The Inbounds: The unfathomable jump Jeff Green needs

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I’ve pretty much always been on the side that thinks Jeff Green can develop into a capable NBA player. In Oklahoma City, he was “the other guy” drafted with Durant, part of the central core. His role was nebulous, falling into that generic “forward” category. It took a while for the debate to start over Green (if you consider it a debate). Once Oklahoma City became relevant, people started to actually look at the contributions of the team and that’s when the idea was planted like Di Caprio had slipped it in there using a fake Tom Berenger.

“Look at the rebound rate.”

Green couldn’t play on the wing, that was Kevin Durant’s turf. So he was supposed to fill the traditional power forward needs, and a huge part of that is rebounding. The more minutes he played, the worse his rebound rate got.

Oh, and did I mention he’s not a great shooter? Power forwards are supposed to have high shooting percentages and yet, Green’s eFG% let alone his FG% only got above 50% once, in 2009-2010.

So he can’t shoot. He has no natural position. He doesn’t rebound.

So how could you possibly make the argument he contributed? And this is where I think the metrics are impacted by role, coaching, and development. Because i you watched a lot of those OKC games, it’s hard to argue he didn’t have an impact.

Green did things that OKC needed during his time there. He snagged the rebound and kick-started the outlet pass. He finished in transition. He pressured the ball to create steals. He nailed huge three pointers when the team needed it. He was able to run with Durant. He wasn’t a no-show on the floor, a Marvin Williams. But what haunted Green was inconsistency, minute-to-minute, quarter-to-quarter, game-to-game. He would shift from situation to situation. Was this coaching’s fault? No. He had his role. It was more Green’s body and game that necessitated a more nebulous approach. In large part, OKC, and now Boston, has to simply throw out Green and see what happens. It’s kind of hard to gameplan or adjust with your roster if you have no idea what position one of your guys is playing. But consider this:

 

Couple things.  Green regressed in 2010-2011 both before and after the trade, while Young flourished, and Young stomps him on career numbers despite being younger. This is in large part taking one of Young’s worse years against the peak of Green and going “See?’ 2. Green was a starter and Young a reserve so that kind of matters. Young still bested him in points, rebounds, assists and field goal percentage per 36 minutes. So this should not be taken for a “one year proves that Jeff Green is like Thaddeus Young.” But maybe Young is a better comparison for Green than some of the other ideas that have been thrown out there.

Green has had his moments. That gets lost in the look at the rebound rate and his shooting, and the phrase “there is nothing on the floor that Jeff Green does well” gets tossed out so much it might as well be “defense wins championships.” But that ignores context, it ignores team construct, and it ignores, for lack of a better term, what you saw when you watched the Thunder. That’s not to say that he was good. If you paid attention and then asked yourself after each quarter “How did Jeff Green do?” you would have wound up going “Oh. Not much.” Green can disappear as well as any player, and that’s where metrics are valuable, in being able to show that the player who hit that big shot at the end of the game actually did not have a good game and is having a poor season. It’s not one or the other, it’s both.

Which leads us to Boston and the present.

So, for the moment, let’s assume that none of us reading this are doctors. I’m sure some of you are and have a more educated opinion on what Green can provide after heart surgery than us. Let’s set that aside because in this situation, Green is Schroedinger’s Rebounder when it comes to his health. He is both boxing out and not boxing out at the same time. The Thaddeus Young role is actually not a terrible one for him to play. Come in off the bench, play a little 3/4, make a few plays, play defense most especially, hit a few shots.

He’s also walking on to a team that has never been a dominant rebounding team. They’ve been a top ten defensive rebounding team twice since the Big 3 was formed in 2008, but just once in the last three years and finished 20th last year. Their scheme tends to surrender on the offensive glass in favor of transition defense (it’s difficult to get back on defense and crash your own glass at the same time). So Green’s not coming in expected to be the kind of traditional big man people want him to be.

Additionally, the league is undergoing such a massive shift in terms of positional flexibility that Green’s lack of a position is fine. There’s an angst that used to come with trying to figure out where a player fit on the floor in terms of position. Now it’s more about just how he fits with his teammates.

