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Examining Jeff Green’s Poor Defense

 

If it weren’t for the existence of Rajon Rondo, Jeff Green would be the most polarizing Boston Celtic Danny Ainge ever acquired. Those who root for his success hold opinions less sturdy than drying clothes in the wind. Assessments come on a week to week, day to day, possession to possession schedule, but they come from a peaceful place.  At first, Green was “not Kendrick Perkins.” Then things began to waffle back and forth a bit, and here’s where we’re at:

“Jeff Green will be an All-Star someday. I can’t wait.”

“Isn’t he too inconsistent for that?”

“No way! He’s so clutch!”

“I guess, but why can’t he average 40 points a game? Remember that time he eviscerated the Miami Heat?”

“I agree, he’s awful.”

“Pretty much.”

A lot of Green’s criticisms are based on his tantalizing skill. Instead of looking at what he does, and what he doesn’t do well, we evaluate what he could or should be, which is obviously unfair and inaccurate.

Many believe Green is probably capable of accomplishing a little more on the offensive end. But what if he isn’t? What he is today is what he’ll be forever, an adept—albeit one-dimensional—scorer who lacks court vision and an ability to make others better. Jeff Green is far from an All-Star, but he’s nowhere near not being a quality NBA player, either. Have I lost you?

Let’s get back on track with a simple question: how’s Green doing defensively this year? He could be the security guard of his position. He has the body. He has the lateral quickness. Instead, he’s not. And his shortcomings this season have been troubling on a number of levels.

It’s possible nothing found in this entire article will be news to you. Green has never been a shut down defender in the same way he’s never been a prolific offensive dynamo. So why the fuss? Let’s eliminate expectations and vague perception altogether. Against the Minnesota Timberwolves, the most dangerous defense-to-offense team in basketball right now, you’ll never guess what Green did one minute into the game. That’s right, he was beat back on transition.

The Celtics miss a shot, and Jordan Crawford picks up Green’s man, Corey Brewer, whose sole purpose as an NBA player is to leak out. Good job by him. As Green jogs up the court, dimly aware of his surroundings, Ricky Rubio speeds on by. Kevin Martin hits him with a lob pass, and Green is forced to commit a foul. Later on in that same contest we saw him defending Robbie Hummel, and the results were unspectacular.

Two things about this sequence are crappy. First, Green’s effort fighting through a Dante Cunningham—or, apparently, The Incredible Hulk—screen is bad. (Guys don’t feel like fighting through screens all the time, but there will be more examples to come, so don’t think I’m nitpicking an isolated incident.) It’s Minnesota’s corner offense, so to prevent any action back door, Green is correct to give the unproven Hummel a little cushion. But his reaction and recovery are awful.

When Hummel misses the open shot, Green watches Minnesota retain possession with an offensive rebound, and completely loses track of his assignment. Untouched, Hummel waltzes down the the lane and attempts a dump off pass that goes out of bounds off Green’s hand. Had he made the right decision and gone up for the shot, the play could just have easily ended with free-throw attempts or immediate points.

These two examples from Minnesota are basic effort plays. Nothing more. But Green’s been subpar elsewhere too. I don’t know if it’s apart of their scheme, but Green will almost always switch on a pick-and-roll when his man is the ball-handler. I tend to doubt it for a few reasons, one being it creates match-up problems that compromise other areas of the floor.

Here we have Nicolas Batum and LaMarcus Aldridge about to run a side pick-and-roll. Jared Sullinger is defending Aldridge, and Green is on Batum.

Fast forward two seconds, and instead of “icing” Batum along the sideline, Green and Sullinger have opted to swap assignments. Sullinger isn’t quite quick enough to corral ball-handlers in open space right now, but in this situation, with the sideline as his friend and Batum having the ball instead of Mo Williams or Damian Lillard, it’s unclear why they didn’t attempt to force the ball out of his hands.

Batum wisely tries to get the ball into Aldridge, who could probably hit 25 straight jumpers in any Celtics’ eye if he felt like it, but Green prevents the entry pass by fronting. This forces Avery Bradley (hidden behind Robin Lopez in the picture above) to eventually drop down and help from the weak side.

Batum swings the ball to Wesley Matthews, who now has the step he needs on Bradley. He gets to the middle of the court, which is Code Red.

The ball is kicked back to Batum, who’s now wide open for three. It took nearly the entire shot clock for Portland to get their look at the basket, but it all happened because Boston suffered a defensive breakdown at the beginning of the play. Why does Green get the blame? Again, this isn’t an isolated incident. Teams put Green in pick-and-rolls as often as possible knowing he’ll switch. They don’t do it so much with Gerald Wallace, who scraps through screens and doesn’t give his man an inch of breathing room; the dichotomy is telling.

Bass is on Aldridge and Green is once again covering Batum. The screen comes, and he looks like a fat cat trying to get off a hammock. Already out of position once he gets to the perimeter, Green falls for Batum’s half-hearted pump fake. He drives left and creates a situation where once again the Celtics switch because Green was either a step slow or fell asleep. If you watch closely, it appears Bass thinks he’s headed back to Aldridge, and that moment of hesitation could’ve easily led to an open baseline drive had Batum not briefly lost his handle.

