Entering an NBA draft with an Australian as a legitimate first-round prospect is becoming more and more commonplace by the year, and it's likely 2020 won't be an exception.
While a lot of eyes are fixated at the potential No. 1 overall pick who's coming off a season in Australia's NBL, look slightly down the draft board and you'll see one of the most intriguing prospects in the class: Sydney's Josh Green.
For those who aren't aware of Green's story, he was raised in NSW's Hills District before moving to Phoenix, Arizona, at the age of 14 to play high school basketball in the United States. Green's high school career would end with the wing leading IMG Academy to a national championship, which was followed by a short-but-sweet stint at the University of Arizona.
As expected, Green declared after just one year in Tucson, with the 6-foot-6 wing set to enter Thursday's (AEDT) draft night as the No. 21 prospect on ESPN's Top 100 and as one of the best defenders in his class.
If you speak with scouts and executives across the NBA, the 2020 draft is tailor-made for prospects such as Green. The top of the class is extremely volatile, and there are no clear-cut stars -- such as Zion Williamson in 2019, for example -- so the teams in position to select versatile, NBA-ready talent in the back end of the first round are the envy of the rest of the league.
No matter who you ask, you'll probably get the same answer when inquiring about what the most impressive part of Green's game is: how effective, versatile and dogged he is on the defensive end of the floor.
"The biggest thing about him is that he's one of the better defensive players in this class," a Western Conference executive told ESPN. "He's a multipositional defender that can easily defend both guard spots and maybe small forward.
"I really think his defence, his lateral quickness, how energetic he plays and his physical tools make him a really good talent."
During his time with Arizona, Green was consistently matched up against the opposition's primary perimeter threat, using his physicality, impressive lateral speed and 6-foot-10 wingspan to guard one-on-one. Because of that reach, he showed the ability to defend multiple positions -- a skill that, historically, has transitioned well from college to the NBA.
"He can be an athletic 3-and-D wing," an Eastern Conference scout told ESPN. "He's got positional size and strength, high-level athleticism and is a proven versatile defender."
The other area where Green excels is in transition, where the 20-year-old can use his physical strength to go end to end and finish strongly at the rim. Green's decision-making on the break was something he showed off during his time as a Wildcat, and we saw enough glimpses of a passing game to believe he can continue to develop that skill; we rarely saw him play the point in Arizona, after showing his ability to do that at IMG Academy.
Foundationally, we can then point to Green's physical base as one of the big reasons he has been so successful as a junior player and beyond. At 6-foot-6 and 97 kilograms, Green is built like a prototypical NBA 2-man, and his max vertical jump (39.5 inches), three-quarter court sprint (3.12 seconds) and lane agility drill (10.64 seconds) were among the best registered in the NBA's database after the NBA draft combine.
"His combination of athleticism and size is very, very unique," Green's trainer, Joe Abunassar, told ESPN.
"What's so unique about him is how strong he is naturally, but also how he moves. His movement is NBA All-Star movement; that's how guys I've had in the league who've achieved great success, that's how they move."
In the same way defence is widely regarded as Green's best asset, his ability to shoot the ball is the one many point to as his swing skill -- the thing that will define how successful he is in the NBA.
Green was a 36.1% 3-point shooter in college -- making 50.3% of his total jumpers, according to Synergy -- which is serviceable, but it's the streaky nature of that shooting that's raised some concerns. Green shot 16.7% from downtown in December, before shooting just under 50% to end the season; making 14 of his last 30 3-point attempts over February and March.
"The 3-ball, he needs to be better," the Western Conference executive said. "I don't think it's broken, but too many shots seemed to be short and flat, so he needs to give it more arc."
Green had games where he showed his value as a spot-up shooter, finishing his college career with a 19-point effort against Washington, shooting 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Consistency over the course of a season, however, is what's key for the Australian player.
Beyond that, Green hasn't shown enough from a ballhandling and creating standpoint to allow scouts to see him other than a wing, as opposed to a combo guard who can run an offence. During his time at IMG, and even before that at The King's School in NSW, Green ran the point and did it relatively successfully, but he has yet to demonstrate that at the next level.
"I think his handle is average," the executive continued. "I don't think he'll ever be a point guard. When I see him, the main thing is on the offensive part.
"If he can improve offensively -- either to be a great shooter or to be better with the ball as a creator -- he can be a very, very good player."
Part of Green not being regarded as good ball handler, according to Abunassar -- the founder of IMPACT Basketball who has worked with the likes of Kawhi Leonard, Kevin Garnett and Chauncey Billups -- is simply the role he was pigeonholed into during his time at Arizona.
