One of the most surprising transactions at the trade deadline was the Boston Celtics sending one of their defensive anchors, Kendrick Perkins, to Oklahoma City for Jeff Green. On the Celtics’ side, the trade appeared to be motivated as much by financial and health questions surrounding Perkins, as it was by a desire to add Green. Green had shown himself to be a capable, if not overly efficient, offensive player. Most of the concerns surrounding him, were focused on his defensive abilities. The common perception was that Green struggled on defense, primarily because he was being asked to defend power forwards, a task for which he was physically ill-equipped. Presumably, the Celtics hoped they could use Green as back-up to Paul Pierce, gaining an additional wing defender, specifically one with the bulk to match up against LeBron James in the playoffs.
The early returns on Green’s time with the Celtics have not been good. During the regular season, their Net Rating (ORtg.-DRtg.) was been 6.7 points worse with Jeff Green on the floor. That’s roughly the same effect Brian Cardinal has had on the Dallas Mavericks’ performance this season. In the playoffs, things have been even worse, with the Celtics’ Net Rating dropping by 26.7 points with Green in the game. That’s roughly the same impact Andy Rautins had on the New York Knicks during the regular season. Very not good.
As I mentioned above, the trade was not just about what Green could do for the Celtics, but they certainly hoped he would have a more positive impact. I’ve felt that they’ve had a hard time putting him in situations where he can be successful. I was sure that some such situations did in fact exist, and I tried breaking down his regular season minutes into several different scenarios to try and identify a few. The first thing I did was look at his Celtics’ minutes by position:
[table id=1 /]
Surprisingly, he’s been slightly better when playing power forward. The Celtics’ Offensive Rating is just as poor regardless of what position he plays, but their defense was 1.7 points better when he was playing power forward. This runs counter to what the Celtics were likely expecting when they acquired Green. If he has shown the potential to be successful as a power forward it must have had to do with certain combinations of players. It seems like he would be at his best playing alongside the Celtics’ veteran leaders, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. This in fact proved to be the case:
[table id=2 /]
The Celtics were simply terrific in the 63 minutes Pierce, Green and Garnett were on the floor together during the regular season. Unfortunately, Green only had a chance to play 63 minutes with them. Most of the time Green was brought off the bench, which meant he was playing alongside Glen Davis. This was a combination that did not work as well:
[table id=3 /]
Although Green and Davis don’t have entirely redundant skill sets, they do duplicate each other quite a bit. Neither is a particularly strong defensive rebounder. Both rely on their teammates to create high percentage offensive looks for them. Neither is a particularly strong individual defender. One has a predilection for long jumpers. The other has a predilection towards slightly longer jumpers. Having them on the floor together also means that Pierce and Garnett are likely both out, which exacerbates the problem. It appears that the Celtics can get away with one on the floor, but probably not both at the same time.
The pattern for each situation we just looked at has also essentially held true in the playoffs, especially the Green/Davis combo:
[table id=4 /]
The Celtics have seen a swing of 43.9 points in their Net Rating from when Green and Davis are on the floor together to when Green is out there alone. This pattern does not entirely go both ways. When Davis has been on the floor without Green in the playoffs the Celtics have posted an Offensive Rating of 120.2 and a Defensive Rating 128.7. It seems that some of the defensive criticism levied at Green during his time in Boston, could just as easily be laid at the feet of Glen Davis.
The Celtics’ starters have actually been fairly effective against the Heat, outscoring them 58-55 in just over 35 minutes. It’s when they’ve gone to their bench things have started to get ugly, particularly when the combination of Davis and Green are manning the forward positions. The easy solution would be to pick one for the majority of minutes, but unfortunately a lack of depth doesn’t really make that an option. The return of Shaquille O’Neal for Game 3 could give Doc Rivers some more flexibility. A radical solution could be starting Garnett at center and moving Davis into the starting lineup, pairing Green with the O’Neals on the second unit. Whatever the answer, if Boston is going to get the necessary bench production to keep this series close, they’ll need to work on keeping Green and Davis separated.