On this week’s Razzball Fantasy Basketball Podcast, Son and I discussed some of the flashing warning lights coming off of Houston Rockets second-year guard Jalen Green. Son invoked a Malik Monk comp and I nodded. Then I heard a CJ McCollum one and nodded at that too. What could Jalen Green be? Sitting longer added confusion rather than clarity. Sloppy Ja Morant? Zach LaVine with better knees? Really, what is Jalen Green now? Houston is low on my League Pass preferences and I’d never rostered him before this season. With a head full of jumbled hoopers, I fired up the invaluable DunksandThrees.com and started digging. 

This Side of the Fence

In general, the lack of development from Green’s rookie year to this year – both in real basketball and fantasy – has been discouraging. By EPM, Green is no longer a negative offensive player like he was last year (-1.0 Offensive EPM last year, +0.2 this time around), but he’s suffering from the nasty inverse relationship of increased usage and lower efficiency. Up nearly five points from last year, Green’s 27.3% usage rate is in the 93rd percentile, a figure usually reserved for bonafide stars like De’Aaron Fox (28.6), DeMar DeRozan (27.5), and Bradley Beal (28.8). This makes sense, of course, because Jalen Green is a star, yes? As a tooled-up number-two pick, it won’t be long now until he emerges as the backcourt scorer of the future, right?

Well, no. Or maybe yes, but this season didn’t offer up much certainty one way or another.

I rostered Green for the first time this year. Following a big man build in a shallow league, Green’s made three-pointers and scoring paired well with a Giannis/LeBron/Turner/Capela front line, and his ho-hum free throw value and loose handle were gleefully swallowed up by the punt FT and TO build. He routinely hovered around 200 overall on player raters as the season wore on, but I held fast because of the complimentary skillset. There were hot stretches of efficiency or a run of steals that would push him inside of the top 100 or better (he’s on one of those right now; Monster has him as player 27 over the last week at the time of writing), and since the rest of a loaded group was chugging along, I was happy enough to ride the wave. The threes were solid and needed and, as evidenced by his late-season run last year, the dude can certainly hunt a bucket when he’s right. Patience with young players is a virtue and on this particular team I could play out the string until the very end. For those who had prized Green more highly or banked more aggressively on a breakout, the experience of rostering him was more turbulent, and figuring out when or if to cut him loose became a much harder call. The ‘22-23 season has burned some, no doubt, and as we look forward to the rest of his career, he remains a challenging player to get a handle on. 

The Shot Diet: Garbage In, Garbage Out

Despite demonstrating that he’s not an above-average three-point shooter, forty-one percent of Green’s 18 shots a game are triples. With a hit rate of only 33%, the frequency of Green’s shots (7.5 attempts a game) goes from being a mere minus to being actively harmful. Hair-trigger maestros Jalen Brown, Anthony Edwards, and Zach LaVine don’t launch that often, and all of them have truer strokes than the second-year Rocket at this point. But how bad is it really? Green’s three-point shooting is in the 30th percentile among guards, and a deeper look into the figures explains why. More than half of his threes — just under a quarter of his total field goals — are pull-ups that he converts at a dreary 31.9 percent. Catch-and-shoot triples yield league-average results (36%), but Green has been doing it the hard way more often than not. 

Ditch the percentages and per-game data for a moment and consider totals, as boiling numbers down to a ratio can sometimes obfuscate the reality on the ground. Shooting 41% from the field is an obvious drag, but the sheer volume of attempts compounds the pain of the poor rate. More than 1200 shots have left Green’s hands this year, the tenth most in basketball. He’s launched more times than Damian Lillard, Joel Embiid, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kyrie Irving, LeBron James, and De’Aaron Fox – and he’s missed 700 times, including 331 errant threes. 

Combining such poor shooting with tremendous volume is the only way to find yourself pining for Trae Young’s efficiency numbers. Among players who have appeared in more than one game this season, Green’s FG% value is better than Cade Cunningham, Terry Rozier, Fred VanVleet, and LaMelo Ball. That’s the whole list. Dillon Brooks, Killian Hayes, Tim Hardaway Jr, Jaden Ivey and Malik Beasley all have been less damaging to your team’s FG category than Green. The only way to survive the damage he does is by pairing him with a stacked frontcourt, otherwise, he was a droppable player.

Lack of connection is one of the reasons why Houston can be a hard watch. Teamwide, only 55% of makes are assisted, the third-worst behind the Hawks and Knicks, and Green’s first two seasons have been a grim proof of concept. As a rookie, 52% of Green’s buckets came by way of an assist, a figure that placed him in the bottom quarter of NBA players. Somehow, that number has fallen into the 12th percentile as a sophomore. Just 42% of his hoops have a pass attached to them and 55% of his attempts take place after three or more dribbles. One-quarter of his attempts are prefaced by seven or more dribbles. All this pounding of the rock would be more palatable if there was efficient scoring that followed, but in this case, what is true at your pick-up runs is also true in the NBA: The guy who dribbles too much instead of moving the ball is messing up.  

