The American Journal of Psychology defines habit as, "a more or less fixed way of thinking, willing, or feeling acquired through previous repetition of a mental experience." Such is the case with Boston Celtics small forward Jeff Green, who I believe has locked himself into bad habits that have prevented him from reaching his potential as a basketball player.
After Boston selected Georgetown forward Jeff Green with the fifth pick in the 2007 draft, he was quickly traded to Seattle. At the time, ESPN analyst Chad Ford said the Sonics were acquiring, "a good, but not great player, with do-it-all ability and athleticism." However, one of his weaknesses was his ability to drive to the basket.
That description sounds exactly like the 27-year-old Jeff Green in today's NBA. Green is "good, but not great," and many of his weaknesses from college remain the same. But what is preventing Green from taking his game to the next level?
I hypothesize that while Green is a good player, he has fallen into bad habits when driving to the basket. He is too reliant on his raw athleticism, and hasn't spent the time needed to improve on specific techniques. As a result, this prevents him from becoming a truly great basketball player.
To find support for my hypothesis, I decided to conduct a study by watching each one of Jeff Green's drives to the basket from this season. Then I took note on whether it was a make or miss, what direction he drove, if he jumped off the correct or incorrect foot, and if the shot was forced or blocked.
To be clear, this study is strictly looking at Green's ability driving to the rim in the half court (or in transition if the opponent successfully got back to defend). This means that I am only using plays in which Green himself drove to the basket in the half court; so, wide-open plays in transition, alley-oops, balls caught at the rim, post-ups, pull-ups, and the like, are not included in this analysis.
However, I am including plays in which Green drove to the rim and was fouled. The NBA doesn't count these plays as shot attempts, but I am for the purposes of fully accounting for all of Green's true attempts at the rim.
In the process of accumulating these numbers, I came to the realization that this should be a new advanced statistic. After all, when strictly judging a player's individual ability to score on the drive, it should be more valued when the opponent is back defending, instead of open transition scores. So, these specific types of plays being studied will be referred to as "half court drives" or "HCD."
In 29 games so far this season, Jeff Green has attempted 119 total HCD. 69 attempts were to the right, and 50 were to the left.
Out of the 69 right HCD, Green was fouled 12 times, and completed 29 shots. Going to his left 50 times, 14 resulted in fouls, and only 14 shots were made. You can visually see these findings on the chart above.
As for Green's HCD featuring incorrect technique, there were 28 to the left and 24 to the right. This means that 56 percent of Green's left HCD were technically incorrect, to only 34.7 percent of his right HCD. The chart above details these statistics.
When driving to the left, Green had 26 drives with incorrect technique. Out of those, 14 resulted in missed shots, and six in fouls. And on right HCD, Green had 25 with incorrect technique, and from those he missed 10 attempts, and was fouled three times.
Jeff Green attempted 24 left HCD with correct technique, with eight misses and eight drawn fouls. When going to the right, he attempted 44 shots, in which there were 18 misses and nine fouls.
Lastly, from Green's 119 total HCD, I have 28 labeled as "forced," three labeled as "blocked shot," and nine as "and-one opportunities." Of the 28 forced shots, only eight were scored.
Looking only at the statistics, my findings suggest that Jeff Green is average at driving to the basket. Factoring out fouls, Green is a subpar 46.2 percent shooter on HCD. On left HCD, Green shoots a terrible 38.8 percent, and to his right, a respectable 50.9 percent. With free throws added, Green has a total 56.6 true shot percentage.
Because of the wide disparity in Green's success going to the left or right, it is important to analyze them both more thoroughly. For that, I took a closer look at the film. I also spoke to an NBA advance scout, and SB Nation's Coach Nick for their input on Green's game.
Driving to the Left
Green has a number of issues going for him on HCD to the left. For one, his left-handed dribble is not very good, as he seems comfortable only with straight-line drives. This forces him into a number of difficult shots, and it frequently puts him in a position where he becomes reliant on the referees blowing the whistle to bail him out with a call.
