Before we kick off sequel week, let’s introduce you to someone I’m very pleased to announce as a new member of the ClipperBlog staff: Fred Katz. Here’s Fred with his debut post on Willie Green. Enjoy. -D.J.
“The Clippers don’t have a system. They just let Chris Paul go out there and run a pick-and-roll. If he doesn’t like that, it’s a free-for-all unless Paul can do something spectacular.” – The Average 2012 Clipper Observer
It’s about hidden plays. That’s Los Angeles Clipper basketball. You don’t realize what is about to happen, because frankly, no one ever really knows what Chris Paul is going to do. It’s a hidden play and it has everything to do with the greatness of Chris Paul.
Contrary to popular belief, the Clippers aren’t a running team. They’re not elite in transition, at least they weren’t last year. The Clips were the 24th most efficient team in transition in 2011-12, hardly anything to brag about. Meanwhile, they had the second-most efficient offense in the pick-and-roll and the seventh most efficient offense in both spot-up shooting situations and coming off screens. That screams half-court offense. And the Clippers are damn good at executing those hidden plays in the half-court set.
One issue though: The Clips have a completely different roster in the half-court offense in the upcoming season. Last season’s offense was predicated around Chris Paul driving to the hoop and finding three-point shooters on the outside. Neil Olshey surrounded Paul with quality shooters aplenty: Nick Young, Chauncey Billups, Caron Butler, Mo Williams, and Randy Foye. Now, though, three of those five players are departed and that doesn’t even account for the fact that Billups could miss the beginning of the season.
The Clippers tried to fill holes with players who aren’t known as elite knock-down shooters from three. Jamal Crawford, Grant Hill, and Lamar Odom – while they are all capable of being valuable contributors to a winning team – are seldom known for their prowess from three-point land and that’s exactly why getting rid of Sofoklis Schortsanitis was so essential to the L.A. offseason.
All right, so the big news wasn’t necessarily the eradication of Schortsanitis – though I’m sure Ralph Lawler was more than happy not to have to pronounce that name on a regular basis – but it was what they got for him: Willie Green, or something that might become more commonly known as Randy Foye 2.0.
Green will most likely step into the shoes of Foye to fill his role from last season. They are similarly sized and possess comparable skill sets: spot-up shooting and guarding quality offensive guards. Foye is younger, he is a bigger name, he has stronger career numbers than Green and of course, Green didn’t have the privilege of playing in a four-guard set at Villanova, but Willie J. Green actually makes more sense for this Clipper team.
Remember how that Clipper offense works. It’s all about Chris Paul and those “hidden plays”. Even with Paul off the court and with Eric Bledsoe (hopefully) getting more playing time in the upcoming season, the offense shouldn’t change all too much from Green’s perspective. Bledsoe is a (sometimes reckless) slasher. Defenses collapse in on him and that means someone who is taking over for Foye’s role from last season – standing around the perimeter, waiting for someone else to make a play for him – could benefit from playing with a guard of that style.
Now, let’s get into the numbers because as nobody once said, “Numbers can prove anything”. Let’s assume Green works in the outside shooter role, acting more as a Foye-type than a Nick Young-type because of his role on the defensive end as well as the fact that he won’t be chucking up fade-away jumpers out of the triple team with 18 seconds left on the shot clock.
Foye didn’t create much for himself at all last season, especially in the second half. Most of his damage came from his three-point shot above the break. He shot 39.6 percent from that spot, but 83.5 percent of those shots were assisted. From the corner – where almost all shots are assisted on any team – Foye shot 35.7 percent. Naturally, every single one of those shots was assisted by a teammate.
Check out those numbers on Green, though, and Clipper fans might enjoy what they see. Though he wasn’t nearly the volume shooter that Foye was last season, he did shoot 37.1 percent on threes above the break, with 95.7 percent of those shots coming on assists. The corner three was where Green really excelled, hitting 54 percent of those shots.
That corner-three production is something the Clippers desperately need, especially with the loss of Nick Young, who is one of the best corner-three shooters in the NBA, to which Lionel Hollins could probably attest.
So we’ve established Green was more efficient last year. I’m waiting for the Green detractors or the Foye lovers or the stereotypical contrarians to get red in the face, clench a fist and spit out,
“YEAH?? SO WHAT?! GREEN ATTEMPTED 2.1 THREES PER GAME LAST YEAR! FOYE ATTEMPTED 5.1 THREES PER GAME LAST YEAR! THAT’S TWO AND A HALF TIMES AS MANY THREES! GREEN WON’T PUT UP THOSE NUMBERS SHOOTING AS MUCH AS FOYE!!!”
My response: First off, nice math. Second off, take playing time into account. Foye played more minutes than Green last year so the per-36 minutes numbers actually come out to 7.0 threes for Foye and 4.4 threes for Green – a big difference, but not as large as it might superficially appear. And third – and most importantly – check out how those shots happened.
A player like Green (and a player like Foye) needs a good point guard. They don’t create for themselves, but if someone can get them open all of a sudden, it’s a different game. They turn into totally different players. It’s no coincidence that Randy Foye had one of his best ever shooting years in his first year playing with Chris Paul. Paul assisted on 83 of Foye’s made field goals last season. That’s about a third of all the field goals he made all year.
To put that in perspective and realize the difference an elite point guard can make on a shooter like Foye or Green, no Foye teammate had ever assisted on more than 38 of his field goals in a single season. That player? Sebastian Telfair, who hardly wears the badge of dominance. Meanwhile, those 38 assists accounted for only 9.5 percent of Foye’s made field goals that season.
Throw Randy Foye on a team where Jeff Teague and Kirk Hinrich do most of the ball-handing and you might end up with the volume shooting Green had last season. Jannero Pargo (23 assists) was Green’s main assist partner last season. Hinrich assisted on only 17 of his shots, Teague on only 13. To put that in perspective, the hardly shifty Vladimir Radmanovic assisted on 14 Green field goals last season. It wasn’t easy being Green. There is proof of that. Throw him on the same team as Chris Paul and suddenly, he’s significantly more comfortable.
The tale on the defensive end of the floor has a similar moral: advantage Green. One of the Clippers’ main problems last season was guarding against the pick-and-roll. Their defensive strategy seemed to be inconsistent throughout their 66 games so the offseason mentality of the three-headed monster currently running the Clippers’ front office seemed to turn into: “Let’s get some guys who just know how to do it on their own”.
Both Foye and Green guarded against the pick-and-roll in a similar percentage of their defensive possessions last season. Foye however, was ranked as the 177th best pick-and-roll defender in the league, allowing 0.89 points per possession to the situational ball-handler. Green, however, was significantly better, allowing only 0.78 points per possession against the pick-and-roll last season.
Green is a defensive upgrade in other aspects, as well. About 60 to 65 percent of all NBA plays are either out of the pick-and-roll, isolation, or spot-up shooting. In each of those situations last year, Green was better than Foye, especially guarding against spot-up jumpers, where Foye was one of the worst rated defenders in the NBA.
Foye was an integral player last year, especially in the second half when he completely caught fire from three, but the fact that the Clippers were able to go out and get a player who will be able to more competently man smaller opposing guards is an improvement for the upcoming season. Add in the fact that Green completely fits into the Chris Paul mold and the Clippers’ “hidden plays” become that much more effective. They turned someone that was potentially useless to them into a legitimate 2012-13 asset and a genuine Foye/Young hybrid replacement. The only problem is that we now don’t get to brainstorm Sofoklis Schortsanitis nicknames.