âThat feint noise you hear in the wind? That's me, shouting from the rooftops from the last several months that Cade Cunningham is the clear-cut number one pick in the draft.
Come closer to the building and you'll find me sitting there, elbow on knee and head on hand, deep in thought about what comes next. This draft class has emerged into a firm top-six prospects for me, with Cade Cunningham at the helm. Separation between the other five has been difficult to achieve; my board has fluctuated much of the last few months as I try to sort between all these prospects. I've settled into one ranking: Jonathan Kuminga is pretty firmly entrenched at #6.
The book ends are set, but 2 thru 5 remain fluid. So, like I'm taking the advice of a therapist to vent about my problems, I'm going to write about each prospect. The idea is that writing is cathartic for myself: that the process of pen-to-page and detailing each player's best and worst traits will bring clarity to the order I'll be comfortable placing them in.
But this series will also operate as a launching off point for a greater discussion: understanding why each player has a legitimate case for the spot. Too often, I've seen boards with guys like Evan Mobley or Jalen Green locked into those spots, while Jalen Suggs and Scottie Barnes fall a half-step lower. My hope is that after reading all these pieces, you'll see that the case for Suggs or Barnes to go over one (or both) of Green and Mobley isn't as radical as draft Twitter makes it seem.
In terms of offensive explosion, Jalen Green is the only guy in this class who stands out as a clear-cut go-to scorer. Shooting over 36% from 3 on high volume (more than 5 attempts per game) in the G-League bubble, the showing he put up against professional basketball players at 18 years old was astounding. An insane space-creator with 99th percentile athleticism, the pieces are all there for Jalen to become one of the all-time greats.
In a class with different styles of high achievers, Green's biggest competition seems to be himself. The shot selection, the defensive engagement and the ability to create for others are the shortcomings in his game right now. Those may not be made up for in workouts or individual settings, but positive interviews and a deeper dive into his film reveals that those are all risks 100% worth taking.
Full stop, Green's best trait is his athleticism, and his best skill is his finishing. The two compliment each other so well. Athletically, there's a little bit of young Derrick Rose to his game in terms of the combination of speed (change of pace and burst to hit holes) and vertical athleticism (rising up to pound dunks down with a vicious intent). Where Green separates himself from D-Rose is in his ability to float and change his finishes as the last moment. The combination of those traits? Unbelievably tantalizing.
Green isn't a slasher or just a finisher, though. He adds to it a polished, smooth jumper and perimeter scoring game that makes him borderline impossible to guard one-on-one once he tightens the screws on his arsenal. His jumper mechanics are pretty pure and appear much more consistent than when he was in high school -- it's the catalyst behind his jump from Tier 2 to Tier 1.
More than anything, Green uses his athleticism to create space and separation from his primary defender in more ways than just driving to the basket. Because he's a feared finisher and has a length and quickness advantage against most guards, they are very reactionary to his drives. That, along with the long legs, allow him to push off and create a great deal of separation when he goes to his step-back move. I don't remember a guard prospect who creates as much room one-on-one for those shots.
A devastating one-two punch, the jumper in isolation and finishing prowess cause teams to have to throw multiple defenders at Green on his drives. That's where the passing and creating for others becomes so important. If he's reactive, he'll see those doubles coming and make kicks to open teammates just as defenses commit. If he's proactive, he'll manage the game from the outset, focusing on creating for others before he gets on a heater so that help defenders have to think twice about committing to him.
The biggest difference between Green and Cade Cunningham as offensive hubs is the willingness to be proactive. Cade sees the long game right now, knowing that if he can score whenever he wants, how he manages the first 30 minutes of a game allow him to do what he has to in the final 10. Green isn't quite there yet. He's shown flashes of ability to react to defenses when they change coverages on him, but the special ability to manipulate and see the bigger picture still must be developed.
Regardless of whether Green adds that seasoning, he'll be a special breed of scorer. Related to the ability to create for others is his reliance on taking jumpers instead of driving to the hoop. Help defenses only collapse (and therefore put Green in a position to proactively dictate the game) when he's frequently driving to the rim and putting pressure on the low man to commit. A step-back jumper doesn't do that, making it hard to involve others.
More than anything, Green limits his own best trait by taking jumpers far more frequently than getting to the rim in the half-court. Late-clock, his shooting is a great trait to have. But we've already seen a lot of quick-attack situations where he takes one dribble, then anticipates a retreating opponent and goes into step-back mode rather than keep attacking to get fouled or drive-and-kick. These are the differences between Green and Cade, but when it comes to Green against the field, bet on the natural skills and that the feel will develop over time.
Where does that optimism come from? A lot of it comes from Brian Shaw, a former NBA head coach who has worked with Green in the G-League bubble and raves about him. Shaw mentioned the 'it factor' with Green, a concept that means a lot coming from Kobe Bryant's old teammate.
He has âit.â He has a knack for being able to figure things out on the fly. He has the mentality that heâs competitive and wants to win at everything. When we would run suicides or line drills during the course of a practice, he would blow everybody away. Not only did he want to win, he didnât want anyone to even finish close behind him. Every shooting game, things we played â cards or dominoes or something off the courtâ he wanted to win everything. He has that type of mentality.
A pretty rave review for Green and a character witness on the record that would allow me to buy into his flaws being corrected. If you're looking for an excuse to buy into someone and elevate them to the 2nd overall pick, this might be it for Green. He's willing to and knows how to put in the work to become an alpha.
That's really what we're looking at with teenagers. Reasons to believe in them reaching their potential and scraping the ceiling more consistently. The building blocks within guys on the top tier of the draft are all super high, and Green's is the highest offensively. Put the context clues about his work ethic together with that firepower to score the ball and Green quickly elevates himself to the top of the list of potential guys to go second.