Remember the widespread perception of Jalen Green early in 2021-22?
Of course you do. It was atrocious. Those in our community with poor impulse control (don’t worry, I’m looking in the mirror first) couldn’t get off Twitter. Every day was a battle.
We also had a good point. Players of Green’s archetype generally struggle to get started. It was baffling that the NBA community watched Anthony Edwards make the sudden transformation from “franchise ruining bust” to “future superstar” at a moment’s notice, but couldn’t fathom that Green may do the same.
Blissfully, he did. The last 30-or-so games of the season were an extended victory lap for Houston Rockets fans. Our guy is going to be OK.
In looking at the statistical leaps from his peers between their rookie and sophomore seasons, just how OK should we expect him to be next year?
For this exercise, I looked at several statistical changes between the rookie and sophomore years of Devin Booker, Bradley Beal, Donovan Mitchell and Zach LaVine. I looked at their progress (or in some cases, regression) in points per game, assists per game, Value Over Replacement Player (VORP), and D-RAPTOR. Then, I took the average change of each and applied them to Green’s rookie year.
I chose each of these measures for different reasons. I know, points per game are just so pedestrian. It doesn’t even have a long acronym! Still, we’re talking about the league’s foremost bucket-getters here - the raw output counts for this archetype.
I chose assists per game and D-RAPTOR for similar reasons. Ultimately, we know Green can score. If he’s ever going to make the leap to top-10 player status (something none of the players in this piece have accomplished), he’s going to need to make strides as either a facilitator or a defender.
For the uninitiated, D-RAPTOR is FiveThirtyEight’s compound defensive metric. It uses “play-by-play and player-tracking data to calculate each player’s individual plus-minus measurements and wins above replacement”. Defense is notoriously difficult to quantify. A player’s metrics in that area are disproportionately driven by the performance of his teammates. Still, D-RAPTOR is widely regarded as one of the best metrics for measuring defense.
Finally, Basketball Reference defines VORP as “a box score estimate of the points per 100 TEAM possessions that a player contributed above a replacement-level (-2.0) player, translated to an average team and prorated to an 82-game season”.
Like any compound metric, it’s basically trying to boil a player’s value down to a single number. I just happen to know that smarter people than myself prefer it to Player Efficiency Rating (PER), or other similar measures.
I don’t need some hipster commenting “imagine using PER in 2022” on this article, so here we are.
Projected Jalen Green 2022-23 stats:
Points Per Game: 21.9
Assists Per Game: 2.9
Of course, this isn’t an exact science. It’s a thought experiment: if Green followed the average statistical trajectory of four of the most comparable veterans in the league, where would he land?
With that said, there were some quirks that were notable in the process of reaching these numbers.
Firstly, D-RAPTOR doesn’t trace as far back as Beal’s 2012-13 rookie season. Green’s hypothetical growth in that area was based on the average between the other three.
Speaking of D-RAPTOR, it was one of two areas in which any of these players actually regressed between their rookie and sophomore years. Donovan Mitchell’s mark went from 0.7 to -1.1.
That checks out with what we know about Mitchell. Leading up to the draft, The Ringer’s Kevin O’Conner said that he had “elite defensive potential”. Flash forward to 2022, and he’s a known sieve.
The other instance of a player regressing was Zach LaVine, as his assists per game dropped from 3.6 to 3.1. Of course, LaVine is generally an outlier here. He came into the NBA extremely unpolished, effectively a run-and-jump athlete with no handle, shot or floor vision.
His growth as a player has been extremely impressive. It should also bode well for Green’s future. His athletic profile is closer to LaVine’s than any other player in this exercise, only he started from a higher baseline.
Finally, it’s worth noting that Devin Booker’s leap in points per game was 8.3. By contrast, everyone else’s was roughly 3. That skews the average to an extent, so if you think it should be removed, Green’s projected output in that area would be 20.7 points per game in 2022-23.
It’s worth remembering that player trajectories don’t follow a linear pattern. Devin Booker made by far the biggest rookie-to-sophomore leap. On the other hand, Donovan Mitchell made the slightest one, but he also had by far the best rookie season of any of these players.
In any event, if Green can follow in the footsteps of any of these peers, he’ll be on the right path.