driver
The biggest way he can improve is in his driving process and his driving tools. There’s a lot of different ways to become a prolific driver in the NBA. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander uses stride length, incredible ball-handling, and absurd functional athleticism to lead the league in drives every season. Ja Morant uses nuclear burst and incredible body control to slash to the basket and contort his body for a myriad of finishes at the rim. Luka Doncic uses strength and size paired with his elite handle and crafty footwork to maneuver his way past defenders. Those three were first, second, and third in drives per game last season, and all three have different methods to generate paint touches at a high level.
Jalen Green was blessed with incredible athletic gifts. There’s been multiple highlights of his absurd vertical athleticism and hang time but his burst is what gives him such a high ceiling as a driver. Using an explosive first step, he can shift past his defenders or burn them with a simple combo move on his way to the bucket. His end-to-end speed is ridiculous and he reaches his top speeds insanely quickly.
This play shows me how special Jalen Green really is.
The burst in combination with the way he plays with his pace to surprise the defender is absolutely crazy.
— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) March 7, 2022
However, athletic dynamos like Green can sometimes struggle early in their career with playing with pace and tempo. Ja Morant struggled with this early on in his career and this was a weakness of Pelicans guard Kira Lewis Jr coming out of college. Using your speed and quickness is never a bad thing, but learning to play with pace, slowing down, and knowing when to pick your spots to accelerate/decelerate makes you that much more unpredictable off the bounce. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander is a master of knowing when to change speeds and decelerate to throw defenders off. The scary thing is that he’s not anywhere near as gifted as Green in terms of pure burst and leaping ability.
It took Green a little bit to figure out that he can’t just launch himself into rim protectors and try to finish through them. As the season went on, he became more patient and methodical in the halfcourt as a driver and PNR operator. He was using pace more consistently and playing slower in the half court. If the improvements he was showing at the end of the year are real, that’s a huge step in the right direction for his development.
The next two things that he can improve upon is his handle and his strength. Handle is one of trickiest things to improve upon at the NBA level. His handle isn’t bad per say or something that will keep him from being a star, but it’s loose on the drive and it doesn’t always create an advantage. A refined, tighter handle would do him wonders on the drive and getting into his shots off the dribble
The second thing is strength. Green has made a good amount of physical progress in his upper body and he’s looked noticeably stronger. However, he still has room to add more strength and muscle mass so he can be better at taking bumps on the drive and being even more physical at the rim. Added muscle could make him a FT monster. With his burst and ability to hang at the rim combined with added muscle and physicality at the rim, he could become one of the top foul drawers in the game.
Fouled on the highest % of drives among qualifying players in ‘21-‘22:
1. Giannis: 14.5%
2. LaVine: 12.3%
3. Harden: 11.8%
4. Butler: 11.5%
5. Jalen Green: 10.0%
6. Dinwiddie: 9.9%
7. Tatum: 9.8%
8. Barrett: 9.8%
9. LeBron: 9.5%
10. Ingram: 9.4% pic.twitter.com/1ZMEDAhSyw
— NBA University (@NBA_University) September 3, 2022
Green’s generational athletic traits in terms of vertical and horizontal athleticism combined with improved driving process gives him a sky-high ceiling as a driver. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Ja Morant, Luka Doncic were three guys mentioned earlier as the most prolific drivers in the NBA right now. Jalen Green has the potential to be as good at self-generating rim attempts as any of those three. He has the high end run-jump athleticism that Gilgeous-Alexander and Doncic lack while being taller than Morant. If he’s able to combine his tools with handle refinement and physical improvement, we could be talking about him as the best driver in the NBA in a few seasons.
Pull-Up Shooting Prowess
Jalen Green’s path to becoming one of the best scorers in the league is led by his elite driving potential, but there’s no denying that his shooting off the dribble can unlock another deadly element to his game. His shooting baseline is already solid. He shot 34.2% on 6.8 attempts per game as a rookie. He led all rookies in attempts per game and was 6th in percentage on a steady diet of pull-ups and off the catch looks.
Green’s growth curve as a shooter throughout the season was noticeable as well. After an abysmal February where he shot 23.7% from behind the arch, he shot around 39% from three throughout the rest of the season. He’s a noticeably good mid-range scorer as well who unleashes some incredible flashes of space creation.
Jalen Green's pull-up flashes remain absurdly good pic.twitter.com/xHzx7kU6Ok
— Jackson Frank (@jackfrank_jjf) November 26, 2021
According to Second Spectrum, Green ranked 4th among rookie in eFG% on all pull-up shots (45.6%) just behind Bones Hyland, Cameron Thomas, and Tre Mann. The pull-up mechanics are silky smooth with a good energy transfer and he’s quick to hop into his shot as well.
Green came into his rookie season as someone with a great shooting track record pre-NBA. With the G-League Ignite, he shot a fairly high percentage from behind the arch with a high FT% as well; two indicators that when paired together make for a special shooting prospect. It’s reasonable to project a shooting leap from Green especially when you consider the wild growth curve he had in season plus the improvements he will have made in the offseason.
Jalen Green's quick pull-up is a thing of beauty. Also love the high release on his shots. pic.twitter.com/6Lizz8o9pb
— Ersin Demir (@EDemirNBA) March 26, 2022
How good of a scorer can Green be if he pairs an elite driving game with a diverse shooting portfolio? Not to mention all the free throws he might get with more added size and muscle. The scoring ceiling is incredible for him. There might be no one in the league besides Anthony Edwards who can match Green’s sheer athleticism and rim pressuring ability with a knockdown three-point shot. The only major difference between the two is their physical profiles. Edwards is built like an NFL edge rusher already while Green is much more thin and doesn’t have nearly the same build.
Regardless, if he can continue to develop his pull-up jumper from both mid-range and behind the arch, Green has a chance to be a game-changing scorer.