Josh Green is now in his fourth NBA season and recently inked a long-term extension, indicating that the Mavericks view him as a core piece. Fans and national media analysts alike projected even more improvement from Josh Green as a starter next to Luka Doncic and Kyrie Irving.
That is why it was particularly puzzling that Jason Kidd hinted throughout the preseason that he does not see Green as a starter on this team. Green was thought to be no worse than the fourth-best player on the team and one of the more positive defenders; so why is Kidd and his coaching staff so hesitant to put him in the starting lineup?
Surface-level analysis aside, you will see that there were valid reasons for the coaching staff’s hesitancy. Through seven games in the early NBA season, Josh Green has not made a compelling case to be the Mavericks’ starting small forward and, surprisingly, it is because of his defense.
The Mavericks have seemingly found their starting center of the future in Dereck Lively II, so the attention has turned to the starting small forward position. The spot is a tricky one to fill on this team for several reasons. Regarding the defensive side of the ball, the small forward needs to be adept at guarding the point of attack (POA) while having positional size to switch on bigger wings as needed. In theory, Green *should* work even with size concerns but his screen navigation leaves a lot to be desired, which is why the Mavericks have opted to slot Derrick Jones Jr. in that spot.
When defending a ball screen, the guard defender and the post defender need to be in lockstep to get a successful stop. Given the fact that we are trusting a rookie center with big minutes at center, it is imperative to give him as much help as possible at the POA. Green’s screen navigation issues were apparent from the first game of the young season against the San Antonio Spurs.
In the clip above, Green doesn’t get skinny enough when fighting over the screen. He gets hit with the screen because he lacks adequate anticipation of the screen. Lively does a good job of trying to contest the shot but Malaki Branham gets a good look at the midrange while Josh is out of the play.
Here, Green completely dies on the screen and it’s again up to Lively to get a good contest on the shot by Jeremy Sochan. Fortunately, Sochan missed the shot but because Lively had to step up and contest, it allowed the Spurs to crash the offensive glass.
One of the biggest issues with Green’s screen navigation is that he does not know how to take quality angles when fighting through a screen.
Green doesn’t get close enough to the offensive player’s hips and it leaves him trailing way behind the play. Dinwiddie misses the shot but again, with the big having to contest the shot, it leaves us susceptible to the opponent rebounding their misses.
There are a lot more examples to go through and I must emphasize that Green is not a bad defender. He excels in isolation and shows tremendous activity off the ball but if his screen defense does not improve it would be hard to justify a starting role for him on the team, especially if Jones is contributing offensively. The bright side is that Green is still only 22-years-old. It is highly likely that he will improve these areas of weakness and the Mavericks have bet on that probability as well.