Jalen Green, Zach LaVine and 'everything else'
Jalen Green is the best scorer in this draft class. It's the 'everything else' that will determine if he's empty calories or a future All-Star.
Jalen Green is a human turbo button.
He’s a 6-foot-5, 178 pound quick twitch muscle. The buzz words that you’ll hear used to describe his game over the course of the NBA Draft process: Athleticism. Explosiveness. Burst. First-step. Bounce. He has a gear that very few people on planet earth can get to, and he knows how to take advantage of it:
The difference between him and many of the other elite athletes that have come through ranks, however, is that Green is a really skilled scorer that has turned himself into a high-level shooter. He isn’t just a raw physical specimen. He’s not just a leaper that would be better off competing in track and field than on the hardwood. He’s going to average 20 points in the NBA, and he’s going to do it sooner rather than later.
Green’s path to the NBA Draft is new. He did not matriculate through college. He took the money that the G League Ignite program was paying and turned pro out of high school, meaning that he spent the last year training with and playing against former all-americans that are now in the 20s and scrapping for that last NBA contract. He played 15 games in the G League bubble against grown men as a young 19-year old, and he played really well, averaging 17.9 points while shooting 46 percent from the floor and 36.5 percent from three on nearly six attempts per game.
There are two reasons, for me, that those numbers really pop:
2021 PROSPECT PROFILES:
For starters, the degree of difficulty on the shots that Green took this season was really high. He shot more pull-ups than he did catch-and-shoot jumpers, and many of those pull-ups were contested mid-range shots. He shot just 28 percent on off-the-dribble jumpers inside the three-point line.
Part of this, however, was by design, which leads me to reason No. 2: The Ignite program is designed to foster and showcase the development of their one-and-done talent. The NBA has invested a lot of money in this project, and if it’s going to continue to attract elite talent, they need that elite talent to succeed and get drafted high. The result? Green was encouraged to hunt shots.
The point of this wasn’t necessarily to win games, it was to get Green to be able to implement the stuff he works on in training and practice into actual games. Put another way, he wasn’t getting benched for missing a tough jumper because he has to learn to make those tough jumpers if he’s going to hit his ceiling.
And despite that, his efficiency numbers were pretty good. Jonathan Kuminga, for example, shot just 24.6 percent from three on five attempts per game, compared to 36.5 percent for Green. Or what about Anthony Edwards. Ant-man shot 29 percent from three and 40 percent from the floor as a freshman at Georgia. His true shooting percentage in the SEC was 51.7 percent. Green’s true shooting percentage in the G League was 61.3 percent.
Green’s strength right now is as an isolation scorer. He really understands how to use the threat of the drive to be able to create space to get his shot off. His footwork is just a delight to watch, and he can his all the dashbacks in his bag: step-backs going right, step-backs going left, pull-backs. He can create six feet of space while staying on-balance. That’s not an easy thing to do.
The reason why these moves are so effective is because defenders have to respect his ability to put the ball on the floor. He’s just so explosive when he is able to get downhill. His first-step will leave you in the dust, his top speed will make you think he can compete in the 100 meter dash and it seems like he can hit that top speed in two steps. Like I said in the open, he has a gear that very few people can match.
He definitely needs to add weight to handle bigger bodies in the pros, but he has time. He has a decent frame and, more importantly, he’s already tough. He’s not afraid of contact, and he has the body control, hangtime and finishing touch that he can finish around bigger defenders as well. He will also try and end you with a poster. He’ll go viral in the first month of his rookie season for at least one dunk. Book it.
When I watch him, it’s hard not to see a replica of Chicago guard Zach LaVine, who is coming off an all-star season where he averaged 27.4 points, 5.0 boards and 4.9 assists as a 25-year old. They have the same burst, the same downhill ability, the same lithe, lean build.
Now, Green’s development is ahead of LaVine’s at the same point in their careers. But LaVine is an absolute workhorse. He works out with the same trainer as Jayson Tatum and Bradley Beal. It took hours, and hours, and hours of offseason work to develop himself into one of the 20 best players in the NBA, to turn himself into something more than a dunker. He’s still crazy athletic, but he’s an all-star because he’s doing everything else now, too.
That’s where Green needs to grow. He has to learn how to make better reads out of ball-screens, how to work through his progressions. He has a tendency to get locked in on making a specific play, be it getting to his pull-up or hitting the roll-man, instead of reacting to what the defense gives him. Sometimes that results in a gorgeous assist. Sometimes it leads to an ugly turnover. He’ll get there. You’re not supposed to have it all figured out a year removed from high school.
I think that Green will make his leap when the game slows down for him. When you’re as athletically gifted as Green is, playing high school competition can lead to bad habits. He could explode past or over all defenders whenever you want. He didn’t need any nuance to his game. That wasn’t the case in the G League. That won’t happen in NBA.
Perhaps the most promising part is that, as the games went by, you could see some things start to click. This play stood out to me. Instead of exploding off the screen, he held his defender on his hip, elevated and drew a foul:
The best ball-screen guards in the NBA operate at their own pace. They understand how to use hostage dribbles to take their defender out of the play. They understand how to manipulate defenses with the threat of a pass. I do fully believe Green has the ability to get to that level, but he’s never had to do any of this before. We see it with young big men all the time. They’ll look lost defending in space or trying to work through ball-screen coverages because all they had to do in high school was stand in front of the rim and block shots.
So for Green, his future is all going to depend on how much work he puts it.
If he adds nothing to his game, he’ll spend a decade in the league as an above average scorer thanks to his athleticism and shot-making.
But if his body fills out? If he learns how to process what’s happening on the floor around him? If he continues to develop the ability to teammates better? If he learns how to balance scoring and passing; how to balance playing on and off the ball; how to put in effort and position himself properly on the defensive end?
If he learns how to harness that athleticism, there’s no reason that Jalen Green can’t one day be as good as Zach LaVine or Brad Beal.
Once he realizes that scoring and dunking can only get him so far, once he figures out that it’s everything else that will make him a great player, he’ll be a star.
But I do believe he’ll get there.