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Thoughts: Jeff Green Trade Edition

Everything you've ever - and never - wanted to know about Jeff Green, now located in one semi-coherent place!

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

1). WELP

2). Jeff Green is happening, and I have to make peace with it. I'm gonna say some things here that I hope I regret. I want nothing more than to look back at this piece and think, "Matt, you were such a fool for hating on Jeff Green all those years. Blessed are those who, without seeing, still believe."

3). Let the hate begin now. It's unfair to call Jeff Green a "good stats on a bad team" guy.

4). His stats aren't good enough to be called good. That's not entirely true, but it made me feel good. Let's do this.

The Rumors of Jeff Green Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

5-A). If you bring me an argument for Jeff Green's merit based on his 17 points per game this season, then I'll just assume you are talking to someone from the year 2000. Which would be weird because reading an article on a blog was impossible in 2000. That is how long ago points per game was relevant. It was pre-blogs.

5-B). SHOT: Jeff Green per 36: 45% on 16 shots. 3pt% 33%. 4.7 rebounds, 1.7 assists, 2 TO's, 1.4 blocks+steals. Pretty great right?

5-C). CHASER: Rudy Gay '11-'12 per 36: 45.5% on 16 shots. 3pt% 31.5%. 6.2 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 2.4 TO's, 2.2 steals+blocks.

5-D). This year Jeff Green is playing like a poor man's version of the Rudy Gay which Grizzlies fans began to tire of. This is not to say that Jeff Green will play like Rudy Gay. Context matters, and there is no way in hell Green will be a volume scorer on one of the best teams in the NBA.

5-E). He will play differently. Probably not very well, but differently nonetheless. Moving on.

6). Jeff Green isn't young. He's a twenty-eight year old player whose best attribute is demonstrably league average (more on this in a bit).

7). Jeff Green is athletic. Can't argue there. But athleticism is worth nothing if it doesn't translate into good basketball. This, as they say, is the crux of the matter. Athleticism usually translates into rebounds, blocks, steals, and good defense.

8). Jeff Green doesn't do any of those things, at least not well.

7). Throughout Green's career, only once has his team outscored its opponent when Green was on the court, and that was five years ago, and it was by only one point per 100 possessions.

8). I've heard a couple people say that you can't judge Jeff Green on a bad team. On a good team, Jeff Green will get better shots, and thus be better.

9). First problem: on Monday morning, parents will drop their children off at Pre-K Schools in Memphis. Those children live in a world in which Jeff Green hasn't played on a good team. Tough to trust data points older than pre-schoolers.

10). Second problem: Before those four-year-olds were born, Jeff Green played on two great teams in the same year. And those ostensibly better, more selective, more open Jeff Green shots... they did not go in.

11). In 2010-2011, Jeff Green was traded from a 50+ win Thunder team to a 50+ win Celtics team.  On these great teams where he got great shots, Green shot just 30% from three-point range.

12). He can't shoot from mid-range either. In any single year, his mid-range shooting is meaningless - too few attempts. However for his career, Green has shot about 33% from mid-range (more on this in a bit), which is not good.

13). Spread across these same two great teams in '10-'11, Green shot poorer, passed less (lower assist %), rebounded less, and generated fewer combined steals and blocks (stocks) than he did for the rest of his career.

14). Playing on a 50-win OKC team, the bulk of his minutes with Russel Westbrook and Kevin Durant, the Thunder were very marginally outscored.

15). Then the Thunder swapped Green for a punchline of a player - Kendrick Perkins - and Green finished the season playing for a 56-win, top seeded Boston Celtics team. When Jeff Green was on the court, the Celtics were outscored by 3 points per 100 possessions.

16). Across these two teams, Green played with somewhere around eight future Hall of Famers... and he was a net minus in both cases.


18). Perhaps Green will suddenly become more efficient playing for this good Grizzlies team. But there is no evidence - none - that that will be the case.

Odds & Ends

19). I will not make a joke about this, and anybody that does is a monster, but Jeff Green had major heart surgery four years ago. Basketball - quite literally - saved Jeff Green's life. He has a scar nine inches long from the surgery. The doctors had to stop his heart for ninety minutes to complete the operation. Auto-unfollow anyone that makes a joke about this. No matter how bad things get.

20). The other semi-relevant data from Green playing on a "good" team is the '12-'13 Celtics who went 41-40. That team finished as the 7th seed in the East, and lost to the New York Knicks in the 1st round. Jeff Green had a career year, shooting 38.5% from 3, on a good number of attempts. Most of his advanced stats were also career highs.

21). Then you remember he was playing on a .500 team in a declining conference, and you see that his team again failed to outscore it's opponent with Green on court, and it's kinda more of the same.


The Good

23). Jeff Green has shot 40% from corner three for his career. Relevant: Tayshaun shot 41%.

