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What’s behind Jalen Green’s sophomore struggles around the rim?

N.B. Lindberg
Houston Rockets v Utah Jazz
Houston Rockets v Utah Jazz / Chris Gardner/GettyImages
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When you think of Jalen Green, you probably imagine him skying over a defender in the lane and throwing down a thunderous dunk. His combination of handle, burst, and audacity has made him a highlight waiting to happen since he entered the league. 

Guards capable of self generated rim pressure are the backbone of elite offenses, and it’s why the Houston Rockets selected Green second overall in the 2021 NBA draft. Outside of Stephen Curry-level 3-point shot making, the best guards in the league get to the rim and finish with aplomb. 

Something strange is going on this season with Jalen Green. He’s upped his scoring, has seen his 3-point shooting improve, and is fresh off a 34-point demolition of the Orlando Magic, but his abilities around the rim have evaporated. He’s gone from taking 27.1% of shots three feet or closer to the rim and converting at a 68% clip to 21.4% and 53.5% this season. How is it that a player with such tremendous gifts has seen such a steep drop off?

Jalen Green’s foul problem

Efficiency around the rim can be a bit of a mirage. When a shooting foul is drawn, the field goal attempt doesn’t count unless the shot is made. In field goal percentage terms, it’s a no-lose proposition, and the rim is the best place to draw shooting fouls. 

Unfortunately, Jalen Green hasn’t had a friendly whistle this season. His free throw attempt rate is down from .247 to .229, even as the league rate has risen from .248 to .262, and he has increased his 2-point attempts. As this tweet from NBA University illustrates, Green is struggling to generate fouls when he drives. 

Because of how early it is in the season, it’s unclear how much randomness is at play. Green has only attempted 201 total field goal attempts, and just 43 have been within three feet of the rim. For the season, he’s converted 23 of his 43 near-rim attempts. If he were to have drawn five more shooting fouls on those attempts, his field goal percentage on shots three feet and closer to the rim would jump to 60.5%, even though he wouldn’t have hit any additional shots. 

Green should see his free throw rate increase because of how much of an outlier he appears to be. If Zion Williamson and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander can have a fallow stretch, then just about anyone can.