Jalen Green diary: The debut

Published October 22, 2021, 10:00 AMMiguel Flores

Filipino-American Jalen Green finally made his NBA debut. How well did he do?

It was always going to be this difficult.

Jalen Green, the second overall pick of the 2021 NBA Draft, made his debut for the Houston Rockets on Thursday. He had a few fun Summer League games and looked alright in the preseason, but his first real taste of NBA basketball was on the Minnesota Timberwolves’ home court.

True enough, the experience was a mixed bag. Green's first basket was a beauty – the Rockets set up a flare screen which Green used to cut to the rim for an athletic finish around Karl Anthony-Towns. Green didn’t dunk on the former No. 1  pick but he might as well have with how gorgeous he made his reverse layup look.

The worrying part about this—something that could become a recurring theme in Rockets games—is Green only got his first shot off with around three minutes left in the first quarter. Houston is one of the youngest teams in the league and it also has several players trying to carve out their pro careers.

Kevin Porter Jr., Green’s starting backcourt partner, had a rocky start to his career in Cleveland and only got a chance to prove himself after he was traded to Houston last year. Ditto for Christian Wood, who went undrafted, bounced around the league, made the most of an opportunity with Detroit, and got his life-changing contract from the Rockets in the 2020 offseason.

These guys rightfully command a big chunk of Houston’s usage rate — neither of has have a knack for playmaking. Houston’s two most willing playmakers, DJ Augustin and Alperen Sengun, both started the game on the bench. Sengun, the Rockets’ late lottery pick from the 2021 draft, has a chance to start this season alongside Wood in the frontcourt. Augustin does not, injuries withstanding. Green could have used John Wall as a playmaking star point guard that would have also mentored him but Wall and the Rockets have mutually agreed to start looking for other teams Wall could play for.

All of this is Green’s burden. He displayed much of the offensive package that had scouts raving. Green looked comfortable going one-on-one in some situations and even running pick-and-rolls. On the flip side, all of the growing pains scouts foresaw for Green also popped up. The NBA is obviously the best league in the world. The biggest adjustments for players usually come in the speed and physicality of the NBA game.

Green is a quick athlete, but he looked lost trying to keep up with how fast the Timberwolves made decisions. It also didn’t do him any favors that he had to match up against a pair of totally opposing styles of NBA guards. D’Angelo Russell had no problem imposing his off-kilter veteran savvy on Green. Anthony Edwards, the 2020 draft top overall pick, was his usual aggressive self, overpowering Green most of the time they were matched up. On the other end, it didn’t help that Green was being guarded by bigger wings in Edwards and Josh Okogie.

If anything, Edwards is a great case study for the possible season Green is up for. He struggled for much of his rookie year but hit his stride late in the season and hasn’t looked back. On a rebuilding Rockets team, it’s going to be harder for Green. Aside from him and a few other of his young teammates, the Rockets are fluid with the future of their roster. There’s a good chance a lot of the current Rockets will be on the team when they finally make another postseason appearance in the future.

Green is different. The Rockets went all-in on him on draft night when they picked him over Evan Mobley, who dominated in his debut for the Cavaliers with 17 points, nine rebounds, six assists, a block, and one 3-pointer. Green had just nine points, four rebounds, and four assists.

This is how it was always going to pan out for Green and the Rockets. The growing pains will be extra painful at times. It’s up to Green to expand his game and adapt to the pace of the NBA. It’s up to the Rockets to build around him and find the right pieces next to him.


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