untung99.biz: How Jalen Greens time with USA Basketball paid off

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There were the usual step-back 3s and alley-oop dunks, drives to familiar mid-range jumpers. But Jalen Green could have found those on any court against any summer competition. This was better and, potentially, more valuable.

For Green and the other members of the USA Basketball select team, practicing with the Men’s Senior National team in preparation for the World Cup could have a variety of benefits.

Offseason competition on that level can help prepare Green for the season, his third with the Rockets. It can motivate and sharpen skills. On the most basic level, it can be a good audition to get on World Cup and Olympic teams to come. In three days of scrimmages, Green might have accomplished each of those goals.

“He played well,” said Grant Hill, the USA Basketball men’s national team managing director. “He was one of the few guys that I had not seen in person. I obviously had seen him in highlights and on videos, even going back to high school. He’s dynamic. He’s explosive. He’s very confident.”

He had shown himself to be those things in two NBA seasons. But playing on a national team is different. In Las Vegas last week, Green might have shown something else.

Jalen Green got experience in a different environment as a member of the USA Basketball select team in camp against the USA national team.

Elizabeth Conley/Staff photographer

“Part of the good and the bad of the select team, I guess, is that we ask them to play a certain way, so he maybe didn’t get a chance to play like (he) normally plays,” Hill said. “But he’s a really talented young man. I was glad he was there. He had a chance to get in the pipeline and hopefully down the road will be considered for something as it relates to the men’s national team.”

Playing on national teams presents a challenge that often determines success in competition but that also tested Green and the select team in scrimmages. There isn’t time for players whose talents are equally prolific to carve out roles, but they can’t just take turns and show off as if on an All-Star team. 

The select team often ran pick-and-roll with Pistons teammates Cade Cunningham and Jalen Duren, sometimes limiting touches for the other Jalens: Green and Williams.

“A skilled and really talented player, he might not have been featured as much … but there were some moments,” Hill said. “There were situations where you saw his gifts and his talents. It was very impressive.”

With the Rockets, Green can be put in positions to do what he does best. With national teams, that comes in time that the select team members do not get. The advantage is that there is a competitiveness difficult to replicate in open summertime gyms.

“They come out wanting to beat the national team,” Hill said. “They come out aggressive. There’s a little chip on the shoulder of ‘Hey, I should be here.’ They came out loose and with something to prove, and they knocked the national team back on their heels, which, historically, the select team has done.”

Green’s offseason would have been considered crucial regardless of his workouts with USA Basketball. Players in their third seasons often take significant steps toward the roles they will fill when they reach their primes. Players taken as early as Green, the second pick of the 2021 draft, can touch stardom, if that is where their careers can take them.

“He’s had a couple of seasons to really understand what the NBA is, and that’s important,” Hill said. “I like the moves the Rockets made this offseason bringing in veteran guys, guys who have been around the league, guys who have had success — Fred (VanVleet) has been a champion — but can still play.

“You bring in coach (Ime) Udoka, who brings in a level of accountability and teaching. All of that, for a guy like Jalen, is a great chance for him to really grow. I think he’s ready and that team is ready to take a step this season.”

Green already has been in the USA Basketball “pipeline,” having competed in international youth events. His play with the select team moves him closer to the senior national team, though the roster for the FIBA World Cup this summer is so young, spots on future national teams might not open as in past national team cycles. Still, playing this summer provides a head start and a showcase.

“We get a chance to see them and see them in an international, FIBA basketball practice environment,” Hill said. “We’re there to prepare, but we’re also there to evaluate. How do you play with your teammates? How do you compete on defense? In a case of a guy like Jalen, he’s a high-volume scorer and has a high usage rate, but in that environment, he didn’t. How does he still go out there and be productive?

“They’re being evaluated, but they’re also getting an understanding of the FIBA game. Getting in the fold at the select team level, I think, is important.”

The collective bargaining agreement does not permit NBA teams to control players’ participation in FIBA competition. But Houston general manager Rafael Stone said he is pleased that Green was on the select team, that Jock Landale and Dillon Brooks are on World Cup rosters for Australia and Canada, respectively, and that Alperen Şengün is playing for Turkey in an Olympic qualifying tournament.

“If we were in a position to have more control, it would be a very player-by-player thing,” Stone said. “This summer, I’m really happy for our guys. They’re at points in their careers the additional reps are very valuable. And I think for Alpi and Jalen in particular, it’s been a really good experience.

“I can see where teams have concerns. In our case this summer, we’re comfortable, and we’re encouraging those guys not just to play but to play great and come back as better players.”

That is the idea. Hill said his experience in the 1996 Olympics — and four weeks of practices in which he was matched up with Scottie Pippen  —  led to his best NBA season. Green got only a few days of practices and three days of scrimmages, including the pair of Friday select team victories. But if that was enough to strengthen his position with USA Basketball, the Rockets will happily take the running start to their season.