Per NBA.com

A Rose and a Familiar Thorn

OK, so the outside shooting is bad in several directions at the same time, but there’s more to the game than the outside shot. How does Green fare when attacking the rack? 

Last year, Green was able to put a good amount of pressure on opposing baskets, getting to the rim frequently enough to land in the 73rd percentile, an encouraging number for a player possessing so many twitchy gifts. This year’s 81st percentile mark is a step in the right direction, but the good news gets a bit complicated from there. 

After finishing just 57% of his attempts at the hoop last year (good enough for the 33rd percentile), Green hasn’t been able to improve on his rookie mark. Barring a nine-game impression of Shaq to finish off this year’s campaign, he’ll finish the year shooting under 55% at the cup, and he currently resides in the 13th percentile when compared against the rest of the league. Tre Mann, Jalen Suggs, and Jose Alvarado are converting more efficiently from close range, and none of them possess Green’s height or explosive athleticism. 

On the surface, that Green converts just 43% of his field goals on drives is worrisome. The shorter, more ground-bound Tre Jones hits more often than that, but the scene gets a bit rosier when factoring in the free throws Green piles up on his way to the rack. After accounting for the 184 free points earned on drives, Green’s True Shooting percentage on drives jumps up to 54.5%, dusting Jones’ 48.9% mark.

Indeed, if there’s a silver lining to be found in all of this shot data, it can be found at the charity stripe. With 395 attempts, Green leads the sophomore class in free throws by a wide margin. Franz Wagner, Evan Mobley, Alperen Sengun, Scottie Barnes, and Austin Reeves make up the tier below Green, and none of them are within 100 attempts of the leader. Add Cam Thomas (162 attempts, seventh best in the class) with Barnes and you’re still short of Green’s impressive pile of freebies. Shooting just under six per game, Green’s in the top 25 league-wide in FTA – better than Jalen Brunson, Domantas Sabonis, Kawhi Leonard, Brown, Edwards, and Donovan Mitchell.

(An aside – Paolo Banchero is drawing a whopping 7.4 FTA, well clear of any of his first-year peers and better than all but 11 other pros. He’s a magnet for contact.)

Despite this positive step, efficiency is a problem that dogs Green even when he’s not being guarded. This is his second straight season of shooting 79% on free throws, and while the volume of attempts could ultimately push his value in a useful direction, poor efficiency once again curbs his appeal for now. Approximately 80% on free throws is the break-even mark for fantasy value this season, so while the increase in attempts portends good things, it’s not as much of an asset as one might initially expect. Beyond holding value on their own as one of the eight or nine categories most fantasy players are concerned about, an excellent free thrower can also inflate scoring numbers and can help mitigate the damage of poor shooting nights – something that Green is obviously still a victim of. 

Per DunksandThrees.com

Given the shooting struggles, draft pedigree, and eye-popping physical tools, the comp that has been looming the back of my mind is one to a fellow former 20-year-old, number two overall pick, Ja Morant. And while there is an encouraging overall offensive trend (as seen in the chart above), Morant has outpaced Green in critical fantasy areas – namely assists and steals – that made his third year jump into the top 80 from the 135-200 player range possible. Presently, Jalen Green is a volume scorer plagued by poor efficiency that’s the byproduct of wretched shot selection who has posted pedestrian assist rates for two straight seasons. Because he isn’t asked to/isn’t interested in playmaking like Morant, Green’s overall fantasy appeal remains somewhat limited. Even if Green turned into Damian Lillard or Steph Curry – high-volume three-point shooters who cash in at the free-throw line – the lack of assists and steals hamstring overall value.

Growth can happen, of course, and to some degree it’s expected from a player of Green’s caliber. Assuming he spends the offseason working on finishing around the basket, editing out the three-point pull-ups, cashing in on an ever-growing number of free throws, and moving the ball on occasion, it’s not impossible to forecast a big jump in efficiency for Green. Both steals and assists have slowly bubbled up in year two. Squint hard enough and you can see the breakthrough, but make sure not to overlook this: 

Or this:

From the outside looking in, it seems like there’s a fair bit of poor management going on in Houston, and Draymond’s clip seems to indicate that the players have tuned out the coaching staff in year two of this grinding rebuild. I’d pay particular attention to news of a coaching change this offseason and keep my eyes peeled for evidence of maturity under a new direction. There’s a player here, maybe even a very good one. If things break right, a Bradley Beal ceiling doesn’t seem impossible. Still, I remain skeptical of the franchise and I’m worried enough about the early returns not to take Son’s Malik Monk comp off the table either.