Bubble Science: Game #3 breakdown. In which we stan Jeff Green
This is ostensibly supposed to be a look at the Rockets game against the Blazers on Tuesday night, Houston’s first loss in the bubble. While writing however, it morphed into a much more fun ode to Jeff Green. So, let’s jump right in. Since joining the Houston Rockets, Jeff Green has been plugged in to super-charge an already humming offense. Green’s 119.8 offensive rating leads the team. His versatility has made him a perfect outlet for James Harden, and the 2-player lineup combination of them both has an absurd 126.8 offensive rating (with a 100.7 defensive rating). No other partner to Harden comes close to this meteoric high. The key to this, is that Jeff Green has been an elite roll-man as the 5. Harden has used him frequently as the screen setter, hitting him out of the double team and letting Green make the next play. Whether it’s passing out to an open shooter, taking it to the rim, or fading out for a 3-point shot. Green is a triple-threat. In a Rockets uniform, he’s also been one of most dominant finishers in the entire NBA.
On shots within 5-feet, Green is shooting an incredible 75%, on 3.1 attempts per game. The only players in the NBA who are shooting more efficiently, even filtering the attempts to a lower 2.5 per game, are Nerlens Noel and Dwight Powell. Notably, both are rim-running centers, who feast on dunks and lobs. 40.2% of Noel’s shots within 5-feet are alley-oop finishes, 23.2% for Powell. Jeff Green? One. One lob finish in 43 2-point shots. This isn’t a perfect facsimile for showing how well a player finishes, and finishes through contact, but it paints a picture using publicly available data. And while this is an extremely small sample so far in Houston, Green was just as dominant getting to the hoop last season. He converted 71.2% of his shots around the rim in 2018-19, despite playing on a poor Washington team that had, at best, average spacing surrounding him.
So how does Green do it? Well, playing in a team with an MVP on the court at all times, with shooters in all directions, helps. The 35 year-old Green is often overlooked by the defense. His change of pace and explosion gives him the first step on opponents, allowing him to attack downhill aggressively.
Green also has a nifty little move to get himself to the basket, faking a dribble handoff then turning the corner and catching the defense off guard.
His real value, however, is being an outlet for James Harden. Give Jeff Green the ball in the middle of the floor, and good things happen.
Green can even bring the ball up, just like he did on that last play above. He executes a dribble handoff into a screen for James Harden to curl into the paint. Green sees the lane for himself, with no strongside coverage, and gets the easy bucket.
Houston also ran this play against Portland. This time Green fades to the corner, and with the defense collapsing on Harden, that shot is always going to be open. I'd like to see Mike D'Antoni utilise Green as a ballhandler more. He's basically what they desperately tried to get Joe Johnson to be in that failed experiment in 2018.
Green is also a good cutter. On the first possession below Westbrook gets the pass out of the double team, where he was effective all night. Green knows that the attention the two stars garner leaves just one defender on the weakside. Lillard turns his head momentarily to keep an eye on House on the wing, and Green makes his move for the baseline cut for the dunk. The very next play starts as a carbon copy of the last, with the Blazers again packing the strong side to throw bodies at Harden and Westbrook. Green cuts baseline again and this time Lillard, not wanting to give up another dunk, moves with him, leaving House completely free for the spot up shot. That's an 'assist' that doesn't show up on the box score.
The last part of Green's offensive game is the passing. Green can swing the ball around the perimeter and has shown the potential to be a great kickout passer out of the short roll. In fact, 13 of his 17 assists so far have been for 3-pointers. Only Harden and Westbrook generate more shots from deep when on the court. Green’s 1.73 3-point assists per 36 is more than what guards Austin Rivers and Eric Gordon generate - 1.44 and 1.30 respectively. No other Rocket gets more than 1 per game.
Green has proven to be something of a swiss army knife so far, and it's clear that Harden trusts him. I think we should expect him to feature heavily in the playoffs. We didn't even mention the 3-point shooting. He's shooting 41.8% so far in Houston, and his 5-9 from downtown against the Blazers helped keep the Rockets in the game throughout. As teams continue to sag off open shooters to help on drives, and as they continue to throw traps and doubles at James Harden, Jeff Green is going to be vital for Houston's offense in Orlando.