There was a moment midway through the Mavericks fourth quarter where everyone watching in the building and at home just knew this was Josh Green’s night. It was obvious, as he cashed in on a big moment during a pivotal Mavericks run that helped ensure a hard-fought 96-94 victory against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night.
It was a play that Green hasn’t really done all that much. To be fair, entering this season, Green really hasn’t done any plays all that much. After a rookie season where he couldn’t get on the floor under coach Rick Carlisle, Green did a little bit more in his sophomore season, but still hadn’t made any tangible leap yet.
So when this play happened in the fourth quarter Monday night in a high-leverage situation, it felt like a Moment™.
That is Green confidently knocking down a clutch pick and pop three pointer off a Luka Doncic double team. If you’ve watched any of Green’s prior two seasons you’ll know that 1. Green making a high-leverage three is a great sign and 2. Green attempting the shot at all feels like a miracle in confidence building. Green has attempted only 25 shots total in 158 minutes played this season, following up his prior two where he also didn’t get the ball up that much. So Green’s five attempts in the win on Monday were a great sign.
The performance felt like an exclamation point at the end of a sentence. Green has quietly produced well in his limited minutes this season so far, being a positive in the box score by making a handful of winning plays, whether it’s a pass, making an open shot, or grabbing an offensive rebound. His minutes have steadily risen as he continued to make solid plays, averaging 15.5 minutes per game in six October games and now after Monday averaging 22 minutes in three November games.
You could sort of feel a moment like Monday coming — it was building. Green has had his fingerprints all over the Mavericks current four-game win streak: he played 17 minutes and was on the floor during a productive stretch to start the fourth quarter in a win against the Magic, he played 19 minutes and made a crucial fourth quarter three pointer in a win against the Jazz, he helped the Mavericks build a 19-point third quarter lead while playing 20 minutes against the Raptors, and now Monday, where he scored 16 points in 27 minutes on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting in a close win against the Nets. For goodness’ sake Josh Green has a 92.1 true shooting percentage this season!
In the prior three games before Monday’s, Green produced with solid defense, bouncy energy, and making the most of his limited offensive opportunities within the flow of the Mavericks offense. Monday’s performance felt a little different because of how specifically Green was used, especially next to Doncic. Green set screens for Doncic all night and the Mavericks were extremely productive in those possessions.
It’s an excellent way to leverage Green’s strengths while hiding his weaknesses. Green is an explosive athlete, but not an exceptional ball handler. He’s an instinctive passer, but not a playmaker so to speak. So by letting Green screen for Doncic, it gave Green an opportunity to use his gifts against a more scattered defense. It was fun to watch Green roll into space and then pick out shooters when Doncic got him the ball.
Dorian Finney-Smith later in the fourth quarter made a crucial three that also came off a Green-Doncic pick and roll. It almost felt like Green was a 6’5 version of Dwight Powell, setting solid screens and using his constant energy/movement to keep the Mavericks offense humming. While Dallas has been lights out on offense overall this season, the team is still prone to moments of stagnation with Doncic controlling the ball almost at all times. Green was able to spice things up and it provided the Mavericks with a look they haven’t seen too much this season. Also by using Green, the Mavericks were able to get Doncic some favorable switches whenever the Nets didn’t trap, as with Green screening for Doncic meant the help defender in the pick and roll was another guard or wing, not a big man. Doncic punished that advantage routinely against the Nets.
It’s pretty neat to see a third year first round perimeter player embrace this type of role. While Green was never projected to be a player that handles the ball, it’s not common for young, raw 3-and-D wings to improve this much in the junk work that is sometimes required for the position. Former Minnesota Timberwolves coach Sam Mitchell said in an interview a few years back about how crucial it is for young players to learn fundamentals like setting screens that they might not have learned while playing in college or in AAU.
And I think that if you look at our team, the things we are on them about are about timing, spacing, setting screens, execution. Not only how to set screens, but which kind of screens to set, the difference. Everybody thinks they know how to coach, but which screens to set is a huge thing. It is the difference between getting open and not getting open. Yeah, he set the screen, but it is how he set the screen and how our players respond to the screen.
As our staffer Jack Bonin said on Twitter, Green isn’t just running interference to give Doncic an easy switch, he’s bowing up and setting solid screens like he’s a big man to create actual space. Not all third year players can do that, as simple as it might look from your screen.
There will surely be some noise to inch Green into a starting lineup that has been extremely inconsistent, but there might be something to the Mavericks usage of Green and his development. Don’t fix what isn’t broken, right? Plus, there’s something nice about just enjoying the moment now and not worrying about projections or what comes next. Green’s role is sure to increase so long as he keeps this up, but with the injury to Tim Hardaway Jr. potentially forcing him to miss extended time, Green’s minutes would have likely gotten a bump regardless. Combine that with Reggie Bullock’s annual early season shooting slump and we could be seeing a boost in Green over the next few weeks. Whether that’s a temporary or permanent boost will come down to Green’s play, but if Monday was any sort of sneak peek, we might be seeing the Josh Green leap.