24-A). Also relevant: the corner three is a weapon that Green employs willingly, rather than the last ditch effort it is for Tayshaun. His reputation may be different than Tayshaun Prince, but the results are not necessarily different. We may not see this become a problem until the playoffs, but I have serious doubts that defenses will quickly treat him any differently than Tayshaun Prince in the playoffs.

24-B). Actually, forget three point shooting. Green has never been able to shoot outside of 10 feet. This was supposed to be "The Good" section, but instead I'm just arguing with myself. This is depressing. Let's just move on.

25). Besides the above, Jeff Green has only done two things well his entire career (three things if you want to count free throw shooting).

26). First, he doesn't take many mid-range shots. Just 27% of Green's career shots are from mid-range (greater than 10 feet, but inside the 3-point line).

27). Secondly, Jeff Green makes layups at a league average rate. Check it:

Green Heat Map

28). Both this year, and for his career, Green's shot 64% inside of 3 feet. He's done it both on good teams, and crap. 64% inside of 3 feet is good for 6th on the Grizzlies, or right ahead of Zach Randolph, and is much better than most of the Grizzlies' other wing options.

29). I'm dubious about how well this skill will translate to the Grizzlies. Green has always played with bigs who spread the floor. In Boston with Kevin Garnett, and OKC before that, superior spacing has always allowed Green an open lane to cut and drive.

30). Compare Green's heat map this year, with one from the best teams he's played on (again, 2010-2011). You will see fewer mid-range clusters, and more clusters in the paint. This is both good and bad. While it is encouraging that Green took more shots nearer to the rim on good teams, this was also a function of him playing more power forward, a position he has been playing less and less as his career has gone on.

Green heat map 2

30-A). Part of the impetus for this trade, I believe, has to be that the Grizzlies think Green can carve out a niche as a backup power forward. They believe they are killing two birds with one stone: Green solves their problems both on the wing and guarding stretch fours.

30-B). RIP Jon Leuer minutes.

31). At least he does in theory. I'm skeptical. With Zach Randolph, Kosta Koufos, and Marc Gasol patrolling the lane, Green will find his usual driving lanes a bit more congested. If context matters, then this has to be mentioned. Green has never played on a team with bigs who post up, nor has he played on teams with as little outside shooting as Memphis has. Green will be driving in lanes that are smaller, and finishing in spaces that are tighter, than he ever has before.

32). And then there's this. Green is one of the worst rebounding forwards in basketball, and has been his entire career. In 2010-11 he played 64% of his minutes at power forward, and rebounded just 8.8% of available rebounds. As he has played less power forward, his rebound rate has declined to a mere 7.1% this year. For reference, only Matt Barnes, Kyle Singler, and Wesley Johnson rebound less often among forwards.

33). Among Grizzlies, Green's 8.8% rebound rate from four years ago is identical to Tony Allen, ahead of Tayshaun Prince, and far behind Jon Leuer. His 7.1% rebound rate from this year is actually behind Prince. If you thought Memphis got beat on the boards with Leuer in the game, Green is not the answer.

Opportunity Cost

34). If the Grizzlies had traded this year's 1st round pick for Jeff Green, I'd be fine with it. I wouldn't be happy, but I'd understand the logic.

35). But they didn't do that. They traded a future 1st round pick. Stacked on top of the one they already owe, the Grizzlies now have lost the ability to trade a 1st round pick for the rest of the decade.

36). The first pick owed will likely convey in 2017 to Denver, though it could convey next year if the Grizzlies miss the playoffs. The Boston 1st would then have to wait a year until conveying. In the most likely scenario, if the Grizzlies miss the playoffs in 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020, or 2021, they will be forking over a late lottery pick at the same time the roster is aging.  If you think the Grizzlies are making the playoffs every year for the rest of the decade, then you are a better fan than I.

37). As an aside, Memphis does have an out. The Stepien Rule does not apply once the NBA Draft begins. I would be furiously calling Denver AND Boston during the draft, offering this year's pick for the future pick back. I'm dubious that they could pull this off. Denver would be foolish to trade the Grizzlies pick back before Gasol re-signs. A Gasol-less Grizzlies is a lottery team and Denver has to at least see that that unlikely scenario does not become reality. There is only one scenario in which it makes sense for Boston to trade the Grizzlies back their future pick, and that is if Boston thinks Denver is poised to trade their pick back to Memphis. If Denver traded the Grizzlies their pick back, then the Boston pick would likely convey in 2017, and it would likely be a high pick. A pick in the 20's in 2017 is worth far less than a pick in the 20's in 2015.

38). So, the question is, can Memphis convince Boston that Denver will trade them their pick back in the hour or so after the NBA Draft begins, but before the Grizzlies pick in the 20's comes due? Got that? Good.

39). If Jeff Green picks up his $9.2 mm player option next year, the Grizzlies will be over the cap. Here's where shedding QPon's $3.4mm salary comes into play. With Green and Qpon on the books, the Grizzlies would barely be able to offer the Mid-Level Exception to Koufos. Now, depending upon what they do in the draft and with unguaranteed deals, the Grizzlies should be able to match any contract Koufos would get on the open market.

