It’s Not Easy Having Green (But It’s Getting Easier) and Other Observations

Last summer, perpetual underachiever Jeff Green signed an immediately criticized 4 year 36 million dollar deal with the Boston Celtics.  Green, a forward who couldn’t rebound and a scorer who couldn’t score had struggled to fulfill the potential the Celtics traded Kendrick Perkins for a year prior.  Before Rondo’s injury, the Celtics were outscored by 2.6 points per 100 possessions with Green on the court.  Green, splitting time at backup small forward and power forward, only rebounded 8.2% of available rebounds, a horrendous rate for either position, and shot a below average 50.8 true shooting percentage (accounts for free throws and increased value of 3’s).  Green, the 5th pick in the 2007 draft, appeared mired in yet another underwhelming season.  However, since Rondo’s injury, Green has quickly shifted from an underwhelming backup to one of the best scorers in the league.  In 32 games since January 12th, Green has a 59.9 % true shooting percentage, and a net rating of 4.3 pp100p.  Green, often criticized for not being aggressive, has done a much better job attacking the rim, and is finishing and drawing fouls at a much higher rate when he gets there.  Prior to Rondo’s injury, Green made 54.1% of his shots attempted less than five feet from the basket.  After the injury, he has finished 66.2% of those attempts.   Green has been noticeably more controlled in his forays to the rim in recent months, knowing when to pass to cutters and kick to the perimeter and when to attack out of position defenders. Highlighted by his 44 point eruption in a dramatic loss to the Miami Heat, Jeff Green has been a very efficient scorer the Celtics since Rondo’s injury, and though 9 million dollars per year still seems excessive, especially given that the Celtics appeared not to be bidding against anyone, Green is developing from a contractual catastrophe to minor inconvenience.

Cavaliers’ Future:  The Cleveland Cavaliers picked Syracuse guard Dion Waiters 4th overall in this year’s draft, a year after picking Canadian power forward Tristan Thompson in the same slot.  The Cavaliers clearly struck gold with top pick Kyrie Irving, however were criticized for the Thompson and Waiters picks.  His first season in the league, Thompson struggled to finish over NBA level defenders, had little skill away from the basket, and, though he was a very good rebounder, struggled defensively.  A year later, when many expected them to select Harrison Barnes, the Cavaliers drafted Dion Waiters, an inefficient shooting guard who came off the bench in college but had athletic potential.  Through the first few months of the season, Thompson appeared improved, but not sufficiently to justify his draft spot.  Meanwhile, Waiters was struggling, basically manifesting every criticism of his game coming out of college.  He was taking far too many midrange jumpers, many contested, and had a generally poor shot selection.  In 8 games in December, Waiters shot an incredibly poor 38.8% true shooting percentage.  However, since the early season struggles, both Waiters and Thompson have given Cleveland reason for renewed hope.  After Anderson Varajao’s season ending injury, Thompson has exploded.  His rebounding percentage rose from above average in the early season into the mid-20’s post-Varajao injury, and, with increased post up and pick and roll opportunities, he has increased his scoring production and efficiency.  Once criticized as a potential bust, Thompson has pushed himself into contention for 2nd best player in the 2011 draft, and the Cavaliers already have the 1st.  Waiters, meanwhile, has seemingly adapted to the NBA.  As this article outlines, Waiters has continued to get to the rim with ease, but is now finishing once he gets there.  Though he has still struggled to convert on three’s Waiters may slowly be becoming the dynamic source of scoring and ball-handling relief for Kyrie Irving that the Cavs envisioned.

Warriors’ Playoff Matchups:  Likely inspired by a couple impressive regular season wins by the Warriors over the Clippers, many are suggesting that the Warriors should hope to match up with Los Angeles in the first round.  The Clippers have faltered recently, often looking closer to average than elite.  However, it seems that a large part of what keeps the Clippers slightly below the level of the “elite” teams (though those who remember past the last two months would likely include the clippers) is the desire to limit Chris Paul and, oddly, Blake Griffin’s minutes during the regular season.  With both Griffin and Paul on the court, the Clippers outscore opponents by 8 points per 100 possessions (  Though the Warriors guarded Blake Griffin decently in the regular season games, David Lee is not mobile enough to recover to Griffin after “downing” Paul-Griffin pick and rolls, the staple of the Clippers offense, and Steph Curry is not strong enough to effectively deny Paul the screen.  The Warriors defense has fallen apart recently, and would likely collapse under the constant threat of the Clippers pick and roll and transition attacks.  As a Warriors fan, I would prefer they play the Denver Nuggets to any other likely first round opponent.  While the Nuggets are better than the Warriors, I believe the Warriors will at least be able to challenge the Nuggets if they can limit turnovers (which they probably can’t) and hope Andre Miller decides to blow a game or two.

