Jeff Green is trying to revitalize his career in Cleveland and he’s done an unexpectedly great job thus far. At 31, Green is far beyond the once hype-laden prospect that took the league by storm in his early 20’s. He has since undergone heart surgery that caused him to miss the entire 2011-12 season and the Cavaliers are now his fifth team in only four seasons. From Boston, to Memphis, to Los Angeles, to Orlando, and finally to Cleveland, Jeff Green has found a favorable landing spot with the reigning Eastern Conference champions and his play has been a pleasant surprise for practically anyone who has watched Green play over the last five years.
Green is averaging 10.1 points per game while shooting the ball at 48.6 percent from the field, the highest mark for him in his entire career. Through only 10 games, there is an obvious positive to playing Green despite the deficiencies that his game carries with him. He isn’t as explosive a scorer as Kyle Korver, but he impacts the game in tiny ways that have an effect on the overall outcome.
Green doesn’t necessarily have an area of his game that he excels at. He shoots below the league average from three. His defense has been steady this season, but nothing to gawk over. He’s not a great rebounder despite his size. In fact, I would argue that Green is as average an NBA player as they come. But if he does one thing better than anything else, it’s attacking the basket. Green is a huge body at 6’9”, 235 pounds, however undersized as a traditional “four”. Luckily for Green, him being a tweener doesn’t matter as much in the modern NBA as it did even five years ago.
Green’s ability to penetrate while finishing through contact has been invaluable during the Cavaliers early-season struggles. Through 10 games, Green has attempted 34.7 percent of his shots from within three feet, the important piece is that he’s converting on those attempts 80 percent of the time. He averages 2.7 drives to the basket per game, according to NBA.com, with a shooting percentage of 46.2. To put that in perspective, Russell Westbrook shoots 42.3 percent on 5.8 attempts per game and Andrew Wiggins shoots 48.8 percent on 4.3 attempts per game (LeBron shoots 70.6 percent on 5.1 attempts). Compared to other notable players who tend to drive towards the basket, Green is in solid company.
Green is crazy athletic even at his age and it helps him contort his body to execute shots much like the ones above. He can beat the defender with his quickness and he has the hops to keep his shots from being sent into the second row. He’s never been too much of an outside threat and nothing has changed there this season, but he’s already made a couple key shots from beyond the arc for Cleveland that would make some of these bad losses even more lopsided.
Green’s best attribute is that he can score within the perimeter in a multitude of ways, but he’s quietly been an issue for opposing defenses when the ball is out his hands. He is one of the few Cavaliers - if not the only one - who willingly moves without the ball. When LeBron James (or anyone willing to pass) has the ball, Green knows that if he gets open, an easy look at the basket will quickly follow.
Green ranks in the 87th percentile when cutting to the basket according to NBA.com, averaging 1.57 points per possession. Green has been a breath of fresh air when he comes on the court and that’s solely because he actually wants to move within the offense and find an open shot. He’s been such an efficient factor in the team’s offense and it’s simply because he wants to be. Here lies the problem.
The Cavaliers don’t move. There hasn’t been a sign that they want to move. Kevin Love, J.R. Smith, Derrick Rose, Dwyane Wade, Jae Crowder - none of them have been willing to move without the ball how Green has. When the offense goes stagnant - which is more often than not - players start to stare. They look at whoever has the ball and anticipates them to take the shot before running out the shot clock. Jeff Green does not. Green is constantly moving. He’s active and the offense is forced to move with him.
It’s easy to connect the lack of effort from the team to a few different things. They’re out of shape, they just aren’t focused, they haven’t adapted to the loss of Kyrie Irving, call it whatever is trending on Twitter during that game. But until the rest of the team starts to show the kind of effort that Jeff Green has shown, things are going to look much the same.
Editor’s note: This article is the second of two identifying why these particular players excelling isn’t a good sign for the Cavaliers as a whole. The link to the first article about Kyle Korver can be found here.