Ultimately, when Green decides to go for a layup or dunk on a HCD, he generally utilizes the incorrect technique in a number of different ways. Of his 50 total attempts, 28 of them were with inappropriate technique, and he has hit only 38.8 percent of his shots. It's important to note that on drives to the left, it is generally proper to elevate off your right foot when using your left hand.
In the first four clips above, Green drives hard to his left and appropriately jumps off of his right foot. However, since he is uncomfortable with his left hand, he attempts the shot from an extremely awkward angle with his right hand. This results in four misses, when he could've earned his team a better possession by utilizing his left hand, or just by choosing to pass the ball.
Take note of Jeff Green's takeoff point on each one of those four plays, because he begins his leap from about eight feet away from the rim. I asked an NBA advance scout about Green's footwork, and he said, "Green tends to stop his dribble entirely and begin his flight from too far away from the basket. When guarded properly, this usually forces him into an awkward, difficult shot."
"It seems Green thinks he has a step on his defender, and by utilizing his long strides, he will have an easy path to the basket; however this is often misjudged, and as a result, he loses the momentum and power to finish the drive."
Since Green has been so athletic since high school, he likely found success scoring near the rim despite having paltry footwork, and this is probably the source of his bad habits. This carried on through college, where he continued to thrive, though professional scouts and analysts knew this would be a problem at the next level. Since becoming a pro, he has yet to fix this issue.
The advance scout explained, "Because other areas of his game needed improvements -- shooting, decision-making, and court awareness -- it's possible the way he drives to the basket may not have gotten the necessary attention."
Green's decision-making, especially in the third clip against Houston, is still questionable at times. Click here for a screen-shot of the play, and you'll see how Green has drawn three defenders, with another two lurking nearby. But he still decides to shoot despite having two open teammates standing at relatively easy passing angles.
The sixth clip on the video is an illustration of how Jeff Green's absurd athleticism can bail out his occasionally awful technique. Driving to his left, he chooses to elevate off of his left foot from about eight feet despite having more space to take one more dribble for a cleaner attempt. He then takes the shot with his right hand as it miraculously banks off the glass and goes in (on top of that, he gets a whistle for an and-one).
Often times Green completes these shots, in part because of his astonishing athleticism, but also because of his natural scoring touch. Coach Nick of SB Nation said, "There are times when he makes the shots off the wrong foot, which only serves to encourage him further, and this leads to inconsistent play, which is the bane of every coach's existence."
Driving to the Right
Jeff Green is much more efficient driving to the basket when going to his right, as he completes 50.9 percent of his shots, and displays incorrect technique only 34.7 percent of the time. This is likely because Green is right-hand dominant, so he feels more at ease going this direction. Thus, Green often elevates off the left foot and uses his right hand to finish.
Yet, he still commits far too many technical errors at 34.7 percent, while shooting a hair over 50 percent, which doesn't allow him to reach his full potential. However, the majority of Green's issues here are in relation to his takeoff point and not his left foot/right hand technique.
In some of the videos above, Green displays proper technique, especially in the final two clips. On the last play, Green drives hard to the basket and correctly elevates off his left foot, while shooting with his right hand. The drive was defended perfectly, so the shot was missed, but this was not a bad attempt by any means.
The first clip above shows Jeff Green taking off from the free throw line like he's Michael Jordan in Space Jam. Of course, it looks good in the box score, since the shot attempt goes in (and he gets to the line for an and-one free throw), but this is not a quality play. Again, this is another example of Green relying far too much on his athleticism, which possibly hinders his desire to improve on his footwork.
I believe that clip also highlights Green's inability to make more complex dribble moves. Instead of opting for a spin move or euro-step, which would spring him wide-open for an easy layup, he goes for a ridiculous shot with a low chance of success. With plays like that, Green is fortunate to have the raw athleticism and large hands necessary to save him from his subpar technique.
