Welcome to “Summer Workout Plan,” our annual offseason series in which we dive into a specific area for improvement for certain players to take the next step in their development.
Rockets All-Rookie First Team guard Jalen Green is our next player to take the spotlight.
When G League Ignite star Jalen Green was selected by the Rockets with the No. 2 pick in the 2021 NBA Draft, it was hard not to get excited about his potential to put up massive numbers on a rebuilding team.
Green became the instant betting favorite to take home 2021-22 NBA Rookie of the Year award, but a slow start to his first season halted that campaign early.
The G League Ignite path was expected to make his jump to the NBA easier, but there’s a new set of challenges that comes with being the No. 1 scoring option as a 19-year-old rookie. Green was the focal point of defensive game plans from the get-go.
He often saw his opponent’s best perimeter defender and dealt with multiple bodies collapsing on him any time he tried to attack the basket. He struggled to shoot the 3-ball with much consistency, and he could no longer get to the rim at will just by being the most athletic player on the floor.
As a result, Green — like most rookies — needed some time to adjust to the next level.
He had a few flashes of brilliance during his first 18 games, going off for 30 points against the Celtics and 24 points against the Lakers, but those performances aside, there were a lot of inefficient shooting nights. He suffered a hamstring injury that caused him to miss his next 14 games, and when he returned, it was more of the same.
But instead of hitting the proverbial “rookie wall,” Green really settled in and made a significant leap after the All-Star break. He averaged an efficient 22.1 points per game down the home stretch of the season.
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Green had a streak of five consecutive 30-point games, joining Allen Iverson as the only rookie to achieve the feat in the last 40 years. When you extend that list beyond 40 years, he was one of nine rookies in NBA history to do so, joining a group full of Hall of Famers like Wilt Chamberlain, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Oscar Robertson, Rick Barry, Earl Monroe and Walt Bellamy.
Green ended the season with a bang, going off for a career-high 41 points against the Hawks to again place himself alongside elite company, joining Hall of Famers Hakeem Olajuwon, Ralph Sampson and Elvin Hayes as the only rookies in Rockets history to eclipse the 40-point mark.
So, what clicked?
“I started shooting the midrange, and that opened up my game a lot more,” Green said in the Rockets’ series, “Clear the Runway,” after the season.
It was something he also mentioned just after the All-Star break, too.
“I need to start getting more comfortable [with my midrange], but I’m working on it right now, still trying to get it down. … I don’t really take a lot of midrangers,” Green said. “I’m either a 3 or get to the cup. Once I get the in-between game, I think it will take my whole game to another level.”
That’s where he can learn from Suns star Devin Booker, who has turned into one of the best midrange maestros in the NBA today.
After Booker’s first two seasons in the league, he was labeled as an “inefficient chucker,” which was probably said of Green at some point during his first season. Their rookie numbers were eerily similar, although Booker did have a fairly different role, coming off the bench for 25 of his 71 games.
The difference is that Booker has always been willing to take midrange jumpers — he just didn’t start draining them with as much consistency until he had a few seasons under his belt. But once he did, he quickly evolved into an unstoppable three-level scorer.
As a rookie, Booker took 274 midrange jumpers and made 37.6 percent of them. This past season, his 467 midrange jumpers were second-most in the league behind DeMar DeRozan, and he knocked down an impressive 46.9 percent of those attempts.
The midrange game helped Booker become one of the best scorers in the league, as he has averaged more than 25 points per game in four consecutive seasons. And if you ask me, there are few things more beautiful in today’s NBA than Booker’s midrange pull-up.
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He has perfected the art of making the right read in those situations, knowing when to pull up if a big man sags too far off or attack the rim if the big man presses up too high.
That’s the area where Green can really take advantage of what the defense gives him, and he started to get comfortable with that shot toward the end of the year.
Before the All-Star break, Green only attempted 49 midrange jumpers in 43 games, converting at 30.6 percent. After the All-Star break, he attempted 55 midrange jumpers in only 24 games and knocked them down at 45.5 percent.
Naturally, that’s when he started to really catch fire on offense, unlocking an element to his game that he never had before.
With today’s increased focus on 3-pointers, layups and free throws, it makes sense that Green would look to either settle for a triple or get all the way to the rim. Then you take into account his electrifying leaping ability…
… and it’s even more understandable why he would constantly attack the basket instead of pulling up for a midrange jumper.
But if he can keep the defense honest from the midrange area, he will leave his opponent guessing and open up more opportunities for 3-pointers or posterizations.
With Green already being a smooth shooter, it didn’t take long for him to add the midrange pull-up to his bag.
Come on, man. That’s just nasty.
After he was drafted, I said that Green has the potential to lead the league in scoring one day. As he continues to grow his game, adding a Booker-like midrange jumper will be the next step toward reaching All-Star status.
Down the home stretch of his rookie season, we already saw what Green is capable of when he’s scoring from all three levels. Now, let’s see him carry that momentum into Year 2 as he looks to take another leap.