The Inbounds: The unfathomable jump Jeff Green needs

17 Comments

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: Tim Connelly rejects Wizards, staying with Nuggets

AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Leave a comment

Nuggets president Tim Connelly could have led the Wizards’ front office, worked close to his native Baltimore and presumably gotten a raise from his reported $2 million salary.

Instead, he’s stay in Denver.

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

This is a huge win for Denver and even bigger setback for Washington.

Connelly has put the Nuggets into a great position. They’re young and good in a combination rarely seen in NBA history. Connelly drafted Nikola Jokic in the second round then built around him a short time later. This season, Denver won 54 games and reached Game 7 of the second round with 24-year-old Jokic flanked by Jamal Murray, Gary Harris and Paul Millsap.

More decisions always lie ahead – notably Millsap’s $30 million team option for next season. But the Nuggets’ core is already in place and mostly under team control.

The Wizards need far more work. John Wall‘s contract is arguably the NBA’s worst. Ian Mahinmi and Dwight Howard are also roadblocks. Several key players will be free agents this summer. If he makes an All-NBA team this season, Bradley Beal be eligible for a super-max extension – a tricky decision for the club.

It would have been great for Washington to entrust Connelly with all that. He has proven excellent at his job.

Troy Weaver, Danny Ferry or Tommy Sheppard might do well for the Wizards. But they’re candidates who offer far less certainty.

Kawhi Leonard tries to downplay leg issue, “I’m good”

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Toronto won a gritty Game 3 at home — and are back in the Eastern Conference Finals — because of Kawhi Leonard.

From the opening tip, he was the man guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo (although in a game with a lot of switching plenty of others also got their shot). It was the biggest adjustment Toronto coach Nick Nurse made — and it worked. Antetokounmpo had 12 points on 16 shots in the game and, according to ESPN’s tracking, was 1-of-9 when guarded by Leonard. On the other end, Leonard had 36 points, nine rebounds, and played 52 critical minutes. He was the MVP of Game 3.

And he did it all through a noticeable limp.

He landed awkwardly on a first-quarter layup and all game this clearly limited his mobility.

When asked about it after the game, Leonard shrugged it off.

For much of the season, whenever Leonard was mentioned so was with the phrase “load management.” He had missed all but nine games the season before with quadriceps tendinopathy — the treatment for that, and whether it was a muscular injury or not, was at the heart of Leonard’s discord with San Antonio — and in Toronto he missed 22 games in the regular season to help keep that issue at bay.

That may not be related to what is bothering him now, but the Raptors and Leonard had gone to great lengths to get him rest during the regular season so he would be ready for the playoffs. He has responded, being the best player in the East through the postseason so far. That includes hitting the game-winner to send Philadelphia home, then on Sunday keeping Toronto alive against the Bucks by force of will. But he has played a heavy load of minutes — physical, playoff minutes — to get there.

Will that slow Leonard Tuesday night in Game 4?

It can’t if they want to even this series. Milwaukee will play better in Game 4, keeping Antetokounmpo bottled up may be near impossible, and other Bucks had off-games as well (they shot 37.3 percent as a team in Game 3). Toronto will have to play better to keep pace. Marc Gasol will need to continue taking and hitting the threes (shots the Bucks dared him to take in the first two games), Pascal Siakam will have to have another big game, as will the Raptors’ bench.

But mostly, Leonard needs to be the best player on the floor again, the guy doing this:

If not, Toronto’s season will be on the brink.

After coaching search, Minnesota reportedly settles on owner-favorite Ryan Saunders for job

Getty Images
1 Comment

“I think he has a good chance [to get the job]… I would just say I really like him as a person. I have known him since he was a young man, and I am really pleased with how he is starting out coaching this team.”

That was Minnesota Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor on his interim coach, Ryan Saunders, a statement made with about 20 games to go in the season. The Timberwolves reportedly negotiated the outline of a contract with Saunders, but when Gersson Rosas was brought in as team president, he was given the freedom to run a full coaching search.

He has settled on the guy the owner wanted, a story broken by Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic.

Rosas interviewed other candidates and ran a legitimate job search for the position, but it seems the smart political move for the guy new on the job to hire the guy the owner wanted, and the guy the star player bonded with.

That’s not to say Saunders is a poor choice, he earned this chance. Saunders was thrust into the big chair after Jimmy Butler‘s sabotaging of the team’s season led to coach/GM Tom Thibodeau being shown the door. Saunders quickly developed a strong relationship with Karl-Anthony Towns, who played much better under Saunders the second half of the season. There were other signs Saunders was up to the task and would be a good hire, not just a prudent one.

Now it appears Saunders has the job.

The real task for Rosas is to give Saunders a team that can live up to Towns’ potential. It will not be easy with a capped out roster and some anchor contracts (Andrew Wiggins).

Report: Cavaliers hire J.B. Bickerstaff to John Beilein’s staff

Getty
Leave a comment

The Cleveland Cavaliers are still trying to figure things out. LeBron James left for the Los Angeles Lakers last summer, and now the team has hired John Beilein to be its head coach. The team doesn’t have a top pick the way it has in years past, and barring any trades they will select 25th overall in the 2019 NBA Draft.

But at least they are figuring out there coaching staff Issues.

According to ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski, the Cavaliers have hired former Memphis Grizzlies head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to be its top assistant coach. Bickerstaff was apparently also in talks with the Philadelphia 76ers, Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Lakers, and Sacramento Kings.

Via Twitter:

Bickerstaff previously headed the Houston Rockets from 2015 to 2016, and was the top man for the Grizzlies over the last two seasons after the team canned David Fizdale.

This is a solid hire for the Cavs. Bickerstaff has been a respected assistant in the league for the past decade-and-a-half, and he should give some veteran NBA oopmh behind Beilein, who most recently coached at Michigan for 12 years and is headed into his rookie season.