The case for Jalen Green for the Detroit Pistons
To be clear, Cade Cunningham is my dude for the Detroit Pistons with the first pick of the 2021 NBA Draft.
But too often the narrative is that it's a no-brainer for the Pistons. And it mostly is. But not entirely.
Much of what you think between these two should revolve around the question: "What do you want this team to ultimately look like?" But it's not. It's generally just considered that Cade is the more highly touted prospect, so of course, he should be the Pistons pick.
Skillset is a more important factor into this question though. I'm not into superstar-driven teams, and am more drawn to Cade's passing instincts and defensive ability. But if you like electric scorers as the point of attack on the perimeter, Green deserves your consideration.
As a shooting guard prospect, I find Green to be vastly superior to Anthony Edwards last year - Anthony Edwards, who scored 19 points per game as a rookie and made a strong case to be Rookie of the Year.
We can talk about his athleticism, his three level scoring ability, his weaknesses, but the key thing that makes Green stand out is his mentality.
G League Ignite coach Brian Shaw had this to say about Green:
I’ve been around some very, very good players that came in the league around his age. Obviously played with and coached Kobe Bryant. Helped develop Paul George as a coach when I was with Indiana when he first came in the league. Andrew Bynum straight out of high school with the Lakers. Brandon Ingram and Lonzo Ball and the guys we had with the Lakers. Those players that are special players, they have this “it” factor that you hear people talk about. He has “it.” He has a knack for being able to figure things out on the fly. He has the mentality that he’s 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 didn’t want anyone to even finish close behind him. Every shooting game, things we played — cards or dominoes or something off the court— he wanted to win everything. He has that type of mentality.
I can see that with him. He seems like the type of competitor, the type of guy who will thrive.
I appreciate his efficiency as a 61 percent true shooting efficiency player in the G League. I appreciate how he did it, proficient from three and absolutely electric in transition. But it's that mentality that makes me trust him.
I think Green has the upside as one of the best scorers in the league. If you want a guy who can potentially give you 25+ points per game for the foreseeable future, he's a great guy to draft.
The concern I have with the Cade and Green discussion is that it reminds me of 2017. But I can't really convince myself that it's that. In 2017, Markelle Fultz was a no-brainer. He was so good at Washington. He wasn't particularly athletic and there were concerns about his shot, but he made it work. The only red flag was that his team sucked.
The Celtics had the top pick and Danny Ainge recognized Jayson Tatum as the superior prospect, and walked out of that draft with the better player and an extra asset.
I've tried to convince myself that this draft may be in a similar place, but can't quite get myself there. I don't think Cade is Fultz. I think Cade is a more gifted passer and believe more in his shooting. I like Green as a prospect more than Tatum back then, but the appeal of just a future pick isn't quite enough to make the comparison really work.
So, it's still simple, right?
Cade remains the consensus number one pick. The team with the number two pick, the Houston Rockets, have apparently been chasing Cade aggressively. Now the Oklahoma City Thunder have entered the chat room, supposedly dangling Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and a pick.
With the style of both Green and Cade, one of the challenges will be surrounding them with enough talent to elevate them. That's the challenge for all superstar prospects.
Saddiq Bey and Isaiah Stewart have proven their worth. Jerami Grant and Mason Plumlee are both fine veterans. And that could be enough for either to have a solid transition to the NBA. But it's not a championship core.
Killian Hayes and Sekou Doumbouya both are young and have potential, but the exposure to the league have dulled excitement. Bringing back Hamidou Diallo and/or Dennis Smith Jr. could add to the talent pool.
But the most compelling aspect to draft Green would be to add additional talent around their new star. Drafting Green means trading out of the number one spot and adding extra assets.
If you evaluate Green and Cunningham as having a similar level of star potential - which I don't think is unrealistic - then isn't a more attractive outcome of the draft to get one of those two along with another player who you think could be a high level player?
The Rockets also own the 23 and 24 pick, and have been apparently trying to move Eric Gordon as a way to move up to draft Cade Cunningham. They've been aiming for the 13 pick from the Pacers, which seems kinda meh all around. Unless if you really like a late lottery pick.
Personally, I really like Jalen Johnson as a guy who will be way better than his draft slot. But Troy Weaver has shown a knack at finding those kind of guys. Last year, the Pistons had the rookie who led the league in win shares from the 16 pick in Stewart and the guy who was third from the 19 spot in Bey. If Weaver wants to build a team around Green, I wouldn't hate the idea of him getting that guy along with an extra pick.
But the SGA trade from OKC certainly has to raise some eyebrows. With Shai as an explosive threat in the backcourt, it could create a situation where Evan Mobley starts to make sense. Either SGA/Green or SGA/Mobley would be a compelling core, especially next to the other young players on the roster.
The Pistons have been a mess for a decade now. This is the biggest opportunity they've had in the draft since...well, you know, we won't mention his name.
Cunningham could be the centerpiece of a well-rounded, defensive-oriented, selfless style of team that has always been suited to the franchise. Green could be the kind of electric superstar that's considered essential in a superstar driven league. And more options could emerge before Thursday evening's draft.
Standard thinking may very well be the best way to go, just taking Cade. But it's at least worth Weaver's time to consider the vision of Jalen Green in Detroit.