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Jeff Green

Grass Is Greener, Pt. 3

in NBA by
jeff green

There is some unidentifiable, likely illusionary, quality that Jeff Green possesses that turns NBA executives into overzealous caretakers who are stricken by the belief that they have the necessary infrastructure in place to extract whatever furtive ability still lies beneath Green’s surface.

That unfettered confidence has twice been the justification for trading a first round pick for Green. Memphis dealt a first rounder that is expected to convey in 2018 to Boston for Green in Jan. 2015, and the Los Angeles Clippers traded a lottery-protected first (likely to convey in 2019) to Memphis for Green on Thursday. After dangling Lance Stephenson to a number of teams before the deadline, Los Angeles opted to move him for Green rather than Channing Frye, and the cost of acquiring a more intriguing asset (and an expiring contract with Bird Rights) was a first rounder.

That is, in a vacuum, logical thinking. Frye would have been a nice addition, but his impact would have been muted when Blake Griffin returned from injury and resumed playing 35 minutes a night at power forward.1 Green is younger, can be let go this summer if this trial doesn’t work out and can play a position the Clippers haven’t filled with an above average player in several years.

The troublesome part is that the Clippers are betting on a potentially counterfeit asset, and that the executive who thinks he has the right environment for Green to thrive in is also the coach, spawning some kind of circular logic founded on unsubstantiated optimism. This is the second time Doc Rivers has acquired Green, and though he is in the middle of his prime now, Green is even less of a reliable quantity than he was when the Celtics got him from the Thunder in 2011. Who knows how Green’s career would have turned out if he didn’t have to miss the entire 2011-12 season while he recovered from heart surgery, but his time in the league since has mostly been cloudy and underwhelming.

Green is a combo forward who doesn’t have standout qualifications for either position. He’s a good athlete who can play in transition and has shown some ability to attack the rim against bent defenses and on cuts, but his efficiency has always been lacking (he’s never had a PER above 15.01), he is an inconsistent outside shooter (he’s shooting 31 percent deep this season and his career average is 34 percent), his defense is average for someone with his physical tools and he is not much a ball mover or someone who creates good shots for his teammates.2

But then there are those stretches, those games, those possessions, where Green looks like a player worth salvaging, a patient worth treating with alternative means. There was a stretch at the end of January when Green scored 30, 21, 29 and 24 in consecutive games, shooting better than 60 percent on each occasion. When a coach like Rivers gives up a first rounder for Green, he isn’t looking at modest per game averages and cantankerous shooting percentages; he sees those glimpses, which are sometimes as prolonged as a whole week, and figures that kind of production would be nice to have, even if it comes in spurts.3

For a team that has been on the edge of a conference finals appearance, which should not be treated as some sort of laughable consolation prize given the current state of the West, that is far from the most objectionable rationale, and yet this trade reeks of the kind of move that a desperate team makes.

Contextually, this deal looks much worse than it is because of what the Pistons did Tuesday. Stan Van Gundy, whose front office debut has restored faith in the idea of coaches duel-wielding basketball-related responsibilities after Rivers sabotaged it, acquired a player who is essentially a younger, more malleable version of Green, Tobias Harris, without sacrificing any future assets, instead completing the deal with two expiring contracts as trade chips. Operating under the assumption that Orlando did the deal to clear an expensive cog in its forward log jam and to open up cap space in the summer, then the Clippers might have been able to send Stephenson and Jamal Crawford’s expiring contracts for Harris, who is under contract for three more seasons on a declining contract.

Then again, Rivers has never coached Harris before, so that move never seemed to be on that table. That Rivers has yet to expand beyond the scope of players he either coached or coached against might be the most concerning part about his tenure as a front office executive. One way to break that cycle is to inject some fresh (and cheap) talent into your locker room via the draft, but Rivers made how much he values draft picks evident in this deal.

To his discredit, Rivers has an embarrassing draft rap sheet, and the fact that he treated a first rounder like the worthless fodder his selections have turned out to be highlights an insensible thought process. The Clippers were the only team to sacrifice a small slice of its future in a win-now move at the deadline, which means they were the only team that thought it could improve enough to have a better shot at Golden State. All the other buyers on the market decided against pushing for contention because they had the sense to recognize how far off they are.

The Clippers have decent reason to believe they can give the Warriors a series, but that isn’t exactly the kind of ringing endorsement that should push a team to sacrifice a first round pick for a slight upgrade at small forward. That leads to the most interesting part of this trade: That Green might not be a significantly better basketball player than Stephenson, if he is better at all.

Stephenson was a spotty performer and never earned a spot in Rivers’ rotation, so Rivers traded for a commodity he was more comfortable with even though the new player might be worse and the opportunity cost of such a transaction was a first round pick.4

Somewhere, in the back of his mind, Rivers has to realize the risk he took with this deal. He has to know that sacrificing a long term asset for a negligible upgrade in talent and fit is such bad business that even Kanye West wouldn’t consider it. He has to realize he has established a troubling trend of acquiring has-been and never-was players whom he has spent considerable time around and against.

Rivers must have considered of all of this before he decided to pull the trigger on a move in which he spent a first round pick on a perennially vague forward whose ideal situation is as hard to discover as gravitational waves. But despite all of the cons listed on his legal pad, Rivers was inebriated by Green’s imperceptible allure, and he is giving Green a third chance to prove that the grass can be greener if you find the proper pasture.

Footnotes


 

Knicks Grind Out Game 1 Win Over Boston

in NBA by
uspw_7284284

Just four minutes into the first game of the 2013 post-season, it appeared as if we were in for a hell of a performance from one of the games brightest stars in Carmelo Anthony. Anthony drilled four straight shots, including two threes, to fire up the Garden right out of the gate, and it seemed like Carmelo, who finished off the season on a white hot tear that earned him the scoring title, was in for a historic afternoon.

