There's no time in the NBA calendar quite like training camp. Every team's draft pick is looking great, the superstars are in the best of their lives, and that one player everyone is watching is set for a breakout season. How the storylines actually transpire requires the actual regular season to play out, but the optimism is high.
For the Dallas Mavericks, the talk of training camp has been the progression that Josh Green has displayed ahead of what will be his third NBA season. He is coming off a season averaging 4.8 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.2 assists but was fazed out from the team's rotation as their playoff run progressed. A significant jump in his impact could significantly impact how 2022-23 unfolds for Dallas if it occurs.
“Josh’s work is paying off,” Mavs coach Jason Kidd said. “I think if you ask him, his summer was big, he worked with the coaches and spent some time on his game. And you can see the payoff. But I think it’s just the tip of the iceberg for him. He’s just starting. He’s playing at a high level, and that’s good because we need him.”
Green had a chance to provide the Mavs with an impact in the postseason, but his lack of perimeter shooting consistency was often exploited. The Utah Jazz kept Rudy Gobert in the paint and left Green open in the corner — limiting what the Mavs could accomplish offensively in the half-court.
“I was old so they did put the five (center) on me because I couldn’t move,” Kidd said. “Just being able to share that with him – that’s going to change, because he’s going to make them pay for it.”
Green studied the film of his underwhelming postseason performance even though he described it as "hard to watch." He spent much of the offseason working out at Impact Basketball in Las Vegas, where he received consistent mentorship from Miami Heat guard Kyle Lowry.
“As much as I didn’t want to watch it, I watched it many times,” Green said. “It’s hard to watch, but at the same time, it’s a learning curve. I think you have to watch everything, the good and the bad. And obviously, that was bad. So ...”
The Jazz came out of the gate in their first-round playoff series daring Green to shoot. They often left him unguarded while the center roamed in the paint. It paid off early as Green shot 0-4 from deep in the playoff opener. It set the tone for the rest of the series that Green needed to make them pay to force an adjustment.
Green ultimately went on to shoot just 4-21 (19.0 percent) on catch-and-shoot jumpers (half-court) during the playoffs. His efficiency was by far the worst among all 62 players who attempted at least 20 of these shot attempts in the playoffs. Nothing else matters unless he can improve in this area.
When Green's shot wasn't falling, there was no shortage of examples of his reputation as a shooting liability hurting his team's offense. There wasn't any overcoming Green's negative impact on the Mavericks' floor spacing even when attempting to do so.
The Jazz often deployed a drop and ignored him when he was involved in screening actions. When moving off the ball, he was left open by the defense to prioritize showing more of a paint presence. Again, with Gobert and Hassan Whiteside anchoring Utah's defense at the time, it was important to pull them out of the paint.
Negative outcomes are not just limited to the possessions when Green is left wide open, and he misses the jumper. There were wasted possessions in the playoffs when his presence as a floor spacer wasn't fluid, resulting in some turnovers. Whether he was being left open so a rim protector could pre-rotate or just didn't move or shake up out of the corner, he has work to do to contribute in these situations.
While shooting is an obvious area of focus, Green also placed a strong emphasis on his ball handling. He understands the importance of being capable of being a shot creator and becoming a more consistent overall threat.
“The more I improve my game, the more it’s going to help out the team,” Green said. “And that’s my goal, to help the team out as much as I can, whatever it is. I just want to make sure I can go out there and be a force.
“Ballhandling was my biggest thing, being comfortable having the ball in my hands and creating my own shot. I haven’t been confident, I think, in games. I just need to be consistent with my shot.”
After the departure of Jalen Brunson in free agency, the Mavs have made it clear that more players will be relied on to help initiate the action in their bench unit. Green and Frank Ntilikina have been two names emphasized as options.
“I thought Frank and Josh played well for us last year,” Kidd said. “(Josh is) a guy that we truly believe has improved. He had a great year for us last year and has worked on his game this year, so we’re going to ask him to do a little bit more playmaking and handling the ball.
“Frank’s been in this league (for five years), and he’s run a team before (with the New York Knicks). So we’re going to lean on those two to do that.”
By establishing himself as a legitimate shooting threat, Green would open more chances to attack off the catch for favorable outcomes. He's displayed the ability to glide through the air and convert on tough finishes when attacking in these situations. Drawing a tight closeout creates these chances and being respected as a shooter is where it starts.
Green has a legitimate passing ability that typically isn't found in a role player. Whether he's making a read and delivering an accurate ball to a cutter or shooter, or attacking baseline and swinging it to the weak-side, he can do a bit of everything. When playing alongside a superstar playmaker in Luka Doncic or simply being a key part of a plug-and-play lineup, having role players capable of continuing the chain reaction of ball movement goes a long way.
Another layer that Green presents to a half-court offense is the ability to counter the defense loading up by cutting. Whether it's making a 45-cut from the wing, a backdoor cut from the corner or flashing to make himself available, he times his movement well. When needed, he can execute tough finishes in the paint, too.
As Green progresses, it would be a significant bonus if he can find success playing out of ball screens or handoffs. There should be a significant amount of floor spacing in the bench unit with Christian Wood and Maxi Kleber being shooting threats. It starts with the defense have to respect his jumper is where it starts. If the on-ball defender has to go over the screen or handoff, Green has the initial advantage to attack.
A common sentiment about Green is that the 2021-22 season was essentially his first real NBA campaign playing since he only played 445 total minutes in his rookie campaign. There has been a noticeable difference in his aggression in training camp, which Mavs assistant coach Jared Dudley
“He’s catching and shooting from the wing, from the corner. He’s taking the blow and throwing the blow, offensively, to be able to get to the basket. You’ll see a huge jump from Josh Green.”
Green put his progression on display for fans to see when he made plays when the NBA's Real Training Camp offered a behind-the-scenes look at one of the Mavs' practices. His performance in preseason games will be the next indication before the regular season unfolds.
You can follow Grant Afseth on Twitter at @GrantAfseth.
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