Jalen Green left Cleveland on a Sunday morning after a disappointing performance during the NBA Slam Dunk Contest the night before. The general public criticized the Houston Rockets’ rookie (as did we here at TDS) alongside three other contestants, dubbing the 2022 dunk contest the worst in league history.
But Green did not sob about his performance. Green did not allow the doubts of the naysayers to creep into his mind — who began to question whether or not he would live up to the high expectations of a number two overall pick.
Green continued to work. He honed his skills throughout the five-day layoff and spent extra time working alongside coach Stephen Silas and assistant coach John Lucas.
When the Rockets returned from the break, Green told Josh Christopher that he would try to average 20 points for the remainder of the 2022 campaign. Green kept his promise. In the 21 games since the All-Star break, Green has averaged 21.5 points on 47.3 percent shooting from the field, 39.5 percent from behind the arc.
“I’m a bucket. I just needed to stay confident in myself. That comes with playing the game and seeing it right in front of you. At some point, I knew the game was going to slow down for me. But it mostly came down to work.” — Green
Green was a sponge in Cleveland. He spent most of his time absorbing knowledge from several veterans who participated in the All-Star Game. But Green’s recent play goes beyond a two-day weekend in Cleveland. His on-court production since late February is a testament to the private hours of training he has put in since joining the Rockets in July.
The only time Green made his journey to becoming a 20-point scorer public took place on Jan. 25.
The Rockets sustained a 30-point defeat to the San Antonio Spurs. Green shot 3-for-16 from the floor for a result of seven points. Over the previous three games, Green had averaged 5.7 points while shooting an appalling 15 percent from the field and 11.8 percent from behind the arc.
Green spent some time working on his game during a post-game workout inside an empty Toyota Center. His work ethic was the reason Silas’ confidence in his young rookie never wavered.
Sixty-eight days after what could have been the lowest point of his first season, Green became the first rookie in league history to score 20 or more points while connecting on four or more triples in 17 games.
“I knew it would come at some point. He was slowly but surely coming along. He is a shot-maker who could get to the rim. He can get to the free-throw line. He can shoot the mid-range. And he can make threes. I am happy for him that the work he has been putting in is finally translating to the game. He can further confirm that he is good at working and producing.” — Silas
A handful of Green’s record-setting performances took place in March — where he set a rookie record for most three-point field goals in a single month. He drilled 50 triples in March en route to averaging 21.5 points on 40 percent shooting from behind the arc.
Green’s best game in March came during a 139-130 overtime victory against the Los Angeles Lakers. He scored a then career-high 32 points in the win.
Following the game, LeBron James said Green’s early-season struggles gave him a chance to make mistakes and learn on the fly. From observing from afar, James knew Green would benefit from his horrific endeavors as someone who experienced the dog days of a rookie campaign in 2004.
Following the Rockets’ 139-132 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, Green has averaged 31.5 points over the previous four contests. He scored a game-high 31 points against the Timberwolves — marking his fourth consecutive game of scoring 30 or more.
The next step in Green’s development is learning how his scoring can lead to more wins in Houston. The Rockets are 20-59 entering the final three games of the 2022 season. Finding a way to impact an NBA game that will result in more wins in 2023 appears to be a daunting task for a 20-year-old.
But similar to the previous obstacles that plagued his rookie season, Green is up for the challenge. Learning how to become a winner is one of several lessons Green learned during private conversations with some of the league’s premier talents in Cleveland.
“That man is a killer. Everybody was talking crazy at the beginning of the year. I think he might’ve needed to lose that dunk contest to give him some extra motivation to end the season. It’s amazing to see.” — Josh Christopher.