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.

Report: Gordon Hayward’s earliest possible return is March

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Gordon Hayward‘s agent, Mark Bartelstein, said the Celtics wing was unlikely to return this season following surgery for a broken leg and dislocated ankle.

We’re obviously dealing with unknowns and probabilities, but there’s another spin to the timeline.

Mike Lynch of WCVB:

It’d be great for Hayward and the Celtics if he can return in March. That’d give him time to acclimate before the playoffs, which Boston could still make.

However, this report casts doubt whether the Celtics will receive a disabled-player exception for Hayward. The NBA grants the exception – worth $8,406,000 in this case – if a league-appointed physician rules Hayward is “substantially more likely than not” to be unable to play through June 15.

When he said Hayward would likely miss the season, did Bartelstein mean the regular season, Boston’s season or the entire postseason? Those could be quite different dates. How likely is a player with at least a chance of returning in March to remain out through June 15?

The NBA is fairly lenient on granting disabled-player exceptions. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Celtics got one.

But I also wouldn’t be surprised if they’re denied – which, in a way, would signal good news for them and Hayward.

Three Things to Know: Giannis Antetokounmpo spoils Boston home opener

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Every night in the NBA there is a lot to unpack, especially on this, the real opening night of the NBA with 22 teams in action. Every weekday morning throughout the season we will give you the three things you need to know from the last 24 hours in the NBA. Tonight, that includes a few historic numbers… good and bad.

1) Brad Stevens, Celtics have no answer on how to slow Giannis Antetokounmpo either. As a general rule of thumb, if you’re getting mentioned in the record books with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, you’re doing something very right. Monday night, the Greek Freak was rolling to the rim and finishing alley-oops over defenders, hitting floaters and leaners in the lane, and generally using his length to get any shot he wanted against the Celtics on his way to a 37-point, 13 rebound night in Boston. The only other Buck to have an opening night of at least 35 and 10? Yup, one Mr. Abdul-Jabbar.

Put a smaller defender on Antetokounmpo and he shoots right over them. Put a bigger defender on him and he goes around them — or just over them too. Brad Stevens tried a lot of things on defense, and while Al Horford had a little first-half success slowing him nobody did all game as he shot 59.1 percent on his way to dropping 37.

Notice all those shots are close to the rim. Antetokounmpo was a ridiculous 10-of-12 at the rim and 12-of-18 in the paint overall, but just 1-of-4 outside the key. It’s easy to say “make him a jump shooter” but good luck finding anyone who can stay in front of him, or that he can’t just finish over. The man was dunking over Aron Baynes, how do you get anyone much bigger in front of him?

Boston was up four points entering the fourth quarter when the second night of a back-to-back seemed to hit them, they scored just 20 points on 8-of-25 shooting in the final frame, 4-of-21 outside the restricted area. Meanwhile, Antetokounmpo went off for 16 in the fourth as he ramped up his aggressiveness and Brad Stevens and the Celtics had no answer. Marcus Smart was fiery and got into it with Matthew Dellavedova, that may have exemplified Boston’s spirit, but Celtics looked physically and emotionally worn down by the end. Hard to blame them.

Rough start to the season for Boston, who lost Gordon Hayward just minutes into the opener (he’s out for the season), they fell to the Celtics Tuesday night and now are off to an 0-2 start. They will bounce back, but just now how the team with all these new players thought things would start.

2) Jeremy Lin injures knee and there is “tremendous” concern it is serious. Midway through the fourth quarter against the Pacers, Jeremy Lin drove the lane and finished a layup at the rim that looked ordinary — except when he landed he went to the ground grabbing his knee and did not get back up.

This isn’t good. Neither were the reports during and after the play.

Brooklyn was counting on Lin to help stabilize the point guard position and the backcourt with D'Angelo Russell (who had 30 on the night in a losing effort). If Lin is done for all or most of the season, it’s a huge setback for a team that, while bad, was expected to be a little better than in previous seasons. Remember, the Cavaliers have Brooklyn’s first-round pick this season unprotected (part of the Kyrie Irving trade from Boston).

• While we’re on the injury front, Boston’s Gordon Hayward underwent surgery on his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia on Wednesday, and according to his agent he is “unlikely” to return this season. Hayward did send a video message to Celtics fans thanking them. Boston will try to move on, but it’s been a difficult and emotional start to the season for the Celtics.

3) Suns’ season opening performance wasn’t just bad, it was the worst ever. The record for worst opening night loss in NBA history belonged to the 1987 Los Angeles Clippers coached by Gene Shue, who were blown out by Denver by 46 points.

No more. That record now belongs to the Phoenix Suns, who fell at home to the Portland Trail Blazers 124-76 — a 48 point loss. The Suns shot 31.5 percent as a team — Devin Booker was 6-of-17 and didn’t hit a three, Eric Bledsoe was sloppy and reckless all night and finished 5-of-18 with five turnovers and three assists, while Dragan Bender and Marquese Chriss combined to go 1-of-10 off the bench. The Phoenix offense was about as in synch as the left shark, and many possessions ended with a terrible shot being jacked up because, well, somebody had to shoot it.

I’d like to say this was a good omen for the Trail Blazers’ defense, but really it’s impossible to judge how good it was against this offense. It was still a win the Blazers will gladly take, Damian Lillard had 24 points while Pat Connaughton came off the bench for 22.

PBT Extra: Bobby Portis punch adds to challenges for Bulls this season

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Nikola Mirotic will be out 4-6 weeks due to his concussion and fractured jaw.

Bobby Portis has been suspended for the first eight games of the season for causing those injuries to Mirotic with a punch at practice.

What does this mean for a Bulls locker room that was already going to have to deal with the weight of losing a lot of games.  I get into all these questions in this latest PBT Extra.

It’s going to be a long season in Chicago.

Gordon Hayward’s agent says return this season unlikely

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Wednesday night in Boston Gordon Hayward underwent surgery to repair his dislocated ankle and fractured tibia suffered just five minutes into the season-opening game, a gruesome injury that put a pall over the rest of the night.

There had been hope from some Celtics fans that Hayward could return this season, likely for the playoffs, but now that the surgery is complete Hayward’s agent told Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN not to expect him back until next season.

This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who saw the injury. Hayward is in the first year of a four-year deal with the Celtics, they were always going to choose a cautious path rather than rush him back. Under Danny Ainge Boston has always taken the long view, even with all their moves this summer — specifically bringing in Hayward and Kyrie Irving — the target was to be the team set up for next as LeBron James and the Cavaliers faded. That plan does not change now.

Earlier in the day, Hayward had sent a video message out to Celtics fans thanking them for their support in the past 24 hours.

Without Hayward, the Celtics now will focus more on smaller lineups, rookie Jayson Tatum will get more run, as will Marcus Smart in his contract year. Jaylen Brown will be thrust into a more significant role. Also, Kyrie Irving will be asked to do more as the team’s second-best playmaker is now out for the season.

The Celtics will take a step back this season without Hayward, who was going to be crucial for them on both ends of the floor. That’s evidenced by their 0-2 start, falling to the Cavaliers and Bucks on the first couple nights of the season. Boston should still be a team well above .500 and in the playoffs, but they will not be quite the same this season.