Daydreaming: Jalen Green As a Co-Pilot

PORTLAND, OREGON - MARCH 26: Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets shakes hands with fans after the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center on March 26, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. The Houston Rockets won 115-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images)
PORTLAND, OREGON - MARCH 26: Jalen Green #0 of the Houston Rockets shakes hands with fans after the game against the Portland Trail Blazers at the Moda Center on March 26, 2022 in Portland, Oregon. The Houston Rockets won 115-98. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alika Jenner/Getty Images) /

Welcome to the first edition of Daydreaming! This will be a regular weekly column where I’ll profile very specific players (current or not) who I would love to see wear Purple and Teal and form dynamic duos alongside LaMelo Ball. It’s very unlikely that any of these players ever comes to Charlotte. In some cases, it’s actually impossible. One thing’s for sure though — it’s fun to imagine these scenarios. And to kick off the inaugural column, here’s Rockets starting shooting guard Jalen Green. 

Some things are just proven to be true over and over again. Babies cry. Honey is sweet. Give LaMelo Ball about any collection of NBA players and he will probably overachieve — since entering the league, LaMelo has improved the Charlotte Hornets record by 10 wins in each season.

LaMelo has had All-Star caliber teammates in the past (Terry Rozier and Gordon Hayward) as well as some pretty high-quality role players that deserve their due, PJ Washington and Cody Martin come to mind. He’s made all of those players better but you could argue that his greatness is just as visible when he has far less to work with. In sports we talk a lot about system players, players that get some kind of statistical boost from the scheme that they exist in. LaMelo’s presence doesn’t create stars but it does something similar in that he himself is a system. He is a context. His game management both ways and his playmaking genius simplify the game for everyone.

Because of my deep affection for making up terminology I’ve decided to call this rare phenomenon: Elevationism.

On offense, this is largely because of his brilliant scoring and playmaking balance. It creates defined parameters in which players can function and those parameters can create value where it might otherwise not exist. LaMelo differs from most elite score-playmaker hybrids in that his usage is so flexible that you can’t scheme to take one or two aspects of it away and expect that to be enough. There’s a sort of micro and macro phenomenon occurring in the overview of his career.

On a micro level, game to game LaMelo is so consistently dialed into what’s being thrown at him and his versatility helps him combat that.

On the macro level, from phase to phase of his career he’s continued to broaden the application of his playmaking and scoring balance. It only took him a few months to figure out pick-and-roll at the NBA level and entering his third year in the league he’s elite in that area (even if Charlotte personnel puts a clear ceiling on his abilities).

LaMelo could have chosen to be stubborn after the disastrous shooting season he had while in Australia (shot only 25% from three-point range in 6.7 attempts per game) but he went into the lab and added a devastating range shot. Every time he’s added an elite scoring wrinkle, he’s had the elite playmaking to punish anyone who tries to stop it.

So what can you do when your opponent’s primary offense can morph at full volume and efficiency to come from any schematic approach? One option is to match him up against the league’s best perimeter defender, but even that might not work too well. Just ask Jrue Holiday and the Milwaukee Bucks.

Like most masters of their craft, playing with LaMelo is demanding. It can call for some ego death. Players will likely find themselves creating less of their own offense than they have in the past but it’s not uncommon for LaMelo teammates to post career marks in shooting efficiency. You are going to get the ball where you need it.

So, if LaMelo Ball could pick any other person on Earth to be his running mate, who would it be?

Three words, Jalen Romande Green

Coming into the NBA Draft, Jalen Green had garnered a reputation a reputation for being an electric bucket-getter who reminded us of the great iso scorers of the 80s and the 90s. It’s been bumpy at times but through 67 games he’s found ways to live up to that reputation. Going for 20 or more points in 26 of their outings. In the last 10 games of his rookie season, Green averaged 26.1 points on 60.9 true shooting percentage and just had a 33-point performance in 29 minutes of play to close preseason.

The allure of Green’s game is not difficult to see. At 6-foot-6 and 185 pounds Green is an incendiary piece of iron. He’s got a 6-foot-8 wingspan and an 8-foot-5 standing reach to go along with elite explosiveness and athleticism. Not only does he get way up with a reported 51.4 inch vertical but he gets way up quickly.

In a way, Green almost reminds me of someone like Cristiano Ronaldo. Outrageously and hilariously confident. But when they preach the gospel of their ability you don’t really roll your eyes. Deep down you’re thinking “well… he’s probably right”.

