This is what Summer League is all about.
For the first time in their professional careers, No. 1 overall pick Cade Cunningham and No. 2 overall pick Jalen Green will go head-to-head when the Detroit Pistons take on the Houston Rockets at 9 p.m. ET on Tuesday, Aug. 10.
As we've seen with plenty of other draft classes in the past, there always seems to be two players that will be tied at the hip in comparison throughout their NBA careers. In this draft class, there may be multiple examples of that (looking at you two, Scottie Barnes and Jalen Suggs), but the debate between Cunningham and Green takes precedent as the top two picks.
Cunningham and Green's comparisons go well beyond 2021 NBA Draft day - the two were always neck-and-neck 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.
ESPN's Top 100 had Green finish No. 1 over Cunningham at No. 2, while 24/7 Sports and Rivals.com had Cunningham finish No. 1 over Green at No. 2.
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 quite some time.
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. Their choices clearly benefitted both players, who ended up going Nos. 1 and 2 a year later.
Cunningham flashed his well-rounded and polished NBA-ready skillset while going on to win Big 12 Player of the Year honours 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.
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.
"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. "But it's all good. We'll show (Tuesday). It's going to be a good game. No. 1 vs. No. 2. That's what people are going to be looking for."
Green looked like every bit of a player who could have gone No. 1 overall in his Summer League debut, torching the Cleveland Cavaliers for 23 points while showcasing his raved about shot-creating bag, as well as some developments as a defender and playmaker.
Jalen Green (23 PTS & 9/18 FG) was showing out tonight at #NBASummer 👀 pic.twitter.com/UftR3nsfgH- NBA TV (@NBATV) August 9, 2021
Cunningham's debut wasn't as loud but he still handled his business, going for 12 points, six boards, two steals and two blocks, making things happen on both ends of the floor.
Cade Cunningham made his highly anticipated #NBASummer debut pic.twitter.com/OUeKxqWyDF- NBA TV (@NBATV) August 9, 2021
Again, it's just a Summer League game. How these two players perform against each other won't define their career or anything of the sort. But being the competitors they are, you know they're both coming into this contest with something to prove.
Leave your takes at the door until the real games begin, but get your popcorn ready for the start of the newest electrifying draft class rivalry that will overtake the NBA sooner rather than later.
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