Jeff Green is a skilled offensive player, armed with incredible athleticism that’ll break the rewind button on your remote, and advanced hand-eye coordination possessed by only a handful of human beings.
Unfortunately, during his six seasons as an NBA player, Green has yet to put those fine characteristics together for an extended time period. He isn’t nearly as efficient as he should be and is prone to coasting through quarters with an aimlessness that’s incredibly frustrating for those invested in him utilizing his talent.
Throughout his career, Green’s decision-making has been perplexing. He’s drifted in and out of the offense and has struggled to make life easier for teammates. He’s settled in situations where he should attack. (For example, instead of driving into his man and forcing contact, he’ll bail the defense out with a difficult step back jumper.)
Insert Brad Stevens, a coach who’s already shown a keen eye for accentuating his players' strengths, and hiding their weaknesses. How he’s handling Green is no exception. Here’s a look at the impact.
Creating Efficient Opportunities
The two most efficient shots in basketball come at the rim and in the corners. These are also two areas where Green has been exceptional this season, primarily because Stevens has allowed him to thrive.
Green attempted 1.29 corner threes per game last season, making 45.7 percent of them, according to NBA.com/Stats. So far he’s attempted 25 corner threes in 20 games (1.25 per game), and that’s without Rajon Rondo's playmaking virtuoso (for half a season) and Paul Pierce—not to mention Kevin Garnett, whose natural inclination from the post is to find cutters and open spot up shooters.
Green’s making an absurd 52.0 percent from the corner this season. It’s a figure that will go down eventually, but is a wonderful testament to the open looks he’s been afforded in Stevens' offense.
Boston's newfound pace also supports Green, where, according to mySynergySports, he’s the NBA's eighth most efficient player in transition. Stopping Green when he’s going full speed with a head of steam is next to impossible, and the result will usually be a dunk or trip to the charity stripe.
Where Stevens’ influence has also worked out is in the half-court, where a few clever offensive options have allowed Green to score in ways that take full advantage of his physical superiority.
Here's a designed play against the Atlanta Hawks where Stevens and the Celtics have cleared out to get Jeff Green space in the paint. As Jordan Crawford and Vitor Faverani run a high pick-and-roll, Green is the only Celtic on the weak side of the floor; he's being fronted.
As soon as Crawford takes the screen, Green spins towards the rim with his eyes on a lob pass. Avery Bradley and Brandon Bass are both positioned in areas of the floor where they're known to pose a threat, forcing their defenders to stay close, opening up the entire lane for Green to dive.
The play ends with an alley-oop dunk, and in the moment it happens everything about Boston's normally subpar offense looks unstoppable.
Increasing His Role As Play-Maker
As a solid passer coming out of Georgetown (initiating John Thompson III’s Princeton offense from the high post), Green’s role in the NBA has conversely been as a finisher, limiting his responsibility and overall impact. He’s never averaged over 2.0 assists per game and is currently slotted at 1.6.
Given that the NBA is a pick-and-roll league, using Green as the ball-handler coming off a screen would be where Stevens can increase his leading scorer’s seemingly undemanding duties, placing him in situations where he can look to get others involved, draw the defense and make good things happen off the dribble.
So far that’s been the case. According to mySynergySports, Green is using 15.1 percent of all his possessions as a scorer out of pick-and-rolls this season, which nearly triples his 6.2 percent output last year—when he shot 28.3 percent. He’s up to 33.3 percent this season and has already made five three-pointers as opposed to zero last year.
Green’s being placed more and more in situations where he starts the offense at the top of the key, letting the likes of Jared Sullinger do work in the post, or hitting a guard like Avery Bradley or Courtney Lee for a jump shot as they curl off a down screen. Only two Celtics average more touches per game: Crawford and Bradley, according to SportVU.
It may sound obvious, but the more Green has the ball in his hands, the more opportunities he'll have to hold sway over the game. Stevens knows this.
Feeding Him Down Low
The most overlooked part of Green’s repertoire is his post play. Down low on the block is where he's consistently aggressive, fighting for position on smaller guys, calling for the ball and looking like someone who’s prepared to take over.
According to mySynergySports, 14.2 percent of his offensive possessions end with action from a post-up, up from 12.3 percent last season. More importantly, right now he’s making 50 percent of those shots, as opposed to 35.1 percent last season.
He has a quick baseline drop step he isn’t shy about using (it typically results in a vicious dunk before any defenders can rotate over from the weakside), but his go-to move is a sleek, right-handed jump hook.
Supreme offensive players have a dependable move or two in their arsenal that can’t be stopped by any single defender. If the ball doesn’t go in, it’s because he missed the shot, not because the other team had any say in the matter. This is that shot for Green. He can make it from the baseline, but prefers curling into the middle of the paint, squaring his shoulders with the backboard and softly pushing the ball through the net. It's great.
Stevens will often run Green from the right wing to the left block, allowing him time and space to gain position and get off a high percentage look.
Jeff Green isn't perfect, and he will never be an All-Star (after all that, his PER is still barely above average). But that's perfectly fine. Stevens doesn't need him to be. What he instead would like is for his best player to maximize the talents he's been given, as often as possible.
There's only so much a coach can do. Allowing him to initiate pick-and-rolls, become more of a threat from beyond the arc and still attack in transition, Stevens is enabling Green to be the best he can be.
Michael Pina is a contributor at Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Bleacher Report, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.