The discourse around Josh Green has never been particularly nuanced. His detractors see a lost cause whose offensive skillset is limited, and who lets those limitations affect his confidence. There’s a layer of resentment, too, as he was drafted ahead of better players whose names the fan-base uses as shorthand for disappointment. He also has believers who may be too hopeful or unrealistic.
It’s unlikely Green becomes a playoff-level starter, but he is showing signs of being a dependable rotation player, which is a fine expectation for any player drafted after the lottery if they’re looked at in a vacuum. The question then becomes how much those rotation minutes will impact winning.
Jason Kidd after Mavs' practice today on Josh Green's start: “He’s playing great. He deserves more minutes, and we got to figure out how to get him more minutes."— Callie Caplan (@CallieCaplan) November 1, 2022
It’s easy to see what Kidd is seeing. The sample size before last night’s game was small (six NBA games is the equivalent of 1.25 football games in an NFL season), but Green had the highest raw plus-minus on the team, which is impressive considering he’s only playing around fifteen minutes per game. His raw stats are, as usual for Green, rather meager, but advanced stats that are meant to reflect impact on the game are loud. Offensive and defensive ratings are often misused in relation to players, as they are team stats which highlight how a team’s offense and defense perform while said player is on the floor.
Still, Josh Green is in the top 5 of both, which also means he has the largest net rating in the entire league (to emphasize how goofy the stat is, behind him are such luminaries as Jordan Mclaughlin and Jock Landale). Obviously it’s a misleading stat with such a small sample and will dissipate in a few weeks, but it raises the question of what a player is bringing to the table this early.
His biggest impact has been on the defensive end, where he’d been the hardest playing Maverick until Dwight Powell earned run and brought a similar lunch-pail mentality. Green has always been athletic, and in college he was one of the best defensive players in his conference, a fleet-footed yet physical wing who could stay with quicker guards. This is the first year that ability has felt unencumbered by mental lapses. He is by far the rotation’s leader in steals on a per-100 possession basis, and his penchant for pushing the ball afterwards brings a fast break inclination to a team that usually plays slow.
On offense, the sample is still too small to be confident in what kind of shooter he’s become. He’s only taken seventeen shots, making eleven, which is a low volume even in his short minutes. His shot has looked better though, and it’s imperative he keeps bravely taking them to justify his presence on the court and keep the opposing defense from ignoring him. These are the shots once given by defenses to Finney-Smith, who over time has proven too dangerous to leave alone; because a defense must concede something, punishing them for their choice is key. In a post-practice presser on Tuesday, Green suggested that he’s aware defenses don’t respect his shot, and that making them opens up his ability to attack closeouts and get defenses in rotation.
The sneaky value he’s brings that is reflected by the advanced stats is his egalitarian yet frenzied approach to playing fast, passing quickly and moving off-ball. The Mavericks, by design, are somewhat rigid on offense. Luka himself plays with flair, but from the slow pace to the formulaic nature of an offense so centered around his one-on-one play and spot up shooters, he’s more classical composer than jazz soloist. Green is doing a great job of being a connector piece between the ball handler and the eventual play finisher; his quick decisions and unorthodox choices create much needed breaks in the team’s methodical nature. The early 4th quarter bench units that have won their minutes in three straight games run more than in Luka’s minutes, and find a more zippy and unpredictable approach to scoring.
There is a dearth of playmaking outside of Luka on the roster. Dallas is near the bottom of the league so far in most assists-related categories; considering Luka’s all-world passing, that may seem shocking, but it illustrates how dependent the Mavericks are on his unassisted scoring and how little he’s supplemented as a playmaker. Dinwiddie is as mucha combo guard as he is a point; Tim Hardaway Jr has been asked to do more ball handling, but it’s mostly just bringing the ball up. Green never was going to be the third ball handler, or transition to some kind of backup point-forward position, but he has a natural ingenuity for passing and the concept of “court mapping”, or making use of the geography of the court, and it brings a different element to the team.
As Kidd said, he also deserves more minutes, but it’s not always easy to find them. It’s foolish to think Green will supplant our two stalwart 3&D wings, or that we’ll look up in January and Green is assuming more offensive usage. On Wednesday night, he played his most minutes of the season and continued his positive impact by going two-of-three from three, causing havoc and finishing as a plus-eight. Despite Luka’s heroics and the barrage of threes the Mavericks are capable of, their success last year was partly defined by the hustling nature of their undrafted and passed-over players, and in the early parts of this season a casual attitude towards opponents and the beginning of games has been an issue. In Wednesday’s game, Dwight Powell brought the hard hat too, but throughout the first few weeks of the season it was Josh Green who set an example of energy which became contagious and impacted the scoreboard.
It’s too early to say his play will always remain so positive, but defensive wings with a high feel for the game are always valuable in such a wing-centric league. I would expect even if the shot is more inconsistent than it appears right now and his play has ups and downs, we will be able to chart the growth of Josh Green this year without the usual trepidation. For now, he’s brought new possibilities in lineups and tactics, and that energy and unpredictability should lead to more confidence in him from both the coaches and the fans.