When the Pistons travel to take on the Rockets on Wednesday, Nov. 10 on ESPN, we’ll get to see two future superstars go head-to-head for the first time when No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham faces off against No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green.
This will mark the first time either player has competed under the national TV spotlight in the NBA regular season, but they’ve had plenty of battles in their storied past as two elite prospects.
The Cunningham and Green story started way before the 2021 NBA Draft, as the two were always side-by-side in high school rankings for the Class of 2020. In fact, depending on your rankings of choice, you could have found either of them atop of their class at the end of their recruiting stages.
According to the Recruiting Services Consensus Index, which “combines the rankings from well-known recruiting experts,” Cunningham finished at No. 1, with third overall pick Evan Mobley actually sneaking in at No. 2 and Green landing at No. 3.
All of this to say: the Cunningham versus Green debate has been built up for years leading into their first NBA showdown.
Each future star elected to go down different paths, with Cunningham heading to the NCAA at Oklahoma State and Green becoming the keystone player for the NBA’s G League Ignite development program. The choices clearly benefited both players, who ended up going Nos. 1 and 2 a year later.
Cunningham flashed his well-rounded and NBA-ready skillset while going on to win Big 12 Player of the Year honors as a freshman. Green showcased his prolific scoring ability by averaging nearly 18 points per game against other professional basketball players, capped off by his best performance when it mattered most, scoring a career-high 30 points to go with seven assists in the Ignite’s lone playoff game.
Ahead of the 2021 NBA Draft, both players made it clear that they felt they deserved to be the No. 1 pick.
Cunningham refused to work out for any team other than the Pistons in the pre-draft process, confident in his ability to go No. 1. And he did.
Green only conducted two workouts, one with the Pistons and one with the Rockets, while strongly stating his case as the best player in the draft class.
“Me. I’m the best prospect in this draft, in my opinion,” Green told ESPN’s Mike Schmitz during his pre-draft YouTube film session. “I didn’t go to college and I played against grown men. I just think as a 19-year-old doing that, I’m the best player in the draft for sure.”
Green doubled down on that after a strong showing in his Summer League debut back in August.
“Yeah, obviously I feel some type of way that I went No. 2 and I feel I should have been No. 1,” he stated, according to the Houston Chronicle’s Jonathan Feigen.
Green outplayed Cunningham in their one and only battle in Summer League, with the No. 2 pick going for 25 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field and the No. 1 pick going for 20 points on 8-for-18 shooting from the field.
Neither player has seamlessly transitioned to the next level the way we may have thought heading into their rookie season, but it’s still fewer than 10 games into their careers. In Cunningham’s case, he’s returning from an ankle injury that forced him to miss the start of the season.
With that being said, both players have shown flashes of potential that help explain why they were so highly touted as pro prospects.
Green has had a few moments, including his lethal stepback:
As well as this electrifying dunk:
Cunningham has only had four chances to put his game on full display, but taking Matisse Thybulle off the dribble and finishing through contact from Joel Embiid is a glimpse at the player we’ll see once he gets his legs under him.
At just 19 and 20 years old, respectively, there’s plenty of time for this duo to take off and become the All-Stars they were projected to be.
For now, we’ll have to settle for seeing how they stack up against each other in their first meeting.