Jalen Green is the most talented scorer in this year’s draft. The 19-year-old has been tearing up the G League as part of the Ignite Team, averaging 17.9 points per game on 46.1 percent shooting. He’s racking up points despite facing better defenders than any of his peers playing college basketball. It’s just hard to stop someone who combines video-game athleticism with a textbook jumper. Green will get buckets in the NBA. The question is how long it will take him to do anything else.
Green has been given the green light from the jump. He’s no. 2 on the Ignite Team in minutes (32.0 per game) and field goal attempts (13.6) behind only Jonathan Kuminga, another potential top-five pick. The Ignite Team is set up to maximize the production of its young stars. The program, which is in its first season, gives would-be one-and-done players the chance to skip college without going overseas by putting them on a G League team and surrounding them with former NBA coaches and players. The league has a lot invested in its success, so the Ignite staff is doing everything in their power to make Green and Kuminga look good. The goal is to see those two drafted high, and then use their success to convince the next wave of high school seniors to sign up.
The impressive part is how much Green has done with the opportunity. Anyone can take a lot of shots. Green has done that while still being efficient within his role, no small challenge for a teenager facing off against grown men. He makes shots at a much higher clip than Kuminga from every area of the floor:
Kuminga’s struggles are more along the lines of what NBA scouts expected from the Ignite prospects. Going from high school to the G League is a much bigger leap than high school to college. Most of the players that Green and Kuminga face in the G League bubble in Orlando are former NCAA stars in their mid-20s trying to claw their way into the NBA. Kuminga has had to adjust his game because he can no longer rely on size and athleticism to bully overmatched defenders. That hasn’t been an issue for Green. His game has translated quicker because it is based around speed and skill instead of power.
He has some outrageous highlights. Even his misses are exciting. Look at where Green jumps from on this missed dunk:
He’s listed at 6-foot-6 and 178 pounds, but most scouts I’ve talked to think he’s closer to 6-foot-4. Either way, players with his bounce and speed don’t come around often. Green is a creative finisher who can hang in the air for a split second longer than the defense:
Green’s athleticism alone would get him into the NBA. Combine that with his ability to launch 3s off the dribble, and he looks like a future star. Green may not be an elite shooter at this stage in his career, but defenses have to respect him anywhere on the floor. And he can sink some tough 3s when a hand is in his face:
That kind of shotmaking ability will allow Green to contribute immediately at the next level. But it won’t be as easy for him as it has been in the G League. There are still a lot of holes in his game that will become more significant as the level of competition increases in the NBA.
The biggest concern is that Green doesn’t read the floor well. He’s never really had to before. Green has essentially spent his whole life being able to mash the turbo button at any point in the possession, allowing him to create a shot whenever he feels like it. That won’t work in the NBA. He will have to figure out the difference between a good shot and a great one, and when to pass up on a shot to create one for someone else.
Green is not much of a playmaker, averaging 2.8 assists per game on 2.7 turnovers. He mostly hunts for his own shot when he’s on the floor. The times when he does pass often seem predetermined. A lot of his turnovers happen when he assumes someone will be open without actually looking:
The problem for the NBA team that drafts Green is that he is nowhere near ready to run an offense, and a player with his limited passing chops has to play off the ball. That will be a challenging adjustment given that he’s always been a ball-dominant guard. The best-case scenario for him next season is probably an offensive role similar to Immanuel Quickley’s on the Knicks, in which he can play free and get up a bunch of shots without having to worry about setting anyone else up.
But the bar for being an effective player in that role is really high. There are a lot of guards in the NBA who can score in bunches if given the opportunity, so teams don’t necessarily have to take those players in the top five. Quickley was the no. 25 pick in last year’s draft.
Green will have to develop his game on both ends of the floor. His frame will hold him back on defense. He’s just not strong enough to hang with most NBA shooting guards right now. It will take him years to put on enough weight and learn how to absorb and deal out contact. Green is 25 pounds lighter than Jalen Suggs, another 6-foot-4 combo guard expected to go in the top five. That kind of strength differential matters. Green will get bumped out of the way on drives as a defender, and will be at the mercy of the referees when defenders knock him off balance.
Patience will be important with Green. The NBA comparison that I’ve heard most from scouts is Zach LaVine, another electric guard who came into the league at 19 with the ability to shoot and finish and not much else. LaVine just made his first All-Star game at 25, in his seventh season. Getting to that point has been a painfully long process. The talent was always there. But LaVine had to become much stronger, learn how to alternate between scoring and passing, play on and off the ball, and balance his energy between offense and defense. Green will have to make the same progression. That’s not something that happens overnight.
Nor is there any guarantee that it happens at all. LaVine is one of the hardest workers in the league. He’s not the most instinctual player. He has had to develop his game almost by brute force and through endless hours in the gym. There are plenty of players with his physical tools who don’t fully utilize them. Terrence Ross is a good example. He’s one of the most gifted scorers in the NBA, with the ability to shoot from anywhere and dunk on anyone. But he has topped out as a sixth man in Orlando because he never added much else to his game.
There’s no way to know where Green will land on that spectrum. He’s still so young that many developmental paths are open to him. Green will be a good-to-great scorer in the NBA. There’s little doubt about that. But that’s only a small part of being a good-to-great player.