This year’s rookie class has been nothing short of brilliant. The 2021 NBA Draft has already produced multiple starters, several future All-Stars, and perhaps a franchise player or two. Yet Jalen Green, the second player selected in last July’s draft, has largely been left out of the mix.
Green, who just turned 20 in February, has had a difficult rookie season. At least that was the case until recently, as the Houston Rockets guard is stringing together a long stretch of impressive performances. Suddenly, Green looks like he can be a future star after all while bringing the rebuilding Rockets to new heights.
Jalen Green opened his career by being one of the NBA’s worst starters
Being the second-overall pick still comes with superstar expectations. While the first pick gets all of the attention, many number twos like Kevin Durant and Ja Morant wind up becoming generational players. For a time, it didn’t look like Green was going to be anywhere close to reaching that level.
Perhaps it was the fact he was 19. Or maybe it was because he forwent college in pursuit of the G League’s developmental team. Whatever the reason, the 6-foot-4 shooting guard took a long time to get accustomed to the NBA.
Green flashed his scoring potential early on, scoring 30 points in his third career game. But there were far too many 3-of-14 or 2-of-9 performances scattered between his palatable games. Through his first 18 contests, he averaged 14.0 points but did so on an inefficient 38.2% from the field and a dismal 27.8% from three.
After missing 14 games with a hamstring injury, a stretch in which the lowly Rockets went 8-6, Green dropped 20+ in four of his first six games back from injury. But the shooting woes reared their ugly head in January and February, as the high-flying rookie was still shooting 38.6% from Dec. 28 (his first day back from injury) until the Feb. 18-20 All-Star break.
That’s not even mentioning his defense. According to NBA.com, Green had a 118.0 defensive rating in the first half of the season. Only Trail Blazers and Clippers guard Norman Powell (119.3) had a worse rating among all NBA players averaging 30 or more minutes a game.
Green has turned a corner over the last few weeks
Given his offensive inefficiency and defensive struggles, it’s fair to say Green’s year didn’t get off to the best start. However, the 20-year-old has broken through his prolonged slump to show the world that he can be a star.
Friday night, Green dropped a career-high 33 points, his third straight game with 30 or more. He hit six three-pointers, becoming the first rookie in NBA history to hit five or more treys in four straight games. He also joined Hall of Famer Hakeem Olajuwon as the only Rockets rookie to score 30 points in consecutive games.
Since the All-Star break, the Rockets guard is second among all rookies with 21.0 points per game, trailing top pick Cade Cunningham at 21.3. He’s also doing so while shooting a much-improved 46.3% from the floor and a solid 39.0% from beyond the arc.
The shooting improvement only scratches the surface of Green’s long-awaited development. Of his 16 games with a positive plus-minus, half have come since Feb. 27. Not to mention, his defensive rating improved to 114.5 since the break, which isn’t even in the bottom-40 among all NBA players with 30+ minutes and at least 10 games played.
Green has gone from a bottom-of-the-barrel starter to a potential star in the making. If this version of Green was starting for the Rockets all year, he’d easily be a Rookie of the Year frontrunner.
The Houston Rockets’ future looks a lot brighter thanks to Jalen Green
Houston admittedly took a risk by selecting Green, a true shooting guard whose lack of college experience made him rawer than other prospects. Through the first 40 or so games of his career, that gamble didn’t look like it would cash.
Now, as the 20-58 Rockets reflect on their season, they can take solace in knowing their future with Green is in good hands.
Green, who’s averaging 16.6 points for the year, should easily eclipse the 20-point barrier next season assuming he continues his development. Between him, point guard Kevin Porter Jr., and fellow rookie Alperen Sengun, the Rockets will enter next season with an intriguing combination of young, exciting players.
Not to mention, the Rockets entered the weekend tied with the Orlando Magic for the worst record in the NBA. That should all but guarantee them a top-four pick in this June’s draft, a class that features potential stars like Auburn’s Jabari Smith, Gonzaga’s Chet Holmgren, and Duke’s Paolo Banchero.
With one of those top prospects joining the fold, the Rockets will be well on their way toward contending in the near future. But that wouldn’t have been possible if it wasn’t for Green’s vast improvement.