Bynum Injury:  Before the season, the Philadelphia 76ers traded Andre Iguodala, Nikola Vucevic, Moe Harkless, and a future first round pick for Laker’s center Andrew Bynum as part of a 4-team trade.  Bynum had struggled with knee issues throughout his career, and was scheduled for surgery in the offseason.   Unfortunately, Bynum suffered several setbacks throughout his recovery, and recently it was reported that Bynum needed another surgery, meaning he would miss the entire year.  Bynum will not play for the Sixers this year, and may never, as he is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.  As it became clear Bynum would not play this season, many criticized the Sixers for the trade, and though in hindsight the trade may end up as regrettable, it was the right move.  Prior to the Bynum trade, the 76ers were a capped-out perennial 1st, maybe 2nd round exit whose only hope to advance farther in the playoffs was a drastic Evan Turner improvement (which did not come this season).  The Bynum trade gave the Sixers the 2011-2012 2nd team all-NBA center that ranked 16th in win shares per 48 minutes (greater than 20 mpg), and the potential for an elite inside out combo with Jrue Holiday that could vault the Sixers into a higher level of contention.  Though Turner has not improved much, trading Iguodala freed an offensive role for the young wing.  The Sixers real failure this past offseason came in amnestying Elton Brand, the underrated defensive anchor, and using the freed cap space to sign Nick Young, Kwame Brown, and Dorell Wright.

Festus Ezeli Player Profile

On June 28th, 2012, Nigerian born Ifeanyi Festus Ezeli-Ndulue was drafted 30th overall by the Golden State Warriors.  Ezeli, an aspiring physician, was born in Benin City, Nigeria.  In 2004, Ezeli’s parents sent him to live with his uncle in California, hoping to further his education.  Ezeli, prompted by his uncle, began playing basketball.  In a 2011 interview with ESPN’s Andy Katz, Ezeli recalled his struggles with the foreign sport. “I didn’t know what I was doing.  Imagine someone who is 14 or 15 years old, and you’re teaching them as if they’re a 6-year-old. It was tough. Everyone was getting frustrated with me. I was getting frustrated with it.”

Festus Ezeli followed a unique path to the NBA, where he entered a unique circumstance.  The Warriors, awaiting the return of the injured Andrew Bogut, were forced to rely on the 30th pick as their starting center.  Through the month of January, Ezeli started 38 of the Warriors 43 games, averaging a mere 16 minutes per game. And though the Warriors were winning, Ezeli was not making a strong push for increased responsibility.  In the same Katz interview, Ezeli said, “The hardest thing to master for me was hand-eye coordination.  It’s something that has been hard for me. Sometimes I just work on passing the ball, and I’m sure not a lot of people do that.”  Through the beginning months of his career, it was evident that despite the work, Ezeli had not yet mastered many basic basketball skills.  Plagued by an inability to catch passes on the move and a crippling habit of bringing the ball down in traffic, Ezeli committed 25 turnovers per 100 used plays through the end of January (  Though these turnovers represent a small portion of the teams possessions, Ezeli’s inability to function offensively greatly inhibited the Warriors, who scored 7.4 points per 100 possessions more with Ezeli off the court than on.  Opposing defenses would ignore Ezeli on rolls and leave him open anywhere on the floor knowing that he was nearly incapable of gathering and finishing against any recover (44.6% True Shooting Percentage), or passing to punish a defense out of position (0.9 Assist Rate).

Upon Bogut’s return, Ezeli was replaced by Andris Biedrins as backup center and lost nearly all his minutes.  However, Ezeli’s recent play, necessitated by a Biedrins injury, has rekindled belief in Ezeli’s potential and suggested that his general ineptitude would serve the Warriors better than Biedrins’.  Since the all star break the Warriors have outscored opponents by 3.1 points per 100 possessions, a drastic swing form the -3.5 net rating Ezeli posted in the months prior (  Though Ezeli’s offensive finishing abilities have shown no significant improvement (41.3% TS% post all star break and 45.2% prior), he has made noticeable leaps in his understanding of positioning defensively and in rebounding.  Ezeli’s defensive rebound percentage has jumped from 13.9% prior to the all-star break to 21.3% after, and he has shown a better understanding of help defense rotation and the Warrior’s downing of pick and rolls.  Also, Ezeli’s struggles offensively appear to trump Biedrins’ general disregard for that half of the court.  After setting a screen, Biedrins will often simply stand at the elbow, where he is no threat to shoot, seemingly avoiding the embarrassing experience that is free throw shooting.  (  Though Ezeli is generally not a threat to score, he typically rolls hard to the rim, clearing space for driving lanes and forcing hedging big men to rotate off the ball handler.

