It has been a small sample size, but so far, so good with regard to the Jeff Green experiment in Memphis. Green may well be the answer for the Memphis Grizzlies to a variety of questions, questions which the franchise has faced over the past few years in spite of their success. How has Green impacted Memphis and their Grizzlies so quickly?
It's only been six games, it's only been six games, it's only been six games...
He still struggles from range, he still seems out of place at times, just dunking isn't enough...
Temper the excitement, people! Despite the highlight reel dunks and slashes, he is still just so flawed...
There is some truth to the cynicism that exists with regard to Jeff Green, of course. The cost to get him, basically a first round draft pick, is too high for some. Considering there is a possibility Green opts out of his player option at the end of the season, a future first round selection could in fact be worth more than renting Green for 4 months, especially if that pick (likely in 2019) falls in the lottery. Green's range shooting is suspect at best and miserable at worst through six games, and he seems out of sorts at times within the Grizzlies' schemes.
This is to be expected, though. It has been only six games after all; Green is dealing with new teammates, new schemes, and a lot of other adjustments that can affect the ebb and flow of any player's shot. While questions still linger about how Green will be best utilized in Memphis, it is certain that he answers a variety of questions for these Grizzlies. He brings an athleticism and versatility that has been missing from the roster: A true bigger, longer wing who can run the floor and create mismatches at either forward position. His style of play is electrifying, and he brings a skill set to the table that differs greatly from what opposing Western Conference teams have had to prepare for in recent years when playing the Grizzlies.
He is indeed the answer. But to what questions?
The Answer to Adaptable Scoring
Through six games for the Memphis Grizzlies, Jeff Green's three point shooting percentage of 25% is...less than ideal. He is shooting 40.5% from the field in general as well, and his shot chart in six games in Memphis looks a little bit different than even the one he boasted in Boston through 33 games this season.
Green in Boston through 33 games, 2014-2015
Green in Memphis through six games, 2014-2015
Small sample size theater, of course. These percentages overall are likely to rise some considering Green's career averages of 44% from the field and 33.9% from three. We can already see Green's scoring role in Memphis beginning to take shape, though.
He is expected, first and foremost, to attack the rim. In Boston this season, 38% of his shots were at the basket, which seems a bit low for a player with the athleticism of a Jeff Green. In Memphis to this point, that distribution has jumped to 50%, exactly half of his attempts coming in and around the hoop. This is promising. While spacing is so often harped on as a weakness in the Grizzlies' offense, an explosively athletic bigger wing can create opportunities all over the court that can negate the shooting issues from longer range to an extent.
For example, Green has shown, even in a small sample size, the ability to work the block and post up wings who are smaller than him. The recent win over the Toronto Raptors included a great example.
Talk about a role reversal; in this double horns set, it is Zach Randolph delivering the ball into the post from the elbow area for a 6'9" 235 pound Jeff Green, who is being defended by the 6'7" 220 pound DeMar DeRozan. Green is the physically superior player here by 2 inches and 15 pounds. There is a clear advantage, especially when considering that DeRozan, as a true wing, rarely defends down on the block.
Randolph clears out, and the iso begins. DeRozan starts with good leverage on Green, but any ability to maintain that leverage is about to be lost because his feet, or base, are far too wide. It's hard to react when your feet are so spread out.
1) Green turns and faces up DeRozan, looking for potential baseline cuts while sizing up his positioning on the court in relation to the basket. DeRozan continues to have a lower hip level, but his feet are still far too wide. Time to close space with the body.
2) Jeff starts backing DeMar down closer to the rim. Two things here - DeRozan is leaning on his back foot; his weight is not even because of that over-elongated base. Green can take advantage of that. Also, Zach Randolph, in all his wily veteran wisdom, begins to position himself for a potential offensive rebounding opportunity.
3) Zach is a little too far under the basket, but he has position against Amir Johnson and is prepared to time the ball's bounce off the rim if it happens. It doesn't, though; Jeff Green uses DeRozan's overcompensation against him, opening up to his left with a little hook shot for space, an easy shot attempt and conversion.
Of course, Jeff Green was not brought to Memphis solely to bully the block. He is first and foremost a slasher, both in transition and half court sets, using his vertical explosion and lateral speed to create scoring opportunities in a variety of ways. His ability to score with defenders in the vicinity has been particularly impressive as player tracking data from NBA.com/stats shows.
In close spaces, Green so far has shined. These numbers are also in line with what he had done overall this season, including his run in Boston.
That ability to score while closely defended is huge for the Grizzlies; outside of the bigs, Memphis really does not have a scorer who can consistently score inside the three point line with a defender closing in. Memphis' next best scorer of this variety, Mike Conley, is effective in this role but does not have the physical size of Green.
Here are Conley's numbers in similar spaces.
Again, good, but not as good as Green. Physical size and ability allow for Green to finish strong with opposing defenses closing in.
