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The Different Shades of Jeff Green

There has been a lot said about Jeff Green's place on the Memphis Grizzlies. What if everyone was right? They may well be, but in the interest of championships it would benefit Green and the Grizzlies to better sift through the shades of their recent struggles.

It is hard to start over.

A good number of people know this, of course. You leave a place that feels like home, that just seems right, and it can be difficult to come to terms with the fact that that portion of your life is done. Those people who once were a part of your day-to-day existence are now all of a sudden gone, those sights and smells and sounds that stick with you like your favorite movie or song play out in the frames of your memory over and over and over in the days and months following the change. You long for old friends, for the familiar. You know eventually the grind of time will force you to move on.

But you're not ready yet.

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This isn't about pity, a hard emotion to feel for anyone, much less a multi-millionaire making his living playing the children's game many of us stopped playing competitively long ago. It is about acknowledging that just because millions of dollars are in a person's bank account doesn't make someone less of a human being. With experience comes empathy. Yes, you have a job to do, and yes, in any professional sport wins and losses are the end game. But we are dealing with people at the end of the day. People with families, with connections and emotions.

We as fans can lose sight of that sometimes.

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The Jeff Green acquisition has had its opponents from the beginning. "The fit is wrong", or "he isn't good at what the Memphis Grizzlies need him to be good at". Despite the fact that the head coach of the team, Dave Joerger, has said the following (as told to Ron Tillery of the Memphis Commercial Appeal):

"Jeff Green is the least of our problems. Most people on the inside know what it is. And it's not Jeff Green."

Many still hold firm to the idea that the one major change in the Grizzlies this season, the arrival of Green in the Bluff City, is the reason for the malaise that Memphis has endured in recent games. There is no denying that there have been struggles; since January 21st, the day Jeff Green officially became the Grizzlies' starting small forward, Memphis is 18-8, but since February 1st, Memphis is 12-8, often falling into a trap of turnovers and pull-up jumpers. The starters have seemed anywhere from disinterested to catatonic, and Jeff Green is seen as the point that all of these events hinge on.

This is not entirely fair, of course. NBA seasons have ebbs and flows, sometimes brought about by injury, other times by the general monotony that can creep into any locker room over the course of an 82-game season. Last season, the Memphis Grizzlies started slow even before the Marc Gasol injury at 7-5, and then endured an 8-5 February as they fought for their playoff lives. The 2012-2013 Grizzlies had a great start, much like the 2014-2015 crew did, at 12-2, but then December was harsh to the tune of a mediocre 7-6 stretch. In the 2011-2012 lockout season, Memphis started slow, 14-14 through 28 games, but then finished the season on a 27-11 run. The first year of the "Grit and Grind" era, 2010-2011, saw a Grizzlies team that stayed below .500 between November 10th and January 29th eventually go on a 22-12 end of the season stretch.

Lulls and struggles are a part of the history of the "Grit and Grind" Era.

Jeff Green was not on any of those teams. While injury, coaching changes, and other issues have affected the Grizzlies throughout their recent history, one thing is clear: cold streaks are a part of this "Grit and Grind" chapter in Memphis, even as the team has improved over the years. For whatever reason, the team goes through lulls of lackadaisical play. Part of it is just sheer reality; not everyone is the 1995-1996 Chicago Bulls who won 72 games. There's a reason why that was so special: because it's rare. Even great teams have valleys in a season.

But Green was the major difference this season, so he gets the brunt of the blame.

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Jeff Green is enigmatic. Part of the frustration with Green is that he truly is a player who does not fit into any one of the traditional position roles. When he plays "small forward", he doesn't act the way "normal" small forwards do consistently. He plays with his back to the basket in the post on offense, and he looks lost and a step slow defensively. When he plays "power forward" he doesn't act the way "normal" power forwards do. Even as a "stretch four", he isn't traditional in that his three point shooting, outside of the corners, is less than ideal, as his shot chart during his time as a Grizzlies' starter shows.

Green Starter Shot Chart

Hopefully that 8.6% distribution number goes up from the corners as the season gets closer to its conclusion.

Regardless of his shot distribution or percentages, Green is showing more and more that as a complete basketball player, he is neither a small or a power forward; he is simply a forward, a player who is most certainly flawed due to his lack of consistent range and defensive struggles, but  who also brings to the table the ability to get out in transition and give the Grizzlies an athletic, versatile presence on the wing. As a "power forward", he presents mismatches to just about everyone he plays against due to his ability to put the ball on the floor and get to the rim.

But he is not a defensive stopper. The numbers show it in terms of defensive efficiency (career 108, 106 in Memphis) and in terms of the eye test. Green is caught with his hand down too often, and also struggles in terms of overreacting to spot-up shooters. He launches himself too often, doesn't trust his positioning on the floor, and leaves his feet, allowing for others to gain a step or two on him on their way to the basket. This hurts help defense, which leads to system breakdowns.