While Festus Ezeli may not have been immediately successful in the league, the 23-year-old center has shown improvements that foreshadow an impressive basketball future for a Nigerian physician.

Nightly Picks for 3/14/13

San Antonio vs. Dallas -8

If Tim Duncan and Kawhi Leonard return from injury, the Spurs, 30-3 at home, should be able cover against the recently decent Mavericks.  With Duncan on the court, the Spurs outscore their opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions, a significant improvement from their still impressive 6.3 rating differential with Duncan off the court.  Kawhi Leonard, the versatile forward who has emerged as an elite defender, should slow Mavericks forward Shawn Marion, while Duncan guards offensive catalyst Dirk Nowitzki.  Though the Mavericks have been an improved defensive team over the last month, their guards Darren Collison and O.J. Mayo struggle with off ball defense, while Danny Green, Corey Joseph, Manu Ginbobli, and basically the entire Spurs roster excel at taking advantage of defensive breakdowns and miscommunications.

Portland vs. New York -4

During tonight’s game versus the Denver Nuggets Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler both suffered game-ending knee injuries, and will likely join Amar’e Stoudamire on the Knicks’ list of max-contract players in dress clothes.  In their game against Portland, the second night of a back to back, the Knicks may be without their two most important players.  Without Chandler to anchor the defense and Anthony the offense, the Knicks will likely struggle against the Blazers, who’s 106.2 offensive rating places them 11th in the league.  With Chandler off the court, the New York Knicks allow 105.4 points per 100 possessions, the same rating as the 13th ranked Philadelphia 76ers.  However, counter intuitively given Chandler’s defensive fame, it is the Knicks’ offense that falters with Chandler off the floor, dropping 8.2 points per 100 possessions from 112.6 to 104.4.   The Blazers are 20-11 in Portland, and should be able to beat the depleted Knicks.

Year to Date: 19-7

Klay Thompson’s Game Winner vs. Sacramento

Last night, the Boston Celtics upset the Indiana Pacers on a nice set that feigned an isolation for Paul Pierce and resulted in a wide open layup for Jeff Green  The reaction to this play, exalted by some as the “best set of the year,” and referred to by,, and as “great,” displays the valuing of results over process that often infiltrates sports analysis.  Had the Celtics run the exact same play and David West taken a better angle on Green’s cut towards the basket, he likely would have gotten around Pierce’s screen to cover Green and forced Kevin Garnett to enter the ball to Pierce for the Celtics secondary option, a wing isolation for Pierce.  Though Pierce has good position, he likely would have struggled to score on Paul George.  Had this happened, the Celtics set, hailed as the triumph of team play, would likely have been criticized as “hero ball.”  The Celtic’s play was very well designed, as it gave them the Green cut, Pierce iso, and Garnett jumper as viable options, but may have been praised for the wrong reasons.  I originally planned to look at this play, however Hoop Chalk beat me to it (, so instead I will break down Klay Thompson’s game winning three pointer against the Sacramento Kings, a broken play that fittingly ended a poorly executed game.

To begin the play, Jack sets a down screen for Steph Curry, freeing Curry to catch Thompson’s inbounds pass, while Jack clears baseline to the right corner and Thompson fills the left.

Though many teams wait until the final seconds to run a play, hoping to end the game with one shot.  The Warriors initiate their play immediately, leaving themselves the opportunity for an offensive rebound and a second chance at a score.  Bogut and Lee both move above the three-point line, preparing to set a drag-type screen to either free Curry for a jump shot or force a King’s big to switch onto him.

However, Andrew Bogut’s defender Jason Thompson, hedges the screen, stopping Curry and taking the Warriors out of their play.  Typically, Patrick Patterson, David Lee’s defender, would have been the one hedging, as Lee set the first screen.  Instead Thompson leaves Bogut, likely fearing that Patterson was not in position.

Toney Douglas, Curry’s original defender, clears Lee’s screen and, along with Jason Thompson, traps Curry.  Thompson is expected to then recover to Bogut, but Bogut, recognizing that Thompson was overplaying Curry, had run away from the play into the paint.  Because two defenders are guarding Curry, Patterson is forced to account for both Bogut and Lee, and sags off Lee.  This leaves Lee open for Curry’s pass, however, because the original screening occurred so far from the basket, Jason Thompson is unable to immediately recover to Bogut, forcing Patterson to hesitate before stepping out on Lee.

To cover for Patterson’s hesitation, Klay Thompson’s defender, John Salmons, steps into the paint, denying Lee the driving lane, and giving Jarret Jack’s defender Tyreke Evans time to help on Andrew Bogut as Jason Thompson sprints to guard him.  Seeing John Salmons pulled into the lane, Lee, an excellent passer, immediately hits Klay Thompson in the corner for an open three. Though they did not execute their initial option, the Warriors late game improvisation and Klay Thompsons shooting prowess allow the Warriors a little breathing room over the Rockets in the race for the 6th seed.

