BOSTON – He takes two steps around the defender in transition and reaches out quickly for a baseline finger roll. He comes off the curl and pulls up for a swish from 20 feet out. The plays Jeff Green has been making the past two weeks would have been out of the ordinary just two months ago.
Green has achieved a recent evolution in flexibility and efficiency since Kevin Garnett has been out with an inflamed ankle. In the seven games since the Celtics returned from Memphis without Garnett in the lineup, Green has been on a tear as a starter, averaging 23.0 PPG, shooting 55.5% from the field and a surprising 57.1% from deep in 38.1 MPG.
Logic implies that with increased output, efficiency will decrease. But in Green’s case, his increased playing time and focus as the go-to scorer for the Celtics has led to a significant bump in his numbers.
The more exposure Green gets, the more he shakes off the shackles of pressure to fit in with the Big Three.
“I just think he’s playing now,” Doc Rivers said. “I don’t think he worries about who’s on the floor with him or anything like that. I do think that takes time though, when you’re playing with Paul and Kevin (Garnett) and (Rajon) Rondo earlier in the year. I think that’s hard.
“You see those three guys and you tend to think, ‘Do I, should I, be aggressive?’
Green has become more aggressive over the past few months, but in the past two weeks there has been a transition from Green being icing on the cake to him being the focal point of the offense. He has improved dramatically in several areas of his game that he’ll rely on as Paul Pierce’s reign as the go-to scorer draws down over the next 14 months.
At his size and leaping ability, Green should be able to have the advantage in most iso situations, but that wasn’t the case for most of the season. He is shooting 41/100 (41%) on iso shots this season, but in the past seven games he is 12/22 (54.5%) from the field per Synergy.
This notable increase stems from two distinct and crucial improvements to his game.
The first is his left hand.
He still doesn’t finish comfortably with it, but Green is starting to go left. Defenders kept playing him straight up for most of the season, but with his long and explosive first step, he could get around them going right and finish from way above the right lane with his arm fully extended into a pseudo-running hook. So eventually scouts picked up on this and told defenders to shade him left, forcing him to dribble into the corner weakly and get trapped.
But his confidence in his left hand ball handling has opened up half the court for him and allowed him to get pull up shots and layups that have been a rarity for him. So you end up with plays like the one below where Green can recognize the defender’s position and utilize his momentum to explode though the gap.
This play is from the blowout loss in New York in which Green scored 27 points on 10 for 14 shooting. Coming down the middle in transition, Green recognizes the early iso opportunity when Iman Shumpert shades him left.
Earlier in the year, Green would try to force it right or wait until he could get a bailout pass and go post up or get to the corner. With his renewed confidence in his ball handling, Green has the confidence to be aggressive to each side of the floor. With the momentum of attacking a stationary defender off transition, even a defender as good as Shumpert (albeit recovering from a Torn ACL) could not react swiftly enough.
The key here is the finish, as Green recognizes that there is much more room to finish with a lefty layup than to try to hammer it in over Kenyon Martin, a (once) renowned rim protector. It’s a textbook running hook around a straight-up shot blocker. Green can finish in just about every way with his right hand, but just being able to hit a lefty hook is sufficient enough to be effective from the left block in post ups and from the right elbow and top of the key on dribble drives.
The second improvement Green has made is his shooting. The most frequent type of shot Green attempts is the spot up, but he is shooting just 102 for 208 (49%) on the season. In his last seven games, he has found his stroke, shooting 20/33 (60.1%) while drawing four fouls.
This is where the increased minutes and rhythm aspect kick in. After extended layoffs from basketball, your shot and conditioning are the two things that take the longest to recover. Green averaged 33.8 MPG in March, up from 23.9 in January. Consequently, his shots per game have nearly doubled, going from 6.9 FGA to 12.9. But in the past two weeks, Green has made his full recovery, averaging 38.1 MPG and attempting 15.4 shots per game.
With increased shots comes improved confidence and rhythm. Gone is that hesitation off the catch. Gone is that panic while getting trapped after picking up his dribble.
Green has found some sweet spots on the elbows and is looking at the rim instead of the defender as soon as he gets the ball. Rather than lining up his shot and judging the power during the shooting motion, he is more frequently picking his target on the rim as soon as he catches a pass or pulls up from a dribble.
When asked if Green was becoming the player Rivers wants him to be, Doc said, “Yeah, but I also kept things in perspective, that he sat out a year, and I just think it takes time. We’re still working with him to be even more consistent.
“He has these big games sometimes and okay games. We want him – I don’t want to go on any restaurants – he wants to be the McDowell’s. You know what you’re getting every time. Same quality. Every single time. Fries are always good.”
In the past two weeks, those fries have been looking pretty tasty.