Another issue for Jeff Green, one that he doesn't have control over?

He isn't Tony Allen.

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Tony Allen, the heroic cult leader of the "Grit and Grind" movement, the man worthy of statues outside of FedEx Forum and yells at the sky about tricks and treats. His energy is unquestionable, and his tenacity is what makes him who he is - an All-NBA defender. The reasoning for starting Jeff Green over Tony Allen goes along with what some see as an antiquated view of basketball, with traditional roles and sizes having to fit in their places. This is not a wrong view, necessarily; more and more, teams depend more on types of players (defenders, penetrating wings, spot-up shooters, athletic bigs, etc.) than they do on needing a traditional "center" or "point guard".

One thing you cannot teach though is size. Another is athleticism. These are gifts that Jeff Green has in spades, that Tony Allen must play with amazing effort and energy all of the time to consistently make up for. That is asking a lot of anyone, and most coaches believe they can make a player better at the schemes of the game. They cannot make them taller, or more explosive. A lot of times, they're right. Other times, they're wrong, and that's when people get fired.

Critics of Jeff Green point to the fact that the starting lineup of Mike Conley, Courtney Lee, Green, Zach Randolph, and Marc Gasol has posted the following advanced metric numbers for the staring lineup since he became starter according to NBA.com/stats (all numbers up to date as of 3/16/15):

Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Net Rating Assist Ration (number of assists per 100 possessions) Rebound % (Total rebounds obtained while on court)
100 102.4 -1.3 17.3 48%

-2.4 is not the best net rating you could ask for, and considering this grouping has by far seen the most minutes together since Green became a starter at 334 minutes, that number could certainly stand to rise some.

How do these numbers look with Tony Allen playing alongside the other starters? Not that much better in 53 minutes on the floor together:

Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Net Rating Assist Ratio Rebound %
103.8 105 -1.3 16.5 47%

Some areas, like True Shooting percentage (55.1%) and Effective Field Goal percentage (51.1%) are higher for the Allen crew than the Green one (53.5% True Shooting and 48.2% Effective Field Goal percentage respectively), but the overall net ratings for both units are in the negative right now, which points to a larger issue with the whole roster. Mike Conley's health, Marc Gasol's issues maintaining the MVP pace from earlier in the season, Zach Randolph's to-be-expected regression back to the norm, and Courtney Lee's overall tough run the past 10 games or so (36.5% shooting) all factor in to the struggles of the team.

Further driving home this point, in 56 minutes together...

Offensive Efficiency Defensive Efficiency Net Rating Assist Ratio Rebound Percentage
117.6 92.6 25 15.2 64%

The lineup these numbers belong to? Mike Conley/Tony Allen/Jeff Green/Zach Randolph/Marc Gasol.

Maybe it isn't the "or" that should be focused on. Perhaps it's the "and".

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Jeff Green was "Grit and Grind" before he came to Memphis.

Health issues will do that to you. A major heart surgery that threatened his basketball career will give perspective on what is truly important. Since Green has arrived in Memphis, he has visited children at LeBonheur Children's Hospital & famously shown them his scar from his surgery and he joined Marc Gasol in wearing a "Team Carson" wristband during Memphis' win over the Denver Nuggets. He has certainly embraced that part of the Memphis community, and carried on the Grizzlies' tradition of work with those in need.

He can, unfortunately, relate to their struggles.

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It's hard to be away from all that is familiar.

Jeff Green surely understands that. He was reluctant to be traded from Boston, a place that had been his home for several seasons. He surely grew accustomed to routines in Boston, had favorite restaurants and places to visit. Even when it's not your original "home", places have a tendency to develop those ties over time. It affects the best of us, adding time to the transition and personal turmoil afterwards.

The Memphis Grizzlies, as they have tried to fit Jeff Green into the roster, have dealt with transition and some turmoil of their own. It shows in their play and interaction with one another at times. The two coincide, but the connection is somewhat coincidental. Add Green's imperfect integration to the list of issues that have made Memphis look less than themselves as of late. That is fair. Green being the scapegoat for those struggles is not.

When I first moved to Memphis, I would drive by the Mississippi River every single day. I would gush to people about how special that was to me, how much that drive made my day, reflecting on the knowledge of the history of that body of water merging with its beauty and connection to the city I now called home. It was steady, it was constant, it was something I could count on seeing every day, a presence I could depend on when I had very few people I could.

That, along with the Grizzlies, helped me find comfort and peace 800 miles away from almost everything and everyone I had ever known. Things got better. The Grizzlies will get better as they take change and merge with it, grow from it, all the while looking to forces that can steady them. Jeff Green will be more effective as he continues to integrate with his new surroundings, as he makes himself at home. He will be needed as Memphis makes its championship push into the spring.

Hopefully he finds his Mississippi River.

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