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Basketball

I Was Wrong About Josh Green

The second-year guard is a work in progress. He's also the type of player good teams win with.
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Back in December, I wrote the following about Josh Green:

“On the rare occasion that he has gotten a chance to show what he can do, Green profiles as maybe the eighth or ninth man in the rotation. He has a better feel for the game than was advertised when he was drafted after only one season at Arizona, but he has no standout skill, nothing to build on. Green is a pretty good finisher on a team that doesn’t run and a decent team defender on a squad looking for a stopper. I would probably trust Boban Marjanovic to make a three before him. Of course he doesn’t play that much.”

That paragraph came from a gloomy piece reflecting on how thoroughly the Mavericks had botched the 2020 draft, which naturally largely focused on the disappointing Green, the team’s first-round pick. His struggles, to that point, were magnified by the plug-and-play success of two players the team could have drafted instead, Memphis’ Desmond Bane and Detroit’s Saddiq Bey. The week prior, in fact, Bane came to town and went off for a career-high 29 points. Green watched from the bench. In addition to showing the Mavs what could have been, Bane also indirectly shamed the team into giving Green consistent burn in his post-game remarks. “I mean, Josh Green was drafted in front of me,” Bane said. “I don’t know if he played tonight, but that’s on them. That’s not on me.”

That Memphis game might end up being the turning point of Green’s career. It certainly has been the turning point of his season.

Since then—more or less; the team’s COVID surge in late December and early January makes the timeline a bit fuzzy—the 6-foot-5 Australian slasher has found a regular spot in Jason Kidd’s rotation. And guess what? Turns out he can play.

It’s not obvious from any of the 21-year-old’s stats. There has been a very slight uptick, nothing that really stands out or impresses. But that does not mean his impact has not been felt. He was a key factor in the team’s comeback from a 21-point deficit against the Golden State Warriors last weekend, and he has helped turn around more than a few matchups when they were trending in the wrong direction by shifting the energy over larger samples of minutes.

Since he doesn’t show up in the counting stats in any real way, other than the occasional explosion, the casual fan might not notice what Green has been doing since late December. And I’m not exactly sure how to quantify any of this, either. The closest metric, I suppose, is plus/minus. Green is fourth on the team at +105, after Dorian Finney-Smith and Jalen Brunson (both +175) and Reggie Bullock (+170), and all three of those players had a bit of a head start on him. Plus-minus is the stat that finally got Green a real look from Kidd in the first place.

But if you watch, you can see there is a difference when Green is on the court, with him and with how the team plays with him. I was wrong, full stop, when I decided to already write him off less than three months into his sophomore season. And I was especially wrong in saying that he has no standout skill because he is easily the second-best passer on the team behind Luka Doncic. Check out at this no-look, cross-court dime to Brunson. Green couldn’t have delivered it any better if he turned his body into a ball rack. He does this kind of thing with regularity now. Which has given him confidence, which has spread to every facet of his game.

Is he a knock-down shooter? Not yet. But he takes jumpers from beyond the arc much more confidently now, and that’s the first step. He’s expanded his offensive repertoire inside the three-point line to include a Dirk-esque one-legged fadeaway and finishes at the rim from all sorts of idiosyncratic angles. He’s not a scorer, but he can score. And he’s the best cutter on the team, both in timing and volume. That kind of movement creates its own sort of gravity, whether he receives a pass or not. This is crucial when he’s on the court with Luka and/or Brunson, creating useful pockets of space for them to drive into. (He also is the frequent recipient of the Mavs’ after-timeout lob plays.)

Defensively, he’s playing more freely as well, since he no longer has to keep track of the ball, his man, and the mood of Rick Carlisle. Is he a lockdown defender? Not yet. I wouldn’t always trust him on the opposing team’s best scorer. But he plays his part and then some: active in help, almost always in the right spot, rarely caught out. There is a reason the Mavericks started to shoot up the defensive rankings once Green started getting significant minutes.

It all adds up to a player with a skill set that might go unappreciated, maybe something along the lines of a more exciting Shane Battier. If you just put his numbers up against Bane or Bey or Tyrese Maxey, he’s never going to come out ahead. He may never be a star. Probably he won’t be. Most players aren’t.

But you can win with players like Josh Green. The Mavs were lucky to get one in 2020.

Like I said, I was wrong. And I’ve never been happier to be.

Author

Zac Crain

Zac Crain

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Zac, senior editor of D Magazine, has written about the explosion in West, Texas; legendary country singer Charley Pride; Tony…

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