(Editor’s note: The Pistons won the NBA draft lottery for the first time in franchise history last week and general manager Troy Weaver said there were five players who were legitimate candidates to be the top pick. Pistons.com today continues a five-part series looking at the consensus top-five prospects in the draft with an examination of the G League Ignite’s Jalen Green.)
Before he turned 15, Jalen Green was collecting Division I scholarship offers the way his peers might clamor for basketball cards of their NBA idols. At 16, he was MVP of the FIBA U-17 Basketball World Cup while leading the United States national team to the gold medal. At 18, he signed to play in the G League for a reported $500,000, becoming the first player to bypass college to join the NBA’s newly launched Ignite franchise set up to groom teen phenoms.
He’s been compared to a young Kobe Bryant, an analogy his G League coach – and former Bryant teammate Brian Shaw – doesn’t run from.
There are always cautionary tales of prodigies whose stars burn out before taking their anticipated places in the firmament, but Green has kept the blinders on and stayed on course for years now.
Playing with longtime NBA players like Amir Johnson and Jarrett Jack and against an especially strong G League contingent in a season where rosters were condensed, Green put up numbers that would have been eye opening had they come in college games against significantly lesser competition.
Cade Cunningham emerged over a standout freshman season at Oklahoma State to become the presumptive No. 1 pick, but the charge for Pistons general manager Troy Weaver and his staff in the four weeks remaining before the July 29 draft will be to determine how much of that perception is valid. Had Green gone to Oklahoma State and Cunningham chosen the G League, what then?
Here’s a look at Green:
FIRST-ROUND CANDIDATE: Jalen Green
ID CARD: 6-foot-6 wing, G League Ignite, 19 years old
DRAFT RANGE: Ranked 4th by The Athletic, 3rd by ESPN.com, 2nd by Bleacher Report, 4th by The Ringer, 4th by SI.com
SCOUTS LOVE: If you were to poll NBA scouts as to which player in this draft class is the most likely to one day lead the league in scoring, Green might be the unanimous pick. That’s where any and all discussions of Green start. He’s a walking bucket. At 6-foot-6 with explosive athleticism, deep shooting range and enough ballhandling skills to exploit his athletic gifts, Green can score from deep and from off the dribble. As one of the youngest players in the G League bubble (only teammates Jonathan Kuminga and Daishen Nix were younger), Green scored 17.9 points a game and shot 36.5 percent from the 3-point arc and got progressively better, an especially encouraging acclimation to the speed, length and physicality he went up against. His free-throw accuracy of 83 percent speaks to his shooting touch. As Green becomes an even more polished ballhandler and continues to hone his 3-point shot, he’ll become that much more difficult to contain. As he learns to play off the ball and harness his speed and athleticism, he’ll command undue attention to create seams and space for teammates. Green has been on the radar for several years without letting the outsized attention and adulation that’s come with the territory – he’s got 1.2 million Instagram followers – undermine his work ethic or discipline.
SCOUTS WONDER: Green’s frame is the biggest concern as the exercise of projecting Green into the world of the NBA plays out. He’s wiry and how much functional strength Green can add without coming at the expense of his phenomenal explosiveness is a guessing game to some degree. Whether that will affect Green’s durability in a league increasingly hounded by soft-tissue injuries is something to ponder. Green also has a long way to go to get to adequate defensively, though that doesn’t put him in unique company among teen scoring prodigies who’ve never been charged with defensive responsibilities. Green did average 1.5 steals per game for the G League Ignite and his quickness and length give him a toolkit to be a disruptive defender. As scoring has come relatively easily for Green against high school and AAU competition, his vision and playmaking for others are relatively unknown quantities at the moment though he appears a willing passer.
NUMBER TO NOTE: 2.6 – That’s how many free throws per 36 minutes Green averaged for the G League Ignite, a paltry number for a player with the athletic traits and driving instincts of Green. For comparison’s sake, two NBA players to whom Green is often compared, Zach LaVine and Bradley Beal, averaged 5.3 and 7.7 free throws per 36 minutes in the NBA last season.
MONEY QUOTE: “He comes every day with that attitude that I’ve seen in some of the special young players that I’ve coached that get it right away. It’s like they don’t want to just make it to the league, they want to impact the team and make a place for themselves and be special. So he’s always wanting to work. I had to tell him after I cut practice a little short, he said, ‘Coach, I want to be great.’ And I said, ‘You will be great. You keep that attitude, but you also have to let your body rest sometimes and recover.’ He has that NBA bounce. He has that ‘it’ factor that when you see it, you say, ‘OK, I’m keeping an eye on this guy because he has a chance to be really special.’ ” – Brian Shaw, coach of the G League Ignite, as told to Marc Spears for The Undefeated
BOTTOM LINE: Packages that contain the size, elite skill level, elite athleticism and burning desire to be great that those close to Green consistently say he possesses don’t come around that often. It’s why Green is legitimately thought to be a candidate to go No. 1 overall. As defenses become increasingly sophisticated and scouting reports more precise and analytics-based, pure scorers like Green become increasingly valuable. Most mock drafts that have come out since the June 22 draft lottery have Green going No. 2 to Houston should the Pistons take Cade Cunningham at No. 1. Green would give any team landing the top pick a lot to ponder in the four weeks remaining before the July 29 draft.