How Can the Phoenix Suns Maximize Gerald Green's Skills in the NBA Playoffs?

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How Can the Phoenix Suns Maximize Gerald Green's Skills in the NBA Playoffs?
Don Ryan

With a flurry of outside jumpers and his usual dose of explosiveness, Gerald Green scored 32 points off the bench to help the Phoenix Suns earn a road win over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday.

He scored 14 of his 32 in the fourth quarter, helping his squad turn a one-point lead into a 109-93 rout. With the win, Jeff Hornacek's crew remains in the thick of the hunt for the West's No. 8 seed, sitting right behind the Memphis Grizzlies.

This outburst from Green was the latest in his magnificent breakout season, and it was also a performance that begs the question: How are the Suns going to use him if they reach the postseason? He's notching 18.3 points per game and 41 percent three-point shooting since the All-Star break, and Phoenix would love to tap into his talent during the playoffs.

First of all, the Suns must figure out when to use him. They can't afford to let him become a victim of the tendency to shorten rotations in the playoffs. He's too dynamic in the open floor and dangerous as a three-point shooter.

Barry Gossage/Getty Images

Hornacek has used him in a wide assortment of lineup combinations this season, primarily as a 2-guard. During Eric Bledsoe's absence, he shined as a starter and reserve, so the Suns' skipper can't be afraid to slot Green as a starting shooting guard and bring Bledsoe's speed off the bench.

If that's what helps get him going against the No. 1 seed San Antonio Spurs (against whom Green is shooting 37 percent from the field and 24 percent from distance in 2013-14), then he should pull the trigger.

In fact, Hornacek should also be bold enough to utilize Green at the 3 alongside Bledsoe and Goran Dragic if he brings him in as a reserve. This would put some matchup pressure on the Spurs, with a ton of speed on the floor.

So when Green is in the game, how do they keep him involved?

Sam Forencich/Getty Images

The first and most obvious answer is by running, because this squad is terrific at going end-to-end to put pressure on opponents. Green is the type of athletic freak who will turn a small window into two points in a blink, so the squad must pounce on turnover opportunities and bolt to the fast break.

However, the Suns shouldn't abuse the transition game, especially because that can backfire against teams like San Antonio and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

In half-court scenarios, Phoenix can't allow its offensive possessions to regularly devolve into Bledsoe -and-Dragic creativity. That's fun to watch, but it's not sustainable against the West's powers.

The Suns must mix in a heavy dose of their motion offense, using pin-down screens to free Green on the wing, where he has room to drive or can immediately shoot. They continually got him the ball on the move successfully against Portland, and a similar approach earned him a career-high 41 points in a Suns triumph over OKC.

In addition to setting pin-down screens for him, the Suns can utilize him as a pick-and-roll ball-handler when opposing big men want to camp out in the paint. If Tim Duncan—or Tiago Splitter—doesn't follow Miles Plumlee out to the top of the key, like Roy Hibbert in this example, they could have some problems:

ESPN
ESPN

When you pair Green and an athletic big man in a two-on-one situation, it's going to be a hoop or a foul the majority of the time.

Even when they aren't actively utilizing Green in the two-man game or motion screens, they know where to set him up as a spot-up shooter. He's decent on the wings, but he's superb from the left corner, shooting 52 percent (37-of-71).

When opponents use all their resources to contain Dragic and Bledsoe on pick-and-rolls or isolations, Green will be waiting to bury them with a triple if he's given space.

There will be several essential tasks for the Suns to succeed in the playoffs, but they cannot lose sight of Green's importance.

Hornacek knows that when he gives the high-flyer time and space to shoot and slash, good things happen.

"When he gets going, you just kind of let him go," he told reporters after the win over Portland. "There are times when you go, `Uh, oh, what are we going to see next?' He got a little wild, but he feels nobody can ever stop him. That's the confidence he has."

Whether Phoenix faces San Antonio or Oklahoma City in the first round, it's going to be a significant underdog. However, the Suns will have a fighting chance if they can maximize the key role players in the rotation.

Green possesses the kind of uncontainable athleticism and shooting ability that can serve as a wild card for the Suns, provided they adequately deploy him.

 

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