A New Hope in Washington

            On November 6, 2012, Barack Obama was reelected as President of the United States.  Obama returned to Washington under the slogan, “Forward,” a direction the local Wizards certainly did not appear to be moving.  Before the season, the Wizards, presumably adding veteran players in an attempt to reach the playoffs, dealt Rashard Lewis and a 2nd round draft pick for Trevor Ariza and Emeka Okafor.  Despite this salary intensive attempt to make the playoffs, through January 11th, the Wizards were a depressing 5-28 and, just to make the experience even more enjoyable for their fans, scored at a league-worst 93.1 points per 100 possessions (per  Despite the record, the Wizard’s most disheartening situation was the state of their young backcourt of John Wall and Bradley Beal.  Prior to the season, Wall developed a stress fracture in his knee, and was scheduled to miss much of the beginning of the season.  Though Wall had flashed promise in his first two seasons in the league, popular opinion (expressed in this Yahoo! Ball Don’t Lie article–nba.html) was that Wall needed to take a drastic step forward in the 2012-2013 season to establish himself as the franchise block the Wizards thought they had drafted.  Instead of coming into the new season showing off an improved jumper, or better ball control, Wall was not even able to practice, let alone play. While will was stuck off the court, Beal was struggling on it.  In 32 games played prior without John Wall, Beal shot 32.3 percent from 3, 38.9% on 2 point field goal attempts, and had a true shooting percentage of only 46.8% (per   Though he was promoted in college as an aggressive guard with an incredible shooting stroke, Beal struggled to get to the rim, attempting only 17.95 of his shots from 0-3 feet and 25.0% from 10-15 feet, and converted on a less than impressive 32.3% on the three point attempts that accounted for 34.1% of his field goal attempts, and though the Wizards struggled regardless of whether Beal was playing or not, they were outscored by 1.1 more points per 100 possessions with Beal on the court compared to off.  Beal, like Wall before him, had shown potential, but struggled to consistently convert the promise into production.

            In a January 12th contests against the Atlanta Hawks, John Wall, once the lord and savior of the eternally damned Wizards (in this case original sin is drafting Jan Vesely) began his 3rd season, ready to rise again.  And while the Wizards have not yet ascended to the heavenly height of above average, they have managed a promising level of decency since Wall’s return.  Spurred by an impressive defense and slightly improved but still bad offense, Washington has won 12 of its 20 games since Wall’s return, good for a .600 winning percentage that would place them 4th in the Eastern Conference if sustained for a full season.  However, in this lost season it  is the improved performance by Wall and Beal that bring hope for a better future in Washington.  Though Wall, only shooting a 48.3% true shooting percentage, still has yet to approach his potential as scorer, he has developed an ability to create offensive opportunities for his teammates.  Wall has assisted on a career high 44.3% of his teammates field goals while he is on the court, up 7.4 percent from last year, and his team scores 4.3 points per 100 possessions more while he is on the court than off.  Though the Wizards 101.3 offensive rating with Wall on the court would place them at a mere 26th in the league per, many of the lineups Wall is most featured in are much better offensively, including the oft-used starting lineup of Wall – Beal – Webster – Okafor –Nene which scores 105.5 points per 100 possessions and allows an impressively low 82.2.

            Wall’s emergence as an effective, though often frustrated, floor general has best reflected itself in Bradley Beal’s performance over the last 2 months.  Since Wall’s return, Bradley Beal’s true shooting percentage has jumped to 57.4, prompted by Beal’s incredible 3-point shooting efficiency.  Over the last 20 games, Beal has made 46.9% of his 3-point attempts, including 12 of 18 from the left corner 3, and 9 of 18 from the right.  John Wall’s ability to force defenses to help by beating primary defenders off isolation in the pick and role have opened up many opportunities for Beal, who has not failed to take advantage.  Though Beal never receives the ball on this possession, this play displays how Wall creates space and opportunity for Beal.

            As Wall drives right off the pick and roll, Jan Vesely’s man steps across the lane to contain the penetration, leaving Beal’s man forced to guard two people on the left side of the court.  Wall beats the hedging big man and misses the semi contested layup over the help defender.  As this happened, Beal’s man committed to Vesely at the rim, leaving Beal open in the left corner, from which he has been nearly automatic since Wall returned.  Though he did not do it on this possession, Wall has displayed the ability to consistently convert the pass to the corner 3, which would allow Beal to shoot, or attack the close out by the defender who began the possession guarding him.

            This synergy between the talents of the Wizard’s dynamic young guards has led to many wins over the last two months, and brings hope that, with a few even-slightly prudent decisions by Wizard’s management, these wins are just the beginning.