So why hold back on Green? Why buy into the doubt about Green and the reported four-year, $36 million contract the Celtics granted him? Because he’s become polarizing. In order to make the leap in people’s minds, he needs to rebound in the double-digits in a slower-pace system, defend LeBron adequately when no human being on Earth is capable of such a feat at the moment, and shoot 40 percent from three, 50 percent from the field. Green’s not just facing having to justify his current contract, he has to make up for the last three years.

That’s a tough order.

And it’s true that the Celtics don’t care about that stuff. They just want him to make those players, hit those shots, contribute in the little ways he can. The strength of their team will carry the rest. But the expectations become higher the more the negative perception cements. Which is kind of messed up when you think about it. The worse people expect from him, the greater his performance has to be. The bar is somehow set higher by his reputation being dragged under. And the contract just throws that into hyperdrive.

(Note: Green’s overpaid. Many players are overpaid given their production, and many of those overpaid players became overpaid this summer, which was totally insane. But Green in particular when you factor not just the heart condition, but the missing year, and then the stats, and then the role, and then the age, is particularly overpaid. I can’t even tell you what would have been “adequately paid” because it’s kind of like art. You know Jeff Green is paid appropriately when you see Jeff Green paid appropriately.)

Oh, and have I mentioned he’s 26 in five days? So he has to make a substantial jump in statistical areas he’s never excelled in, in a system that isn’t conducive to such a production jump, past the age of most developmental adjustments.

It’s such a monstrous set of circumstances stacked against Green. If he exceeds expectations, it should be a fantastic story. The fact he’s back on the floor at all probably deserves a healthy heaping of credit, but let’s not shoot too high, here. If he fails, it’s yet another misstep (even as Perkins gave the Thunder more problems than he did the opponent last year).

You can’t really look at the facts and defend the idea that Green is a good player, or that he will become a good player, or that he’s underrated.

So why do I still find myself hopeful to see him back on the floor? One of those things, I guess.

Bill Laimbeer on LeBron vs. Jordan comparisons: “I’ll take LeBron James, absolutely”

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LeBron James is headed to his seventh straight NBA Finals. He just passed Michael Jordan to take over the top spot on the NBA’s all-time playoff scoring list. Fourteen years into his NBA career, he has put together a resume that few in the game’s history can match — and he’s not done.

You don’t have to think that LeBron James is better than Michael Jordan, however, if you don’t think it’s a valid discussion, you’re blinded by bias.

Former NBA All-Star, champion, and WNBA coach Bill Laimbeer of the “bad boy” Detroit Pistons was asked about the LeBron/Jordan comparison on “The Rematch” podcast, and he said we’ve never seen anyone like LeBron (hat tip the USA Today).

“I’ll take Lebron James, absolutely,” Laimbeer said to host Etan Thomas… “He’s 6-8, 285 (James is listed at 250 pounds). Runs like the wind, jumps out of the gym. Phenomenal leader since he’s been 12 years old. Understood when he came into the league how to involve his teammates from the start. And you can’t guard him. You can’t double-team, he’s too big, he powers through everything. Michael was a guard. Yeah, he was 6-6, but he wasn’t a real thick and strong guard. It took him a lot of years to learn how to involve his teammates in order to win championships. Don’t fault him for that, it’s a learning experience. But we’ve never seen anybody like LeBron James physically. He just bullies you.

It was Laimbeer and the Pistons who taught Jordan to win — they beat the Bulls year after year in the playoffs, until Jordan broadened his game (and got better teammates) and the Pistons started to fade. People point to MJ’s unblemished Finals record, but he was seen for years as a guy who couldn’t get a team to the Finals because of those Pistons (LeBron learned his lessons on a different stage, taking some early Cavs teams that had no business in the Finals to that stage anyway, only to get crushed).

LeBron has a more versatile game than Jordan, which better suits this era: When Jordan was a force in the ’80s and ’90s there was no zone defense, which led to a lot of clear-out sets where eight guys watched a one-on-one battle from the other side of the key, and if the double-team came it was obvious from where. Jordan’s skill as a guy who could get his shot, kill it from the midrange or get to the rim, his ability to physically play through contact, and the legendary killer instinct made him great. But he was aided by timing — the booming popularity of the sport in the 1990s, the rise of Nike as a marketing giant, and the fact he didn’t have a true rival, a Bird to his Magic, that could best him.