Instead, after Doc Rivers called a TV timeout following Carmelo’s fourth consecutive make, Boston ramped up their defensive effort against Carmelo, and Anthony shot 9-for-25 to closeout the game. The Celtics sent several different defenders at Carmelo, with Avery Bradley, Jeff Green, Paul Pierce and Brandon Bass all getting shots to stop him. Boston relied on these individual defenders to slow down Melo so that they could stay at home on New York’s shooters and force Anthony to play hero ball.

This gameplan worked perfectly for the Celtics, who got the Knicks out of their free flowing pick-and-roll offense and got them bogged down in a one-on-one show with Anthony trying to hard to get his points out of isolation. Boston played him straight up while overloading the strongside of the floor; they didn’t send doubles at Carmelo, but they made it so he couldn’t have an easy look at the rim no matter what he did, and Anthony wasn’t making the right reads as far as swinging the ball and trying to break down Boston’s rotations.

New York has gotten away with Anthony playing hero ball a lot this season, but Brandon Bass did an exemplary job of keeping Carmelo in front of him and all of Boston’s defenders contested his pull-up shots well. Anthony can make some of the shots he missed in this game, but he had an off game from the field, and you have to credit Boston’s defense for doing everything necessary to give him fits.

While New York’s offense struggled after that initial Anthony outburst, Boston’s offense looked very good with Paul Pierce going into the post and facilitating from there. There was a two minute stretch in the second quarter when the Celtics went to Pierce on the right block three straight times and each time Bradley sliced down the middle and received a perfect pass for a lay-up. Boston utilized off ball movement and the smarts of Pierce and Garnett to manufacture good looks for their teammates. And when high percentage looks weren’t there, Jeff Green was there to bail out the offense with a three-pointer or an aggressive drive to the rim.

Things would improve gradually for the Knicks in the second half as Mike Woodson made subtle adjustments to help get his team back on track. It started with the early hook for Chris Copeland, whom the Knicks tried to get involved in the offense with some token post-ups, but he wasn’t effective against a tuned in Boston defense. J.R. Smith came in for Copeland and immediately provided some offensive relief with a pull-up jumpshot.

Then, in the fourth quarter, Woodson made two key decisions and inserted two players that will be getting AARP letters in the mail not too long after this season into the crunchtime line-up for good.

Jason Kidd and Kenyon Martin, who played together in another lifetime with the New Jersey Nets, gave the Knicks excellent minutes down the stretch of this game and helped turn the tide in favor of the Knicks when Boston had previously established control of the game.

Kidd baited Green into this turnover by acting like was going to double him.

Kidd had been good in the first half, knocking down a couple of threes and moving the ball around the perimeter, but in the fourth quarter he came up with so many huge defensive plays. Whether it was sagging off his man just enough to show Jeff Green a double before shooting into the passing lane and stealing the ball or taking on Paul Pierce in one-on-one assignments, Kidd was tremendous defensively and those extra possessions were crucial to the Knicks in a grind-it-out battle like this. Kidd had three steals in the fourth quarter, and each one helped swing the momentum of the game.

Martin is able to roll freely to the rim because of New York’s tremendous spacing.

With Chandler clearly ailing, Woodson called on Martin, who was just returning from injury himself, to anchor the defense as the center and to open up things on offense as the pick-and-roll big man, and he delivered. Martin was excellent on the defensive side of the floor, protecting the rim and helping clean up the offensive glass for a Knicks’ squad that is used to having a defensive player of the year in the middle in crunchtime. Martin was also key offensively; though he is a limited offensive player, he’s a capable finisher at the rim, and simply rolling hard to the rim forces Boston’s defense to drop down to account for him, which opens up the floor for New York’s shooters.

You can see in the image above how Boston is in a dilmna on this 1/5 pick-and-roll by the Knicks. Martin is rolling hard and fast to the rim, but Pierce would be taking a risk to leave Melo wide open in the corner. Boston’s best chance of stopping this play is Brandon Bass and Bradley getting in the passing lane and stopping Felton from getting it to Martin. That didn’t happen, though, and Martin threw down an emphatic slam to top off one of New York’s few successful pick-and-roll plays on the day.

The Knicks are going to have to clean up things with their offense, mainly getting the ball up the floor quickly and starting their offense sooner into the shot clock than they did against Boston. They’ll also have to make sure their offense never goes into the long lulls they experienced today when the only thing they did was throw it to Carmelo and expect him to make a contested shot. But this was overall an encouraging win for New York. They were forced to play Boston’s style of game, had an injured Chandler and got an awful shooting performance from Anthony (though he did have 36 points) and still managed to pull out the win.

Boston will have to go back to the drawing board offensively. Their defense was stellar, and though the Knicks will certainly play much less hero ball in game two, I expect Boston to hold New York well below their season average offensive efficiency. Turnovers were the story for Boston in this one and their sloppy passing is what did them in. They had 21 total team turnovers that led to 20 Knick points, which is a lofty sum in a game like this when the Knicks rarely got good looks in the half-court. Pierce and Green each had six turnovers apiece and Bradley added four cough ups; simple things like entry passes were constantly screwed up in this game by the Celtics, and if they’re to have any chance of winning this series, they’ll have to be able to take care of the ball.

X’s And Bro’s: Episode 2

in NBA/Podcasts by
bosh

Brett Koremenos joins me to recap Sunday’s national TV games between the Heat and Pacers and Thunder and Celtics, as well as a quick preview for tonight’s Thunder-Spurs game.

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