What Auburn basketball is getting in EKU transfer point guard Wendell Green Jr.
The Tigers landed a commitment from a young, mid-major star who looks like he was created in a lab to play basketball for Bruce Pearl.
|Justin Ferguson||Apr 10||6|
A day before Auburn dropped 109 points on South Carolina — near the peak of Sharife Cooper Mania — Bruce Pearl had this to say about his run of floor generals:
“I like to think we're carving out a little niche at Auburn for fast, small, quick point guards — whether it be Tahj Shamsid-Deen my first year, or Jared Harper, or J'Von McCormick and now Sharife Cooper, and then somebody in the years to come,” Pearl said. “It's been a position where guys have done well. I put the ball in my point guard's hands and let them go play.”
When Pearl said those words almost three months ago, no one knew that Wendell Green Jr. would be the next “somebody in years to come.”
A day earlier, Green led Eastern Kentucky to its own offensive explosion, a 113-73 beatdown of Tennessee-Martin in Ohio Valley Conference play. Green scored 25 points, the first of what would be a run of four straight 20-point outings.
Green went to Eastern Kentucky as a 3-star prospect originally from Detroit but most recently out of the prestigious La Lumiere basketball program in Indiana. There, Green went 38-1 as the starting point guard, taking La Lumiere all the way to the high school national title game in 2019.
Perhaps it was his height that ultimately affected his stock as a prospect, as the highly productive 5-foot-10 point guard only had one power-conference offer (TCU) coming out of high school. He picked the Colonels, one of the fastest-paced and pressure-heaviest teams in all of Division I basketball, and immediately went to work.
By the end of the season, it was apparent that Green — no disrespect to EKU — should be playing higher than OVC ball. As a true freshman, he was a first-team all-conference pick. He averaged 15.8 points and 5 assists per game. Some outlets named him a freshman All-American.
Among OVC players, Green ranked inside the top five in points, field goals made, free throws, steals, assists, usage percentage and points produced. According to KenPom, Green ranked No. 57 nationally in assist percentage and No. 76 in possessions used. One of his top statistical comparisons there is former LSU star and current NBA guard Tremont Waters.
Auburn contacted Green shortly after he entered the transfer portal, and he ultimately chose the Tigers on Friday over the likes of Maryland, Mississippi State, Missouri and Washington State.
Green should be eligible immediately at Auburn, once the NCAA passes its widely expected one-time transfer waiver later this month. He will give Auburn a true floor general in its hunt to replace the NBA-bound Sharife Cooper and another entertaining mid-major transfer guard alongside Zep Jasper.
And it’s hard to watch Green’s performances at Eastern Kentucky without immediately thinking of Cooper and Harper. Pearl definitely has a type.
Let’s start with his playmaking ability. Green ranked No. 15 among all Division I players last season in assists, and he looked fully capable of running a college offense from the start of his career. He had 29 assists in his first five games, including seven in an overtime loss to Big East program Xavier.
Like Cooper, there’s a strong element of “if you’re open, he will find you” to Green’s game. He has remarkable vision for a player of his age, and he routinely made highlight-reel passes to his teammates on all areas of the floor. Green is especially strong with off-platform passes and wraparounds that frustrate defenders.
Auburn had quite the pick-and-roll attack when Cooper was healthy and available this past season. With forwards who can hit from deep and a plethora of created space down low, the Tigers were able to generate plenty of scoring chances with the two-man game.
This shouldn’t change with Green at all. He is very comfortable operating in that area of his game. Green has the speed and the tenacity to get to the basket if the lane is there, and he does a great job of anticipating when and where his teammates will get open. Pair him with versatile scoring big men such as Jaylin Williams, JT Thor or incoming phenom Jabari Smith, and the possibilities are endless.
One of the best words to describe Green’s offensive game is “crafty.” He has a wide range of dribble moves to beat defenders, including a spectacular go-to hesitation that creates plenty of space for shots. He’s the type of point guard who wants to put defenders on skates and take full advantage.
As a scorer in his own right, Green has a lot of similarities to Jasper — a three-level threat whose efficiency should only grow with better weapons around him at Auburn.
Green posted an effective field goal percentage of 45.8% and a true shooting percentage of 50.1% at Eastern Kentucky. He was a 36.4% 3-point shooter, which is a similar rate to what Auburn got out of Harper during its Final Four season. At the free-throw line, he’s a solid hand at 76.3%, and he draws a decent rate of fouls.
According to Hoop-Math.com, Green shot just 44.1% at the rim last season, which is something he can improve on the Plains. Like Jasper, he has a much higher rate of 2-point jumpers (32.8% of his shots) than Auburn had a season ago. Only 6% of those jumpers were assisted, which means he is quite comfortable creating looks on his own. Less than 40% of his 3-point attempts were assisted, too.
After a slow start to his career beyond the arc, Green got hot in a hurry. He went 5-7 from 3-point range in a win over Austin Peay and later had a streak of six straight games in which he hit at least 40% from downtown. Towards the end of the season, Green went 4-8 from deep against SEMO State, 3-4 against Austin Peay and then 4-6 against Morehead State.
Oh, and he definitely has Harper-esque logo range. Just look at where he pulls up on some of these makes.
Needless to say, Green is high on confidence when it comes to operating an offense as a facilitator and as a scorer. If Pearl wants Auburn to play breakneck speed basketball again, Green looks like he was created in a lab to play for him.
Last season, Eastern Kentucky played at the second-fastest tempo in college basketball. The Colonels’ average possession length was 15.4 seconds, which was 16th in Division I. That was also created by the defense, which ranked No. 5 in turnover percentage and No. 7 in steal percentage.
To top it all off, EKU ranked just outside the top 100 in percentage of 3-point attempts and 74th in 3-point percentage. Does that style sound familiar?
At Eastern Kentucky, Green played with active hands, finishing with a season-long steal percentage of just under 3.0%. (By comparison, Auburn didn’t have a player who cracked 2.0% last season.) He spent a lot of time at the top of Eastern Kentucky’s pressure defenses, pestering ballhandlers in the backcourt.
His size will always give him some natural challenges as a defender, and he doesn’t have the lockdown pedigree that Jasper has coming out of the mid-majors. But he knows how to swipe the ball away from opponents and create some instant offense off of it at top speed.
Several of his best highlights with the Colonels started with big defensive stops:
Auburn has been hard at work in recruiting point guards in the early offseason, and it’s landed an exciting one who could still have a lot of college basketball ahead of him. If Pearl wants the Tigers to look more like they did in their SEC championship and Final Four runs, Green should be the ideal trigger man for that style.
Green’s commitment gives Auburn an instant-impact player from the portal and still leaves room for some of its other top targets — namely Walker Kessler, Scoot Henderson and TyTy Washington — to join the squad.
For Auburn fans who have been accustomed to watching undersized point guards do plenty of damage on the Plains, Green should offer a lot of that in the near future.
Up next on The Auburn Observer: We’ll talk more about Green’s commitment to play for the basketball Tigers and the latest surrounding the football Tigers as they head into A-Day week on a free episode of the podcast Sunday morning.