Does this make Jeff Green better than Mike Conley? Of course not. What it does mean is now there is a wing who can play alongside Conley and take away some of the pressure on Mike to attack and take on contact. Conley can allow for Green to lead in transition, as he has the dribbling acumen to drive in space with the ball. Mike can play pick-and-roll ball with Green when Jeff is at the power forward position, trusting that Green's versatility and strength will allow for him to finish at the rim. And when defenses collapse on the strong finisher Green? Mike Conley scores on the mid-range or three point jumper. Green can make more space for Conley jumpers, which is far better than it being the other way around.
Green is a physical specimen. So far, it appears that Dave Joerger is interested in letting the big dog hunt by attacking the rim and embracing the explosive athleticism that makes him so dangerous in this Grizzlies offense.
The Answer to Better Defensive Activity
The Grizzlies' calling card has historically been defense. This area of the team has remained somewhat steady to this point, as they are .5 better in defensive efficiency (101.6) than they were last season (102.1.) It is important to remember, however, that Marc Gasol missed a lot of games last year. At best, the Grizzlies are about the same. Realistically? They have regressed some for the sake of better offense (105 offensive efficiency so far this season, as compared to 103.3 last season).
Jeff Green's defense was a concern of those who critiqued the trade. For his career, he averages a 108 defensive efficiency, which by no stretch of the imagination is a good number. Green's defensive shortcomings can be explained somewhat through the teams he played for in Boston and the schemes he was a part of. While playing alongside the original "Big Three" of Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett, and Ray Allen in Boston, his defensive efficiency was around 103, which is much more respectable.
While Conley, Randolph, and Gasol may not be to the level of the Boston "Big Three", they certainly are an upgrade to what Boston had the past couple of seasons. Couple this with Dave Joerger's defensive schemes, and Jeff Green has the potential to finally utilize that athleticism that helps him impact the Grizzlies on the offensive end to force turnovers and missed shots on the defensive end.
The best part? There is already evidence that this is happening. Compare this first chart, which shows defensive impact on opposing shots while Green was in Boston, with the second chart that shows his impact (albeit in a small sample size) with the Grizzlies.
Again, some aspects of the numbers are skewed because of the sample size and the hot shooting of opposing teams like Dallas. The greater negative percentage is, again, a promising sign. Opponents are, so far, struggling mightily with Jeff Green defending them inside the three point arc. These numbers will undoubtedly meet back closer to the mean, but it is likely that Green stays around that -3% to -5% overall number, several points higher than what he was in Boston, because of a renewed commitment to defending within scheme and his trust in his teammates.
He has better personnel surrounding him defensively. That in and of itself will likely result in an improvement from Green; if you want to get the respect of teammates and fans in Memphis, you bring the intensity on both ends of the court.
The Answer to Forcing Adjustments
So much of the conversation about Green post-trade has been about whether or not he should start. He has started the last two games, one alongside Tony Allen and the other with Courtney Lee, after four games coming off the bench. There have been mixed results; off the bench, Green has shown flashes of brilliance but has struggled from range. As a starter, he has shot much better overall and has a net rating of 14.5 (albeit against a struggling Toronto and terrible 76ers team) but the team as a whole seems to get off to slower starts, depending on energy from other sources to get the ball rolling.
There is no answer to who Green should be playing alongside yet, or whether or not he should start. There shouldn't be; Head Coach Dave Joerger has time to figure out which players fit best alongside Green's skill set. The spacing capabilities of Courtney Lee would seemingly fit Green's slashing explosiveness well, but then in the bench units that Coach Joerger loves to use, scoring will be hard to come by with a Beno Udrih/Tony Allen/Vince Carter/Jon Leuer/Kosta Koufos lineup. On the other hand, while Courtney Lee could potentially become a great scoring option off the bench with consistent minutes/games in that role, slow starts offensively could become the norm for a wing combination of Jeff Green and Tony Allen, who both struggle scoring from range with any consistency (especially Allen).
The answer likely lies with Green as a starter; his length, size, and skill are surely valued by Coach Joerger in that starting small forward role. Whether it is Courtney Lee or Tony Allen next to him, opposing teams now have to respect another option for Memphis. It's like the Grizzlies have six starters now; Lee brings spacing, Allen defensive intensity and energy. Green brings athleticism and length. Depending on match-ups, any combination of the three can create havoc and alleviate pressure from Randolph, Gasol, and Conley on either end of the court.
After all the controversy, remember: Jeff Green and his talents essentially replace those of Tayshaun Prince and Quincy Pondexter. No disrespect to those former Grizzlies, but that is indeed an upgrade, as we all have now seen first hand.
The challenge heading into the All-Star Break is to figure out how many questions Jeff Green answers. He brings malleable scoring and defensive potential along with a skill set that opponents in the West must now prepare for and adjust to, a new development for a Grizzlies team lacking in athleticism. His transition opportunities, highlight reel dunks, and ability to defend multiple positions will make Memphis all the more dangerous, and unpredictable, as the Grizzlies adapt to their new teammate and create chemistry.
Despite the frustration over what may have been lost, the newest Grizzly has shown flashes of exactly what he was brought to Memphis to do. Who will help the Grizzlies improve the most heading into the playoffs and a hopeful NBA Finals run?
The answer is Jeff Green.