Monday, April 15, 2024

How Jalen Green Is Finally Tapping Into His Potential

Get Ready To Get Booed When You Come To Detroit, Jalen Green!

The Houston Rockets selected Jalen Green second overall in the 2021 NBA Draft, hoping he would be the cornerstone that would carry the franchise through its next era. However, Green’s role with the team has somewhat taken a pivot, especially after the Rockets added veteran guard Fred VanVleet in the offseason to take the reins as the primary ballhandler.

Tabbed as the No. 1 option in his first two years in the league, the 22-year-old has taken a bump in the pecking order in Houston thanks to the emergence of promising big man Alperen Sengun, who was taken 16th overall in the same draft as Green.

Green struggled somewhat with the new role to begin the campaign and questions emerged about whether he would remain in the team’s plans. That remains to be seen. But with the way he is playing as of late, Green could certainly etch himself as a vital piece of this promising Rockets team moving forward.

Green’s Ideal Role in Ime Udoka’s System

Idoka envisions Green as an athletic two-way force

Houston has so far utilized Green for what he is — a dynamic and athletic scorer who can put up points in bunches. The “athletic” part is particularly what Rockets head coach Ime Udoka wants to take advantage of.

“When [Green and Whitmore are] both rolling on the wings and guarding at a higher clip, we like to see what they’re doing together.” – Ime Udoka on what Green’s ideal role for the Rockets would be, via Kelly Iko of The Athletic.

With his athletic gifts, Green is someone who is capable of putting pressure on opposing defenses. His ability to attack the rim and explode off the bounce is his greatest strength offensively and his dynamic game makes him a threat on the open floor or in a high-octane offense.

Moreover, as Udoka alluded to, if Green can use his athleticism on the other end, it would unlock an entirely new level to the 6-foot-4 guard’s game. The former Boston Celtics coach has brought that defensive mindset to this budding Rockets squad that didn’t have quite an identity during Green’s first two years in the league.

And so far, the young guard is slowly embracing the challenge on the defensive side of the floor.

“Defense is like a pride thing, something that you want to take charge of and have respect for yourself guarding somebody. But I wasn’t really worried too much about defense my first two years, mostly just scoring. So yeah, I had some bad habits, defensively, my first few years, but I think I’m breaking it slowly.”-Jalen Green

Green is still a ways away from being considered a good defender. But it’s great to see the self-awareness on his part to improve and, so far, the advanced numbers back that up. On the season, the Rockets are giving up 114.9 points per 100 possessions whenever Green is on the floor, which is by far the best defensive rating of his career.

With his athleticism, Green is capable of being a top-level defender in the NBA if he tries.

Green Still Struggles With Efficiency

Shooting just 41.2 percent from the field this season

The Rockets drafted Green second overall primarily because of his scoring ability. And that is what they should let him flourish at if they want to succeed in the foreseeable future.

Green is currently the team’s second-leading scorer behind Sengun, and with the big man already done for the season with a severe ankle injury, he will likely emerge as the top option through this last stretch of the campaign.

Green hasn’t been shy about letting it fly. He is 21st in the league in total shot attempts and 16th in three-point shot attempts. However, though Green is capable of filling up the scoreboard in a hurry, the former G-League Ignite standout is still an inefficient shooter — one of the worst in the league, in fact.

Despite the presence of another playmaker like VanVleet on the team, his effective field goal shooting dropped slightly from 48.5 percent last season to 48.0 percent this year. His three-point shooting percentage also went down to 31.4 percent from 33.8 percent last season, even though his catch-and-shoot frequency has gone up this year.

Part of Green’s inefficiency is due to him taking tough shots. He still forces the issue from time to time. But this year, he has shown improvement in his shot selection.

Jalen Green Shots – Closest Defender Comparison
Season 2022-23 2023-24
Closest Defender FREQ EFG% FREQ EFG%
Very Tight (0-2 feet) 6.5% 39.2% 9.6% 40.2%
Tight (2-4 feet) 43.3% 46.0% 34.2% 43.0%
Open (4-6 feet) 34.0% 47.4% 36.1% 53.4%
Wide Open (6+ feet) 16.3% 61.8% 20.1% 50.5%

Nearly half of his attempts last season were either “Tight” or “Very Tight” shots. That has now gone down considerably this season. And though he hasn’t been able to cash in on his open looks as much as he’d like this season, it’s great to see the numbers indicate better shot selection from Green. His shooting percentages should only improve as he continues to take better shot attempts.

Sengun and Green Could Make a Deadly Duo

Can they replicate the Jokic-Murray and Fox-Sabonis tandems?

Alperen Sengun has more or less established himself as the face of the franchise, especially with his epic performances just before going down with a season-ending ankle injury. Green, meanwhile, is also settling into his new role as the secondary or tertiary option on offense. But he still has the green light to go out there and do what he does best, and that is score the basketball.

Sengun is more than willing to let Green thrive as a scorer, as Houston would be even deadlier if the shooting guard is able to bump up his percentages and become more efficient from the field. Green should be able to feed off Sengun’s game, as their play styles complement each other well.

Sengun and Green should look at the blueprint set by the Denver Nuggets duo of Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, or the Sacramento Kings tandem of Domantas Sabonis and De’Aaron Fox. Their games kind of resemble each other, too.

Sengun has drawn comparisons to Jokic and Sabonis with his ability to create plays from the center position and be a hub on offense. As for Green, he is the dynamic offensive talent who can score with the best of them, much like Fox and Murray are. The only difference between them is his inefficiency and that is largely due to Green’s considerably fewer attempts from the mid-range, where both Fox and Murray are deadly.

Guard Comparison – FG by Distance
Player Jalen Green De’Aaron Fox Jamal Murray
10 to 16 feet 6.5% 33.3% 17.1% 44.8% 17.2% 46.8%
16 feet to 3P 9.6% 41.2% 6.6% 31.2% 15.8% 47.3%
3P 43.9% 31.4% 36.1% 36.6% 34.6% 42.0%

If Green is able to take more shots within mid-range, his overall percentage should improve. His shiftiness makes him capable of navigating the defense when he gets into a pick-and-roll with Sengun. Just imagine the two-man game between them. If he is able to improve his efficiency while establishing more synergy with Sengun, they could be the next great big-guard tandem in the league.

Jalen Green may never become the franchise cornerstone the Rockets thought he would be. He may never be the superstar that former NBA All-Star Gilbert Arenas sees in him. But at the very least, Green could be a star in his role and that’s fine.

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