That self-assuredness makes Green completely fearless and unfazed no matter the moment, stage, or the opponent. His rack attack ambition off of one or two feet has already given us some of the most incredible visuals ever.

Off the dribble, Green has frequently seemed like he was operating within controlled chaos and that volatility would flip-flop between helping and hurting himself.

Luckily, while he can still get a little wild with it at times, he’s improved lately in this sense and I’m now to the point where I wonder if he has the shiftiest dribble separation among 2-guards. This downhill ability puts Green frequently in the position to make plays at the rim. Roughly a third of his attempts this past season were within five feet of the rim (345 of 954) and despite his build he was able to convert on 58.6% of those looks.

Green frequently gets compared to big guards like Zach Lavine but to me Green is athletically more in the lineage of John Wall and Ja Morant. Although he is a wildly impressive leaper (reported 51.4 inch vertical, again) Green is not doing much in the way of finishing through the chest of defenders at the rim and punching it on people. Not yet, anyways.

But I mentioned those players specifically because he shares a trait with them that is essential for athletic skinny finishers to survive. I’m talking about three words that start with “C”: contact, contortion, and control. Green is very comfortable with making a second decision once the initial rim protection has come his way or he can just stay in the air. I don’t think he has the huge hands that helps some players evade shot blockers by angling and extending but Jalen takes the initial bump, folds and then unfolds as well as anyone currently in the league.

In traffic he’s like one of those Hoberman spheres that you played at Toys”R”Us in 2006 and didn’t actually buy. Much of this controlled contortion is working towards his right hand. Green can finish with his left but against significant pressure, his control takes a noticeable dip.

Certainly, of course, effective drivers go to another level when they’re also feared as shooters. Green is a tricky player to evaluate in this sense. At glance, there’s nothing alarming about his shot mechanics. He’s typically pretty balanced, his release is pretty close to one motion in a through the chin movement that kind of reminds me of Tyrese Maxey.

Green has always looked comfortable creating his own shot or catching and firing, eager even. His athleticism sets him up to create shots whenever he wants. That said, he’s never really demonstrated that he can be a consistent knockdown shooter from three.

Last season was a tale of two tapes for him shooting-wise:

Jalen Green’s first 34 games (half his games played +1): 
29% from three on 6.3 attempts

Jalen Green’s last 33 games of the year:  
38.9% from three on 7.4 attempts per game

Was one of the two sides a fluke?

Going by his pre-NBA numbers, Green is probably closer to the second half of the year but overall, somewhere in the middle.

Green is not what I would consider to be an instinctive or advanced playmaker but I also wouldn’t characterize him as selfish or lacking feel. In terms of technique, he’s not much of a live dribble or ambidextrous one-handed passer. He doesn’t throw many whip-skip passes to the weak side and I don’t think that his passing vocabulary at this point will blow anybody’s hair back. Still, if you look at Green’s total sample, NBA and beyond, I do think that he’s shown growth and willingness in this area which is always an encouraging sign.

Defensively, I don’t expect Jalen Green to be a top level, multi-purpose shutdown wing who can guard big shooting forwards and speedy guards in the same possession. He’s just not big enough to do that — framewise, he’s very similar to the Jeremy Lambs and Malik Monks of the world. But I do think he has the chance to be an above average defender.

Let’s start with the obvious, the athleticism gives Green some corrective tools that allow him to get back in any play. With even a single step he can get way up to contest a shot and lately it’s been refreshing to see him improve his overall focus on that side of the ball. He’s high motored and even though he was targeted by some of the more physically matured drivers in the league who seemed to have very little trouble finishing through him, Green clearly showed some competitive resolve and frequently fought back. Once that effort collides with better schematic familiarity, I expect him to make some major strides.

In a league of dynamic duos, LaMelo Ball and Jalen Green could reign supreme

In the future, it’s going to be crucial for Charlotte to pair LaMelo Ball with a guard that can put pressure on the rim and open up holes in the defense for him to attack with his near three-point floaters or passing ability and Green’s offensive profile more than fits the criteria.

His already prodigious ability to shoot from range and playmaking potential makes the idea of this pairing all that much sweeter to imagine. Both guys are media darlings due to their fast-paced, highlight waiting to happen playstyle and assuming everything we discussed swinged positive, the high outcome for them as a duo would truly be league-shattering.

Now, remember. This was all fiction, and we must face the sad reality that a Green and Ball duo will likely only bless our eyesight once a year every February.