2021 NBA Draft Buzz: Jalen Green Impressing Scouts Since His Disappointing Debut

Jonathan Wasserman@@NBADraftWassNBA Lead WriterFebruary 19, 2021

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Scouts have moved past Jalen Green's underwhelming debut after three consecutive 20-point games. Through five matchups in the G League, he's avoided negative knee-jerk reactions to mistakes while maintaining support as one of the draft's elite prospects, even though teammate Jonathan Kuminga has been a clear winner in the bubble, generating more buzz with flashes of advanced skill for his size that scouts hadn't seen before in credible settings.

Some scouts do prefer Kuminga now. But I've heard from others who still feel more comfortable with Green, due to obvious on-court advantages and commendable progress, as well as comforting intel from background checks.

From a pure basketball development standpoint, scouts have been impressed by the adjustments Green has made since the first game against the Santa Cruz Warriors. He went from struggling to pick his spots and identify quality scoring opportunities to quickly figuring out court spacing and when/how to strike. 

Polling scouts over the summer after Green's decision to join Ignite, the consensus expected highlights, production, a low three-point percentage and high turnover rate. And that's what he's given them in February.

Coming in, scouts acknowledged Green's world-class athletic abilities, and so far, he's confirmed their beliefs with a lightning first step and explosive bounce that create easy-basket opportunities—without any skill required. At baseline, looking ahead to the NBA level, Green should continue to exploit defenses with an ability to blow by and beat shot-blockers to the rim.

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Despite question marks about his defense, he's made them easy to overlook when locked in, demonstrating tremendous foot and hand speed and the ability to quickly elevate off the ground to contest.

Skill-wise, he's made a promising impression during games Nos. 2-5, looking smooth pulling up into jumpers from the mid-range and three, and fundamentally sound creating separation with off-the-dribble footwork. He's shown shot-selection growth over the past week, recognizing open lanes to drive and resisting the urge to settle around the perimeter.

His handle could use tightening, as he's lost the ball trying to fit through tight windows. But in space, Green has shaken a few defenders with speciality dribble moves he's clearly practiced. 

Though Green's 2.4 assists per game don't sound exciting, the assists he has delivered highlight noteworthy passing ability, especially off ball screens. While the Zach LaVine comparison has been a popular one for his scoring and athleticism, it's reasonable to think Green can eventually provide similar secondary playmaking.

Assuming he doesn't hit a wall that exposes worrisome weakness, Green figures to keep his spot in the top-five tier of prospects that includes Cade Cunningham, Evan Mobley and Jalen Suggs.


Daishen Nix, Isaiah Todd helping themselves in bubble

Photo by Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

With Green and Kuminga dominating the Ignite headlines, Daishen Nix and Isaiah Todd are quietly helping themselves, generating intrigue from scouts who'd been mostly unfamiliar with their games. 

Nix had them talking after Game 1. It still sounds like they're trying to decide where he fits into this draft picture, as he has some clear limitations that hint at a lower ceiling compared to some of the the class' other high-profile point guards. He's lacks explosion, playing exclusively below the rim. He's built wide and heavy at 224 pounds. There is no pull-up in his bag like Cade Cunningham's or Jalen Suggs'.

But Nix is averaging 11.6 points, 6.0 rebounds and 4.6 assists, going up against former college studs and draft picks in Nico Mannion, Ty Jerome, Justin Wright-Foreman, Cassius Winston and Allonzo Trier. 

He's drawing attention for the way he operates and carries himself; rather than any flashes of athleticism or skills that traditionally point to upside. Despite being 19 years old, Nix has been physical, playing through contact on drives, winning loose balls around the basket and forcing turnovers with his aggressive nature. 

Offensively, he's beating defenders with decisive ball-handling and timely change of speed, and he's scoring in the lane with body-controlled finishes and strength to bounce off bodies. 

He's an ambitious but smart playmaker, resulting in high-IQ reads and hero-passes the outside eye can see won't work before he tries them. 

Nobody seems ready to proclaim Nix the draft's next big thing. But he's giving off pro/role-player vibes strong enough for scouts to sound open-minded about labeling Nix a projected first-rounder.

Of the Ignite's big four, Todd had the lowest expectations coming in. Interest is growing, however, now that the 6'10" forward is 6-of-13 from behind the arc. 

Scouts sound willing to buy his shooting stroke based on the short sample size of attempts. He hasn't shown much in terms of creation in the half court, but Todd has made plays with his movement and athleticism, especially on defense, sliding his feet and challenging drivers at the rim.

Convincing scouts he's a switchable big who can stretch the floor will be a draft-stock booster. At the least, Todd seems to be trending into the second-round conversation.


Tennessee's Keon Johnson locking in lottery love

Sam Craft/Associated Press

Scouts see Johnson as lottery-bound, not needing the consistent or volume production to justify a top-10 case. 

This was Patrick Williams in 2020, Jaxson Hayes in 2019 and Jaren Jackson Jr. in 2018. Just like scouts did with them, they're buying Johnson's physical/athletic abilities and flash plays of skill (for an 18-year-old) that point to long-term upside. 

Johnson strengthened his case another notch early in the month against Kentucky, scoring 27 points in 28 minutes. He always manages to impact stretches of a game just by using his tools and motor to slash and defend, but you can sense him starting to get more confident in some of his scoring moves and shot, hitting fallaway mid-range jumpers and threes when in rhythm.

His strong frame, physical nature and defensive energy already hint at a high floor. Budding skills are raising Johnson's perceived ceiling and helping to lock in a lottery spot on draft boards.


Connecticut's James Bouknight, the draft's next big thing

David Butler II/Associated Press

Bouknight made an emphatic return from injury on Tuesday to reignite the hype he started to build early in the season, when he went for 40 points against Creighton and averaged 20.3 points through six games (before getting hurt).

He's the newest lightning-rod topic in a draft conversation that's been relatively repetitive, given how few changes have seemingly been made to the top of draft boards since November. Bouknight plays an exciting brand of ball—shifty off the dribble, loaded with tough shot-making skills and explosive/acrobatic finishes.

He's following through on breakout expectations created from freshman flashes last year. 

Scouts have asked whether Bouknight projects as a point guard or simply a scorer, given his mere 1.7 assists per game. But based on his role as No. 1 option, 6'5" size for both backcourt spots and creativity with the ball, scouts don't sound likely to downgrade Bouknight due to questions about his NBA position.

He's moved to No. 11 on our latest NBA draft big board


Other notes

  • Reactions have been flying left and right after Duke's Jalen Johnson opted out of the season. One side sees no problem in an unpaid player, battling a foot injury, protecting his draft stock. Unsurprisingly, his decision did not sit well with scouts, who already had concerns about his potential professionalism and whether he had a camp of managers and handlers around him, which can be a turnoff. I still don't expect a major slide for Johnson, however, with some team likely to see too much value in the late lottery.
  • Scouts aren't as high on Tennessee's Jaden Springer as I am. Fringe first round is what I'm hearing, as scouts question his translatable skills and strengths. I see workable versatility to shoot, pass, defend and pick the right spots to attack.
  • On the other hand, compared to our big board, scouts are higher on Illinois' Ayo Dosunmu, whom they expect will go first round. They see a more complete guard whose National Player of the Year case is a result of noteworthy improvement to his shooting and passing. I'm a little more skeptical of his playmaking and shot translating. 
  • Former Gonzaga center Filip Petrusev delayed his draft year to 2021 to play the season in Serbia. It's going to pay off, as the 6'11" center leaders the Adriatic League in scoring. And now that he's suddenly shooting 42.9 from three, look for the NBA love and draft buzz to start building.