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How Jeff Green is getting to the free throw line

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The veteran forward is posting the highest free throw rate of his career. A change in his position and play style is the reason why.

Cleveland Cavaliers v Boston Celtics Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

The rise of Jeff Green as an impact player off the bench has been one of the most unexpected occurrence in a season full of them for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

Green is averaging 10.7 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and his 59.7 True Shooting Percentage is the best of his career by over three percent. The Cavs are 4.2 points per 100 possessions better with Green on the floor this season, a revelation given that Green’s teams had been worse with him on the floor in 11 of his last 12 stops.

Perhaps the most impactful aspect of Green’s season — now that his three point shooting has regressed to career norms — is his ability to get to the free throw line.

Green’s .401 Free Throw rate is up dramatically from his previous career-high of .329 in 2012-13 and he has been fouled on 18.6 percent of his shot attempts, which ranks in the 89th percentile for all big men. He has drawn 87 shooting fouls this season which already tops his 82 drawn fouls last year and we have not even reached the All-Star Break.

Cleveland attempts 3.2 more free throws per 100 shot attempts with Green on the floor and the 24 FTA per 100 shot attempts with him on ranks in the 92nd percentile of all players.

Even better is the fact that Green is shooting a career-high 86.5 percent from the line despite the 6.7 free throw attempts per 100 possessions also being a career-high in volume.

So how is Green getting to the line at such high volume and can we expect this level to sustain through the rest of the season?

Positional Alteration

Listed at 6’9”, 235 pounds, Green came into the league as a prototypical small forward. But as the game changed and teams got smaller, Green began to show his potential to play up at power forward.

Despite some experimentation with this alignment in the past, no team had been willing to take it to the extreme Cleveland has this season. In addition to playing power forward, Green has also logged minutes at center in downsized lineups next to LeBron James.

Here’s how Green’s minutes have broken down by position, per Cleaning The Glass:

Green has played both more Power Forward and more Center this season than ever in his NBA career.

The function of this swap has been two-fold. First, it has put him in more mismatch situations where he has the quickness advantage against traditional centers:

But when other teams have matched Cleveland’s small lineups, Green has also been placed in more traditional big man areas of the floor — like here where he ducks in from the short corner.

Play Type Change

As a result of his minutes being almost exclusively logged as a big man, Green’s play types have also changed.

He has seen a dramatic percent increase finishing plays in traditional big man areas: cutting and offensive rebounds.

But the largest difference in terms of impact on his Free Throw rate is the increase in his transition possessions.

Cleveland has also given Green license to run and he has taken advantage, finishing 22.6 percent of his plays in transition — the 34th most frequent of 201 players with at least 50 transition possessions.

Green’s proclivity for going right is well-known around the NBA, but teams can more easily prevent this outcome in set half-court defense. Green’s athleticism advantage against most of his frontcourt counterparts combined with a head of steam in transition makes it difficult for defenses to funnel him left.

As in the above clip, Green has license to grab and go in his new role. In addition, Cavs players will often look for him immediately leaking out off defensive rebounds. As a result, he has been the lead ballhandler on 46 percent of his transition possessions — up from 36 percent last year in Orlando.

He has drawn 41 total fouls in transition this season, accounting for 46 percent of all his fouls drawn. Here’s a breakdown of how he’s gotten to the line by play type compared to last year in Orlando:

In addition to the massive increase in transition and cuts, you can also see a complete elimination of traditional wing/guard actions like pick and roll ball handling and receiving dribble handoffs, neither of which Green does this season.

Instead, Green has transitioned to being a screen setter and frequent dribble handoff partner of Kyle Korver, whose shooting gravity has opened countless free rolls to the hoop that often result in easy buckets or fouls.

Green has also used his early season shooting success to sometimes trigger hard closeouts in spot up situations. He prefers to use a surprisingly effective deliberate pump fake to get defenders in the air before darting to the hoop.

But the ultimate encapsulation of the season for Green has been using his athleticism advantage to create a mismatch in transition against a slower defender and getting to the line as a result.

Conclusion

Cleveland has made Jeff Green a more impactful player than at any point in his career by exclusively playing him in the frontcourt. This has given Green a matchup advantage by way of his quickness and athleticism, often using a combination of both to beat his defender.

But, more important, the Cavs have freed Green to run until somebody stops him. In the open court, he has more freedom to operate and can more easily get to his strong right hand. The result is usually positive — he has drawn a foul on 30 percent of his transition possessions and scored on 57 percent of them.

Even with the influx of new talent at the trade deadline, Green remains a key big off the bench. With every player Cleveland acquired also being successful in transition, the moves indicate a desire to play a more uptempo offense. The Cavs can pair their new young, athletic players with Green and really push the pace on offense.

The result should be even more transition success for Green, who has thrived in his new role and become more integral to the Cavs success than almost anyone could have ever expected when he was signed before the season.

Side Note: Thanks to @SportsNom for the suggestion to look at Green’s increased Free Throw rate this season. As always, article ideas are always welcome.