It’s plays like this where the Celtics are unsettled because of Green’s pick-and-roll defense. It’s hard to believe that’s the type of execution Brad Stevens is asking for. Yet, no basketball player is always bad in one area, just like no basketball player is always good in another. There’s contradictory evidence all throughout this flowing river of a sport. But after 12 games of up and down play from a player who’s ultimately defined by his up and down play, the correctable defensive warts need to be taken care of.

(Just for fun. Sometimes Jeff Green doesn’t care anymore. Presented without commentary):

Michael Pina is a writer, with bylines at Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth, and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.

  • swissflix

    This article could be a lot more harsh on Jeff if it included last night's game. Kwahmi Leonard absolutely outplayed Green in the third.

    • hydrofluoric

      Kawhi is also one of the best non-all stars at his position, though, right below the likes of George and Anthony. It's pretty clear Green isn't really in that tier. Batum is probably a better yardstick.

  • CelticsBIG3

    Green is such a turd of a player. How could you have so much natural talent and waste it night in and night out with low effort, which is essentially the downfall of Jeff Green as a player. For just one night I'd like to take over his body and apply my mindset to go all out, on every play, just to see what the results would be. Some nights Green looks like the "Monstars" from Space Jam stole his talent.

  • Space

    I don’t understand what’s going on with Green, I mean this year he’s going to get all the Mins and touchs he needs. ( plus he’s the best player we have right now) with that begin said what’s really the reason for his up and down play ? I’m starting to feel like maybe he just isn’t that good I mean he’s good but not THAT GOOD smh :(

    • CelticsBIG3

      I'd say Sullinger is our best player right now.

  • Ray

    Really, the only thing you need to know about Jeff Green at this point is that a) he is not an All-Star and b) he is not a rookie contract. Why is that? Because the Celtics should be trying to move anybody that doesn't fit those criteria if the deal improves their cap situation (in whichever year they are targeting) or brings in picks or young players. Everybody else on this team is a complementary piece and you can't start with the complementary pieces until you know what it is they need to complement.

    This season is so frustrating. Here Michael Pina put together a nice detailed analysis of very flawed best healthy player on the Celtics but in the end it doesn't matter – this season isn't about basketball but about future seasons. It might not be so bad if there weren't so many veterans clogging the roster and we could talk ourselves into players like we did with Al Jefferson in 2007.

  • hax

    Well he did put up 19 points on efficient shooting against a great defense last night. I've seen him blow by defenders, slam it down. Hit fade aways. Hit catch and shoot 3's. He's not one-dimensional offensively.

    He has been inconsistent but his minutes aren't as high as they could be by far, and the offense is designed around who is open, not 'set up plays for JG8, whereas Doc River's offense was all about setting up pierce and kg.

  • truthmax

    green is who he is. he's got no internal drive, that competitive edge that makes guys like him either get over the hump and stay there or be up and down their entire career. green is the prototype ainge signing. dudes that just make you shake your head more than applause his play. ainge gets hard on's for the weirdest players that make you want to rip your hair out. green for perkins at the time made NO sense and it still doesnt the kid just doesnt have it.

  • Ray Leighton

    I don't want to pick on Mike Pina too much — I really enjoy these articles detailing the plays, and he did admit that this was nitpicking — but to be fair, this really IS nitpicking and giving an erroneous impression of Jeff Green's defense. Per Synergy, Jeff Green is giving up 0.35 ppp on screen-and-rolls, and opposing shooters coming out of screen and rolls are shooting a pathetic 17% against Green. That's elite defense, period. Overall, Jeff is giving up 0.77 ppp, which ranks him 71st out of all players. When you only include starters, he's a top-50 defender. And the only guy on the team right now with better defensive numbers is Bass. In terms of opposing production, the guys he covers are putting up PERs of 9.0 per 48 minutes; again, that is elite defense. I'm as frustrated as anyone with someone as athletic as Green disappearing on offense, but picking on his defense without acknowledging his overall defensive performance is not really giving the whole story.

  • Peter

    Exactly right, but then hatersIN the league who re going to hate.

    You could take any player, be it KG or LeBron or Dwight l, and you are going to find examples of plays where they either reacted slowly / lazilly or where they make a poor decision. Everybody makes mistakes on defense sometimes.

    I cannot think of any othe SF in the league who consistently slows or shuts Dow elite players at his position the way Green does. I've seen him shut down LeBron, Carmello, Durant, you name it. He's an exceptionally good defender, he just doesn't look like it because he's not a flashy, in your face defender (like AB). He's an underrated shotblocker at his position too IMO – he gets a lot of chase down blocks on the fast break.

    He is inconsistent offensively, but he's certainly not one dimsnional. He can get to the line, drive to the basket, hit the three, hit fadeaways, throw it down, get put back dunks. He's actually a very versatile offensive player, just not a consistent one.

    Most of this article feels like it's just making up stories to try to back out Green without doing any objective research.

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