The Psychology of Habit
William James, one of the most prominent psychologists in history, wrote in Principles of Psychology, "When a mental process passes through the brain, the nervous tissue leaves a trace, which facilitates the repetition of the same nervous process. Hence, the corresponding mental process is likely to reappear. With further repetition, the path in the nervous centers deepens, and its mental correlate is experienced with corresponding greater ease."
This is probably why Green has held on so tightly to these bad habits, due to his reliance on his raw athleticism. This is not to fault him, but I do find it intriguing that he hasn't found ways around his problems. Every player has weaknesses, but the true greats do what they can to compensate for them.
"This could all be cured with several months of intensive therapy or workouts," said Coach Nick. "He would have to retrain his muscle memory to find the proper footwork and de-program the bad footwork."
"If Pete Newell were alive today, he'd be able to run Jeff Green through his big man camp and polish a lot of his game into potential All Star status." He explained, "Kiki Vandeweghe was a good example of a decent pro who, after working with Newell for a summer, became an All Star after mastering the simple and effective footwork techniques."
But even without one an amazing trainer, a player still can improve. Celtics point guard Rajon Rondo came to the NBA without much of a left hand on layups, but over the years he has developed a way to successfully use his right hand for "scoops" from the left side. Is this proper technique? No, not for most players in the NBA; but for Rondo it works, and to a high degree.
Coach Nick said that certain players can make the wrong techniques work because they spend extensive time practicing. "It appears those shots Green is taking aren't something he practices often. When you see Tony Parker jump of the wrong foot, there is a rhythm and balance, and economy of motion that makes it clear he's tactical about getting a shot off before the big man can block it."
He explained, "Often times, it appears Jeff Green is making up his move as he's doing it, which gets him caught in the air, twisted the wrong way, off-balance, with very little chance of making the shot."
For some players like Jeff Green, athleticism doesn't overcome the technique required to play at a high level. It would be unfair for me to say that Green hasn't done all he can to improve on his skills -- after all, he is a young man that fought hard to recover from heart surgery -- but signs do point to an overreliance and comfortability in his athleticism.
The NBA advance scout said, "Although Green is not known as a gym rat, one who is constantly in the gym working on his game, I feel as though if someone were to point out his flaws, he would take the time to improve -- at least I would hope so." He continued, "Green is athletic. You cannot teach athleticism, but you can teach how to properly apply it."
Breaking the Habit
No improvements for Jeff Green can be made overnight, as it would take a fully committed summer of work for him to change his habits. Nonetheless, there are some changes Green should attempt to make as soon as possible.
Both Coach Nick and the advance scout pointed out the fact that Green rarely, if ever, jumps off of both feet when attempting a layup or dunk. Nick explained, "There is a compelling study that suggests that players that finish when jumping off both feet shoot considerably better, and get many more and-one's, when going to the basket."
"The balance and power significantly improve their chances of finishing. It's my feeling that Jeff Green launches himself off of one foot all too often, and clearly, when jumping off the right foot and trying to shoot with the right hand almost always unleashes an off-balance and awkward shot."
The NBA advance scout agreed, "Green is explosive off of one foot, but if he was able to learn the technique of a two-foot jump, he may develop the mindset of getting to the basket and using his explosiveness at the rim. Currently, because of his decisions to take off from deep, he limits his ability to use his athleticism and explosiveness."
Despite these criticisms, Jeff Green is still a quality NBA player. He's averaging 16.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game this season, though he still hasn't met the expectations of many fans around the league.
"At this time, Green is the man on the Celtics. He is the go-to guy. But on an NBA team, the player in this particular role must possess an elite set of skills," the advance scout explained.
"While Green is capable of possessing these skills, he is not there just yet. But because he is in this 'go-to' guy role, his abilities, both good and bad, are on full display each and every night."
Right now, Jeff Green is only a good role player on a retooling Boston Celtics team. But, maybe someday, with the proper coaching and mentality, everything will click, and Green will form new positive habits to become an elite player.