Jalen Green: From trade candidate to potential max player in a month

A cynical mind might say that it is just one good month and that it is not anything that has not been several times before, especially during the doldrums of March. But has it really?

So recently, he was said to have been a viable candidate to be dealt at the trade deadline, Jalen Green of the Houston Rockets is now playing some of the best basketball in the world. By HoopsHype’s own Global Rating metric, Green has been the best player in the NBA this past week, and second only to his namesake Jalen Brunson of the New York Knicks over the last month.

Rockets March Madness: 12 wins in 13 games

Perhaps more importantly for Houston, these are not meaningless games. And even if they were, they are running rampant through them. Since March began, the Rockets have won 12 of their 13 contests, including the last 10 in a row, and while they remain just on the outskirts of the playoff picture for now, their 37-35 record is good for the 11th seed and a spot in the play-in, in which they would be the in-form team.

This run has come concurrent with – and entirely despite – the absence of Alperen Sengun. The young Turkish center was in the midst of a breakout campaign of his own until his season was ended prematurely on March 12 by a severe ankle sprain. When his season ended, Houston’s was also supposed to. Yet it has not, due to the breakout performances of Green.

Since March began, Green has averaged 28.5 points per game, fourth in the league behind only Luka Doncic, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Jayson Tatum, and ahead of the greats such as Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Kevin Durant and Nikola Jokic. He has done so on 50.8 percent shooting and with a .631 true shooting percentage, playing with unbridled confidence and coming up with big plays in the clutch, often against quality opposition. He has for three weeks been the nightly game-changing factor that the Rockets always hoped he would be.

A faster pace of play suited to Green

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Green has always been a highly talented scorer and averaged 22.1 points per game in the 2022-23 season, but there is a big difference between being a talented volume scorer on a team near the foot of the standings and being “the man” on the NBA’s hottest product amidst a postseason run.

Notwithstanding whatever went before, the Rockets are good again, and Green has shouldered a huge part of that.

The cynic, then, has some facts to contend with. This is a breakout performance by a talented young scorer who has taken advantage of a much-needed opportunity and seized the mantle from his senior backcourt teammate Fred VanVleet. This is not merely Ronald ‘Flip’ Murray back in 2002, Ricky Davis‘ month of triple-doubles, or any of history’s myriad anomalous months. It matters when and how he has done it.

In part, the team’s stylistic changes in the absence of Sengun have played a part in this. Without their main pivot, Houston’s pace of play has increased, something better suited to the dynamic and athletic Green, who can get downhill more often and fire up threes off the dribble with more impunity. The shake in Green’s handle and his excellent athleticism allow him to beat opponents off the dribble, while the reduced need to feed the low post, high post and elbow areas so much gives him more opportunity and prerogative to do that.

Rockets' future: Alperen Sengun and Jalen Green

Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports
Stephen Lew-USA TODAY Sports

Getting Sengun and Green to cohere and maximize their individual talents in such a way that benefits the team mostly greatly as a whole will be a continuing area for growth down the road, yet for now, despite head coach Ime Udoka‘s quotes to the contrary, it seems hard to dispute that Sengun’s absence benefits Jalen as an individual. There is, simply, more to do.

From trade candidate, then, Green now becomes an extension candidate. This is his third season, and thus he is eligible for his second contract this summer; given that he has proven that he can play amongst the game’s very best for an extended period, he is making a valid case for a maximum value extension. At this level of production, that is the cost of doing business.

After the 2024 NBA trade deadline passed, it was revealed that the Rockets had, in fact, offered a package to the Brooklyn Nets of Green and multiple first-round picks in exchange for Mikal Bridges, in a win-now type of move.

At the time, it was a topic of discussion – including in this space – as to which ‘direction’ Houston would pick, and whether they would sacrifice some of the future for more of the now. As it is, they kept the piece for the ‘future’, and are winning now anyway.

Story originally appeared on HoopsHype