Jeff Green has been phenomenal during the preseason. Sadly, I say that only because I’m next going to use statistics to insult his defense. But yes, Jeff, I do see what you’re doing and I respect it entirely. I just wish you wouldn’t go calling yourself one of the NBA’s best defenders, because then I have to explain that you couldn’t be further from the truth. (Boston Herald)
Of his defense overall, he said, “That’s my calling. I’ve got to be a guy who can go out there and guard the best player on the opposite team, whether it’s Carmelo(Anthony), LeBron (James), Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant — doesn’t matter. I see myself as being one of the top defensive players in this league, and I’ve just got to go out there and prove it.”
Green’s teams have annually played better defense with him sitting on the bench, but…
Weird but true story: Green’s individual defense was actually good during his time with the Boston Celtics in 2010-11. According to 82games.com, he allowed opponents only a 7.8 PER (approximately half of the league average) at the small forward position. His defense at power forward with the Celtics (15.9 PER) was slightly worse than league average, but still significantly better than the 18.0 PER he allowed at the position with Oklahoma City that season.
So what’s the issue? If Green performed reasonably well as an individual defender in Boston, why were the Celtics still 4.72 points per 100 possessions worse defensively with Green on the court? Why was his defensive rating of 107.95 the third-worst on the team, better only than Sasha Pavlovic and Chris Johnson?
1) Green often played the same position as Kevin Garnett. When Garnett leaves the floor, by rule, Boston’s defense gets worse.
2) Green’s issues aren’t confined solely to his work as an individual defender. He sometimes seems to get lost in Boston’s schemes, and he’s not a good rebounder for his position. Being a top-notch defender isn’t just about locking down your man.
A couple more questions, since Green has the talent to become a better defender but hasn’t always been productive on that side of the court: Can he continue to be a good individual defender, which he wasn’t always during his time with OKC? And can he learn how to become a better team defender, which is often more important than individual defense?
The Celtics defense provides a solid support system that often allows subpar defenders to seem considerably better (see: Allen, Ray). It’s not out of the question for Green to become passable, or even a defensive help, if he learns Boston’s schemes and commits himself on the help side. But one of the league’s best defenders? Let’s slow down a little there, at least for the time being.