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Houston, Do We Have A Problem?
Rockets fans have watched Evan Mobley and Scottie Barnes come out of the gate swinging. Meanwhile, their prized #2 pick's early struggles has left many fans wondering...what's wrong with Jalen Green?
As evaluators there are many reasons that we love covering the NBA Draft as deeply as we do here at No Ceilings. However, as a fan of a singular NBA team, there’s really only one reason to follow this very niche basketball topic...hope.
Every year teams strip their roster to its core in hopes of losing a shit ton of games that will hopefully land them that one superstar level prospect that will bring their favorite franchise years of prosperity. Fans latch onto and defend these players with the type of loyalty and fervor that most people can only ever dream to receive themselves. But what happens when that highly ranked prospect doesn’t start their young careers tearing shit up, and instead those fans have to read reviews gushing over the guys taken directly behind them? Rockets fans are finding that out.
Evan Mobley (taken directly after Green) looks like the next Kevin Garnett, meanwhile, Scottie Barnes looks like he was crafted in a lab to represent the walking embodiment of position-less basketball. Jalen Green, the number two overall pick in this year’s draft was billed as a generational scorer with an athletic package straight out of a video game. The pre-draft dialogue with Green wasn’t just full of people saying he should be taken ahead of Mobley and Barnes; it had deviated to a point where many people wondered if Green should leapfrog Cade Cunningham as the first overall pick. Fast forward four months and that conversation has veered completely off course and now has fans wondering...Houston, do we umm have a problem?
Fret not Rockets fans, the answer is no. The young shooting guard may not have started his career firing on all cylinders, playing with the poise and nuance of a five year vet, but let's calm down for a second because most rookies don’t. Scottie Barnes and Evan Mobley have been the exception, not the rule. Those dudes are fucking fantastic, but they’re also in better contextual situations than Green. The roster construction on the Cavs and Raptors just makes more sense than whatever they’re building over in Houston. The Rockets have a lot of young talent (Sengun hive stand up), but that talent isn’t exactly complementary to what makes Jalen a great prospect. While Mobley is playing next to playmaking guards like Ricky Rubio and Darius Garland, Jalen has had to watch Kevin Porter Jr dribble the air out of the ball before chucking up an off-balance isolation step back three.
It’s ugly offense, and Jalen is certainly guilty of it himself, but that’s what you get when you barebone your roster to lose as many games as possible with talent acquisition as the only goal. Trevor Lawrence was the most hyped rookie quarterback in years and he’s looked much worse in Jacksonville than Mac Jones has for New England. What if the roles were reversed? Does Jones still look like the odds on favorite for offensive rookie of the year if he wasn’t in the ideal situation? Likewise, does Green have an easier time acclimating to the league if he has Rubio and Garland running the offense and Jarret Allen backlining the defense? Shit, how much easier would his NBA acclimation be if the Rockets didn’t send John Wall on vacation?
Guards of Jalen’s ilk have historically struggled with efficiency and decision making out of the gate. Zach Lavine was wildly wild. Devin Booker was a low percentage chucker who couldn’t win games. Even the late great Kobe Bryant took years to really take off. Bean was coming off the bench throwing up airballs as a rookie. What I’m trying to say is that it shouldn't be shocking to see guards with Green’s archetype struggle with bad half court decision making.
Jalen IS a tough shot maker off the bounce and the freedom he has to experiment with his scoring repertoire certainly has its benefits. You see how capable he is at one day functioning as an offensive fulcrum when he shows off how advanced his space creation ability is on some of the ridiculously tough stepbacks that he attempts. It takes some massive skill to knock this down in a clutch situation with Anthony freaking Davis in your grill.
That footwork is unreal for a nineteen year old kid. But because Green is so capable of hitting these insanely tough shots, he tends to settle.
Why does Jalen settle? Most likely because he’s really struggled finishing at the cup. According to synergy, Green has ranked in the eleventh percentile of finishers at the rim, completing just forty three percent of those attempts. Green’s bounce and first step are out of this world, but Jalen’s got a slender frame and doesn’t yet have the strength to finish amongst the trees. He tries to avoid contact which in turn makes his finishes tougher and keeps him off the free throw line. Jalen didn’t earn his first trip to the charity stripe until his fifth game of the season.
The lack of strength has also led to some turnover problems. This issue is compounded with his slow processing and iffy decision making. Jalen hasn’t been a turnover machine per se, but you can tell that he’s still very early in his education of what spots on the floor NBA defenses are trying to force him into.
So besides time, what’s the fix?
Jalen has operated much better off ball in spot up situations where he has space to walk into his jumper. Despite the poor shooting percentages defenses still try to run Jalen off the line which opens up gaps in the defense for Green to attack when rotations are late.
The one area that Jalen has thrived at offensively, has been scoring out of dribble hand offs. Per synergy, Green grades out as excellent out of DHO’s, ranking in the ninety-third percentile. DHO’s allow Jalen to get a defender on his back and a big on his heels, opening up more space on the floor to take full advantage of his athletic gifts.
Green can then leverage his downhill scoring ability to create drop offs and more reactionary playmaking opportunities that feels more natural to process at game speed.
But just because Jalen has had an easier time attacking off the ball doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be given on ball reps. He isn’t going to be a point guard but I still really like his potential operating in the P&R. Similarly to the DHO’s it allows him more advantages to bend the will of the defense by forcing bad mismatches. At his best, he’s showing off impressive pace, putting guys in jail and operating with the patience of an efficient scorer. He can pull up into open mid range shots or get all the way to the hoop. The playmaking reads Green has made out of P&R sets are still basic, but they’re a good start.
At his worst, Jalen settles for long twos and contested jump shots, just bailing the defense out completely. Green is way too talented to do that.
He’s going to get better. Does that mean that we should let him off the hook for his early season struggles? No. He was the number two overall pick and heavy is the head that wears the crown. But we have to give him time. You have to be patient. Last season Anthony Edwards had the same early struggles while LaMelo Ball looked like a future All-NBA guy right out the gate. People rushed to proclaim Edwards a bust, unworthy of the first overall pick. Today, Edwards, far from a finished product, has the looks of a guy who may one day lead the league in scoring.
Cole Anthony is another guy who struggled as a rookie but is now straight up cooking dudes. Those same off the bounce shots that didn’t connect as a rookie are starting to drop with consistency. Cole recently tweeted that “greatness isn't achieved overnight”. He’s right.
Jalen Green has an unbelievable work ethic and the will to be great. Eventually Green will get more comfortable with the speed of the game and the roster will be constructed in a way that better fits his strengths and hides his weaknesses. Green is an unevolved Pokémon right now. It takes time to transform from a Charmander into a fully functioning fire breathing Charizard.
The flashes may be few and far between right now, but they’re going to become more and more frequent. And when they do...look out because Jalen Green is going to lift off.