40). But, if Koufos wants more playing time, re-signing in Memphis is probably not happening, regardless of the money involved. In this scenario, the Grizzlies are back to using the Mid-Level Exception to acquire players like Chris Kaman, Spencer Hawes, Josh McRoberts, and others of that ilk.

41). As another aside, the acquisition of Russ Smith reeks of another Jon Leuer-type move (and I meant that in a good way). Leuer, once upon a time, was a token throw-in young player in a salary dump move. The Grizzlies gave up Quincy Pondexter (who will definitely get minutes if not start for the Pelicans) and a 2nd round pick to acquire Smith. While I hate the rest of this trade, the acquisition of low-cost young players is an area where I unquestionably trust the Memphis Front Office, or The Machine, or Who/What-Ever makes those decisions.

42). But back to Green's player option for next year: This is the main reason why Wilson Chandler is preferable to Jeff Green. Not only does Chandler make less than Green. Not only is Chandler the better player. Chandler's next year of his contract is unguaranteed, meaning the Grizzlies could elect to keep him or release him. Chandler's unguaranteed year is also tradeable in a similar way that we talked about Brendan Haywood's contract. Teams trading for him before August 1st would be able to release Chandler immediately and shed his salary.

43). But maybe Green doesn't pick up his player option. In this scenario, Memphis will have around $10 mm in cap room, and can go after a pretty good player.


45). Honestly, I don't know which of those scenarios is better. I really don't. I don't know if I would rather have Jeff Green or cap space. And that is pretty much the most compelling argument you can make against trading for Jeff Green.

46). Best case scenario, Green changes the way he has played his entire career, and is able to provide good minutes at both small forward and power forward. To do this he either must prove he is capable of rebounding/guarding as a power forward, or shooting better from outside as a small forward. Memphis is able to deal this year's 1st round pick during the draft for one of their future picks back, thus avoiding the potential of losing a lottery pick during the twilight years of the current core. Green opts out, and Memphis uses the resulting cap room to acquire Wes Matthews, Arron Afflalo, K.J. McDaniels, or some other, better wing, and there's still enough money left over to re-sign Kosta Koufos for something around $7mm/year. Oh, and Memphis wins the title because of Jeff Green.

Final Verdict

47). Thought experiment: read the last sentence. Memphis wins the title because of Jeff Green. Does that even remotely sound possible to you?

48-A). Thought experiment 2: If OKC or Portland or Dallas or the Clippers had traded for Jeff Green, would you be nervous?

48-B). Boston has been trying to trade Jeff Green for a 1st round pick for two years now. Bill Simmons has been throwing him into every fake trade imaginable. If Jeff Green were really worth a 1st round pick, it wouldn't have taken two years. It would have happened already.

49). Of course Jeff Green is better than the two players - Prince and QPon - he is replacing. And he is probably better than Jon Leuer, who he will also be replacing. Jeff Green seems poised to toggle between the forward spots, giving Memphis an option to guard stretch forwards like Paul Millsap, Draymond Green and the like.

50). Playing Jeff Green in this role, however, is problematic because, as demonstrated earlier, he hasn't shown the ability to rebound as a power forward, or shoot consistently as a small forward. And I'm sorry, he cannot be a good defender if his teams are always outscored for his entire career while he is on the court. Remember, even on great teams, playing the bulk of his minutes beside future Hall of Famers, his teams were outscored when he played - and that was true regardless of whether he played small forward or power forward.

51). Draymond Green, Serge Ibaka, and the like will eat Jeff Green's lunch and there won't be anything low key about it. Meanwhile, teams like the Spurs and Dallas that thrive on ball movement will constantly force Green to rotate and defend back cuts. Teams were already doing this to Tayshaun anyway, so I guess the Grizzlies won't be any worse off. At least Tayshaun knew where to rotate, even if he didn't always quite get there.

52). Which bring us to this fact: if the bar for making a trade was improving the Tayshaun Prince minutes, then you've got a really really low bar for trading a potential lottery pick, and giving up the ability to trade a pick for the rest of the decade. You just don't trade picks like that for players who are - on their very best day with the wind at their back - league average.

53). With all of this said, Green could be an upgrade over Tayshaun, Quincy, and Jon Leuer. But for this move to be worth a lottery pick, Green has to play both differently AND better, than he has ever played in his career. That could happen. This twenty-eight year old player who has logged over 16,000 career minutes could, suddenly, begin only taking corner threes, rebounding effectively, and generally doing what it takes to be a net positive. It could happen. It could happen.

54). This has been cathartic for me. Thank you for letting me work all this out. I promise to try really hard to root for Jeff Green. But then again, the data says that that is not very likely. My Twitter career is strewn with Jeff Green hate, and it's really, really tough to change - to tweet both differently AND better - after tweeting one way for so long.