"What he did at Arizona was fill a role he was happy to fill, and Coach [Sean] Miller needed him to fill, but we really had to pull back out of him the perimeter stuff," Abunassar said.
"The shooting, the ballhandling, we did a tremendous amount of work with the footwork, which is really the staple of perimeter play in the NBA. Some of Josh's physical tools can't be taught. The basketball tools we had to bring back out of him and really do a lot of work fine-tuning his perimeter skills."
Part of that fine-tuning would have involved Green's need to show he can be an effective offensive player in the half-court, which is where he saw some struggles. Against a set defence, Green shot just 40% at and around the rim, according to Synergy; it's a number that has to be much higher for a physical wing with the potential to be an elite slasher. That number doesn't look as bad when we see that he made over 40% of his runners in the lane -- widely regarded as a respectable number -- because it's a demonstration that he has touch around the rim; still, it's an area that needs improvement going into a league against longer, stouter bodies.
WHAT'S HIS CEILING?
The scouts and executives who spoke with ESPN over the college season pointed to Green as the type of player who can slot into an NBA team and make an impact right away. His 3-and-D skill set and ability to guard multiple positions lends itself to the positionless style of basketball being played in the NBA, so Green's versatility and physicality are clear positives going into the draft.
Where will he end up, though? Can Green get to a point where he starts on an NBA team? And is there potential for growth beyond that?
"The ceiling is an NBA starter," the Eastern Conference scout said. "He is going to have to become a more consistent shooter, a better passer, and think the game at a higher level in order to reach that starter potential, though."
When we think of 3-and-D players in the NBA, the likes of Robert Covington, Danny Green, Trevor Ariza, and Wesley Matthews come to mind, and while Green will need to slightly improve his 3-point jumper to get to that level, his upbringing as a ball handler gives him a unique element that those sorts of guys don't typically have.
"I think he's gonna be a pretty solid starter, like Gary Harris was," the executive said. "He can definitely be someone like that; better than that.
"He projects as a really, really good two-way player in the middle of the first round, where he's gonna get drafted. I think he's definitely a starter down the line; it just depends how much better he can get as a shooter or as a creator and as a ball handler."
For Abunassar, the goal for Green over his unusually long pre-draft training period was to nail the skills that will allow him to carve out a role in the NBA right away, before expanding on that in order to elongate his career.
"We've really tried to perfect his ability to catch and shoot open shots, and his on-ball and off-ball defence," Abunassar said. "We know that will be his initial way to get on the floor in the league; and even at his age, he's ready to do that now, which is why he's so valuable.
"At the same time, we do want him to grow. He creates space off the dribble, he's able to iso, he has a nice little post game. Balance is a great word, because getting him to understand that this is how you get on the floor initially, but let's continue to work on the things I think can help you become an All-Star."
WHERE DOES HE FIT?
For a long while, Green's draft range has been seen as anywhere from No. 15 to No. 25.
Some teams at the bottom of the first round who spoke with ESPN are not confident that Green will be there by the time their selection comes; and while there are landing spots in the late teens that would make sense, league sources have indicated that the sweet spot might just be the trio of teams in the range of Nos. 21 to 23.
With the 76ers, the easy comparison is Matisse Thybulle, who possesses a similar skill set and was able to make an impact as a rookie under Brett Brown. Green would have the potential to do the same thing, playing for a head coach in Doc Rivers who, historically, hasn't shied away from giving young players minutes. The expectation is that the 76ers will make some moves in the offseason, but a capable wing shooter who can guard multiple positions is the ideal fit alongside Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. Green could slot right in.
Green had a workout with the Jazz during draft week, but of the two remaining teams in that trio, the Nuggets seem like the one for which Green could make an impact right away.
Jerami Grant expectedly turned down his player option with Denver and will test free agency, while Torrey Craig is off contract, so there could be room for Green to effectively replace either of those wings, both of whom have a similar skill set to the incoming rookie. Head coach Mike Malone has been bullish about playing wings and isn't afraid to go small, so Green's versatility could make him a Swiss Army knife-type player on a Denver team that will have championship aspirations.
At the end of the day, though, the question of where Green fits is almost an unanswerable one, because it's a cop-out to say he can fit anywhere; but it's true. On all 30 teams in the NBA, there's an open spot for a Josh Green style of player, and that's a credit to the skill set, size and physicality he brings to the table.
The questions then become, can all of that translate to the NBA and will Green develop where he needs to in order to solidify himself as a starter in the league and beyond? Only time will tell, but the pieces are clearly there.