Coming into the 2021-2022 NBA season, Jalen Green was expected by fans and pundits to be one of the best scorers in his class. Early season struggles created doubt amongst some regarding his talent and upside. Despite scoring 30 points against the Boston Celtics, Green struggled out the gate during his first 6 games in the month of October, shooting 32% from the field, 23% from three and 64% from the free-throw line. His struggles lingered on for the first few months of the season leaving many Rockets fans questioning the manner in which the team utilized him in the offensive system. Seeing a player who displayed dynamic scoring ability in the NBA G-League parked in the corner hoping for an opportunity to get a kickout pass from a teammate was not what fans envisioned when Green was drafted 2nd overall. Trying to diagnose exactly why Green struggled early on would be pure speculation, but looking at certain stats throughout the season, there are some things that I found interesting.
Touches vs. Usage
Most NBA fans make the mistake of defining player involvement by using usage rate. The usage rate formula is (FGA + Possession Ending FTA + TO) / POSS. The usage rate is attributed to a player if a single possession ends with the player taking a shot, going to the line, or turning the ball over. Green’s usage % was never in question, for the first 3 months of the season, he was 3rd in usage% (22.6%) behind Kevin Porter Jr. (24.6), and Christian Wood (23.3%). Using usage rate as a gauge of offensive involvement within the context of a possession ignores all the events lead up to that shot, foul drawn or turnover.
Touches measure the number of times a player or team touches the ball during a game. Unlike usage %, a touch isn’t predicated on the outcome of the possession, but on the events that occurred during the possession. Touches can also be measured as a rate when paired with secondary measures such as: player location (post, front court, elbow, paint), scoring (points per touch), movement (dribbles per touch) and time (seconds per touch). Each of these qualifiers provides insight to player involvement and roll within the offensive structure.
Jalen Green’s Touches
I began monitoring Green’s touches a few months into his rookie season as a way to try to assess whether he was being underutilized. When viewed month by month his touches stayed relatively the same for the first 4 months of the season (Oct 21 – Jan 22) where he averaged 44 touches per game. During that stretch of 35 games he averaged 15.3 points, with a 47% true shooting percentage (TS%) and 24% usage rate. A NBA.com query looking at players with the 44 or less touches that score 15 or more points brings up names of 3 and D wings and forward. Some notable names in this cohort include Aaron Gordon, Gary Trent Jr., Kelly Oubre Jr., and Lugentz Dort. Not exactly the names you associate with number 2 overall pick talent.
I decided to dig a little deeper to find out if there was a relationship between the number of touches Green had, and his scoring and efficiency on offense. When his touches are filtered by ranges and not by sequential dates, his touch stats painted a clearer picture of what type of scorer Green is.
Jalen Green Touches Data (nba.com)
|Touches Range (Games Played)||Points Per Game||TS%||Points Per Touch||USG%|
|40 OR LESS (14)||10.9 ||42% ||0.349 ||23% |
|41-50 (27)||15.5||46% ||0.340 ||23% |
|51-60 (15)||18.1||51% ||0.336 ||24% |
The table above shows an upward trend and association between Green’s touches, his points/game and his efficiency. a natural assumption would be if Green was “feeling it”, wouldn’t he want to touch the ball more. That assumption is dispelled by the fact that his usage% stayed relatively the same. This is why it is important to understand the function of these stats. An increase in scoring and efficiency, on a constant usage and points per touch isn’t a function of more shots being taken, but a function of more touches leading to higher scoring efficiency.
What Type of Scorer is Jalen Green
Green closed out his rookie season with an empathic reminder of why he deserved to be the 2nd overall pick, During that stretch of 32 games he averaged 54 touches per game, 21 points per game, 56% TS and a 24% usage rate. He finished the 2nd half of the season with the exact same usage as the first half, but scored 6 more points per game and +9% in TS%.
Another NBA.com query looking at players from February 2022 to April 2022 that had 54 or less touches per game, scored 20 or more points per game, in at least 10 or more games played only brings up only 1 other player, Klay Thompson. What makes Green such an intriguing NBA talent is that he has the efficiency of a Klay Thompson on high volume, while having the talent and athletic profile of a superstar guard. The scoring burst we all saw from Green, which was capped off by a season ending 41 point performance against the Atlanta Hawks was not a fluke. This was the birth of a different type of NBA star, one that shoots like a splash brother, and can jump like Mike. The best is yet to come.