LeBron has reached the point in his career that the legacy talk and where he ranks all-time is the only real discussion left — and Jordan sits as the bar to clear. Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Bill Russell, and a few others should be on that tier as well, part of the discussion, but the point is LeBron has moved on to that level of discussion. He’s earned it. The fact some people on Twitter/sports talk radio feel the need to rip him for everything doesn’t change that — if Jordan played the social media era he would have heard the same things from the same people.

Report: Celtics focused on adding All-Star-caliber frontcourt player

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Isaiah Thomas said he he’d happily forgo a renegotiation-and-extension if the Celtics use their cap space to upgrade their roster.

Where are they looking?

A. Sherrod Blakey of CSN New England:

Multiple league sources have told CSNNE.com in recent weeks that the Celtics are focused on landing an All-Star caliber talent in the frontcourt.

In the last three years, 22 frontcourt players have been All-Stars. Boston already has one: Al Horford. Could the Celtics land any of the other 22?

Almost certainly unavailable

Free agency

Trade

Free agency or trade

  • Pau Gasol (Though Gasol said he’d opt in, San Antonio might try pushing him out to pursue Paul. If Gasol opts in, the Spurs could also trade him to clear space for Paul.)
  • Dirk Nowitzki (The Mavericks have a $25 million team option on Nowitzki for next season. Nowitzki going to Boston, via trade or free agency, would probably require a mutual agreement between Dallas and him that pursuing a title elsewhere is the right way for him to end his career.)

Report: Spurs exploring Chris Paul pursuit

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The Clippers are taking the Chris Paul-to-Spurs rumors seriously.

And apparently so are the Spurs.

Marc Stein of ESPN:

The San Antonio Spurs are exploring the feasibility of making a free-agent run at All-Star point guard Chris Paul, league sources told ESPN.

San Antonio must complete three difficult objectives to land Paul:

  • Clear cap space. Even if they trim their roster to Kawhi Leonard, LaMarcus Aldridge, Pau Gasol, Danny Green and Tony Parker, the Spurs would still have to dump two of them to clear max room. Can they convince Gasol to reverse course and opt out, maybe re-signing at a major discount? Would they trade Parker, who has meant so much to the franchise? Would they deal Aldridge or Green, players who would make major contributions to a Leonard/Paul-led team?
  • Convince Paul to accept a projected max of $152 million over four years rather than the projected $205 million he could get over five years from the Clippers. Although the annual difference is just $3 million and Paul could sign another deal in four years, it’s unlikely he recoups that at age 36.
  • Convince Paul to leave big-market L.A. for small-market San Antonio. Remember, Paul forced his way from small-market New Orleans then ascended into one of the NBA’s biggest endorsement stars.

The Spurs boast a fantastic basketball culture, and Leonard and Popovich make great partners in a championship chase. There are reasons San Antonio is gaining traction with Paul.

But there’s still a lot for the Spurs to overcome. Will they? At least they’re trying rather than just dismissing the plot as unfeasible.

Cleveland GM David Griffin: “I hope everybody says we have no chance”

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The Golden State Warriors are heavy favorites to win the NBA title. According to bovda.lv, bet $100 on the Warriors to win the title and you get $41.7 dollars. Bet $100 on the Cavaliers and you get $200. And that number is likely to get worse for Warriors fans.

The Cavaliers are okay with that. They like being the underdogs. Look at what GM David Griffin said in a televised interview after they eliminated the Celtics in Game 5, via Cleveland.com.

“I hope everybody says we have no chance,” General Manager David Griffin said during a TV interview following the Cavaliers’ 135-102 win Thursday night against the Boston Celtics, clinching a third straight NBA Finals appearance.

“Obviously the team we’re playing is as good as you can possibly put together, it’s going to be an unbelievable battle for us, but I think [the Cavs] love battling together. The greater the odds, the better we seem to play together. We really do rally around each other in that sense.”

There is some truth to that.

There’s also a difference between that truth and slowing Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant. How the Cavaliers are going to do that will be the interesting part of these playoffs.