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Celtics rookies summer study: Javonte Green

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An old Celtic role player could be the right mentor for Green.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Milwaukee Bucks Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Javonte Green finished his first NBA season in 2020, but he certainly isn’t your typical rookie. Green graduated from Radford University way back in 2015 after a strong four-year career. He spent the next half-decade in Spain, Italy, and Germany honing his craft before the NBA came calling.

Green will be 27 before next season, so in terms of development there is not as much expected growth from an overall skill standpoint remaining. A freak athlete and defender, Green leaves his imprint on the game through energy and attacking the hoop. He stands only 6’4”, but he can move and guard guys 1 through 3, and even some at the 4.

Then there’s the shooting, likely the skill that prevented Green from getting on an NBA radar sooner. He shot 23.8 percent behind the arc in college and was 6-for-23 with the big league club this year, and 4-for-18 in spot-up duty. We’re not saying Green can’t become a reliable 3-point threat: he was north of 30 percent every year he played in Europe. We’re saying he needs to prepare to strengthen his game in other ways so that, if the shot doesn’t develop, he’ll still be an asset to his team.

His quickest path to a consistent and useful NBA role is to hone in on his strengths and learn how to harness them in the half court while the guys around him are controlling the pace of the game.

The guy is a freak athlete, with exquisite length and great body control. As a college coach, I’ve come to realize the importance of closeouts. The ball moves from person-to-person around the court, so individual defenders are constantly changing from helper to guarding the ball. The slightest bit of ceded ground can be taken advantage of by an opportunistic scorer. Move too eagerly or off-balance and the guy will drive right past you. Hesitate or arrive late and the elite players are pulling a 3 in your grill.

Green is a master of closeouts. He uses his length to his advantage and has somehow forced defenses to read his physical preparedness. He can cause them to hesitate with whether they’ll shoot or drive, and then has the chops to guard them one-on-one off the bounce:

To be the defensive stopper in the green-and-white is no easy task. We’ve seen several try their hand at the role over the last fifteen years, perhaps none more prominently than Tony Allen. T.A. earned his reputation as a ferocious, lanky shutdown artist. The three-time All-Defensive First Team recipient played a key role in the 2008 and 2010 NBA Finals as a Kobe Bryant-stopper, and logged a playoff-high 3.5 Defensive BPM during the 2010 NBA Playoffs.

Similar to Green, Allen struggled to shoot. He was 0-for-6 from deep in the postseason while suiting up for the C’s. The regular season wasn’t much kinder, as he only hit 29.4 percent of his treys. But Allen found ways to blossom on offense, especially when he left for the Memphis Grizzlies.

What Allen learned to do was be an effective cutter, weaponizing his movements to take advantage of teams that would turn their attention elsewhere and focus on primary scoring threats. Allen’s mid-range jumper was respectable and he turned into a really strong finisher at the rim, but his mastery of off-ball movement allowed him to thrive next to Marc Gasol, Zach Randolph, and Mike Conley.

Green is already an effective cutter in terms of his reads. He knows when to cut, but not necessarily when to start his cut. There is a difference. Green reads defenses well and understands how he’ll be played as a non-shooter. Take this possession against the New Orleans Pelicans as the perfect example of his awareness. Green anticipates the rotation of the defense and how E’Twaun Moore is going to leave him to cover the corner. He sees the movement and takes off for the hoop:

Smart play, despite the fact he didn’t convert. As long as Green’s process is right, the results will come eventually.

But what Green struggles with is maximizing the velocity of his cut. He has a tendency to leave for the rim as soon as he’s ignored, not necessarily when the ball will find him in a position to score. By leaving earlier, Green has to jog through his cut and decelerate before the catch.

Defenders catch up, or Green gets lost trying to make a quick play at a low speed. It’s not conducive to getting the coveted two points out of the possession:

Here’s where Allen really excelled. All of his cuts were sharp, violent, and allowed him to run through the catch to steal a football term. Slow cuts lead to flat-footed catches, a lack of explosion and negate the advantage gained by catching the defense napping. In some regard, it’s better to be late than early.

Watch for the patience Allen has when waiting to go. He’s open for usually a second or so before he begins his jaunt to the rim. Allen lays in the weeds before pouncing, knowing the cut is useless unless he can catch the pass in stride on his way to the hoop:

Timing really is everything.

One other trick up Allen’s sleeve has stuck with me from his Memphis days. When the Grizzlies would run post ups for Gasol or Randolph, Allen would disguise himself as a screener on the opposite side. Non-shooters are taught to find something of utility to do when a teammate is trying to score with their back to the basket.

Allen would fake the screen, get the defense to look at the man he was screening for, and then slip to the hoop. He’d take off and wiggle free while a savvy Gasol would find him:

The Celtics didn’t run many post-ups in the absence of Al Horford last year, but they will freelance switch actions with their many long wings. To play alongside Jaylen Brown or Jayson Tatum would require some ability to thrive while they go at mismatches. If he wants to be included in that group for minutes, learning this skill could be useful.

There’s a logjam for minutes in Boston on the wings, and it’s hard to imagine Green breaking through more than he did in 2020. An improved jumper would go a long way, but so would conversion in the times when Green slithers his way to the bucket.

He’s got the defense already down pat.