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Josh Green is the big X-Factor in the Mavericks’ playoff dreams

Midway through the second quarter of a recent game between the Dallas Mavericks and Minnesota Timberwolves, Josh Green ducked his shoulder low and swiftly curled around a pair of off-ball screens. His defender, Jaylen Nowell, couldn’t stay attached because of how precisely Green maneuvered through those picks and refused to give Nowell an inch of space trailing behind.

As a result, Rudy Gobert switched onto Green to curtail an easy opportunity at the rim. That left the 6’4 Nowell to wrangle with 6’9 Christian Wood, who promptly received a pass, burrowed his shoulder into Nowell’s chest and nudged through him for a one-legged runner. All of it stemmed from Green’s diligence and motor. He flowed through those screens meticulously and vigorously. Minnesota had to surrender the mismatch and concede a bucket.

Green’s motor and attention to detail are two vital components of his third-year breakout. After finding some footing a season ago, the 22-year-old has emerged as a mainstay in Dallas’ rotation this season. He’s averaging 9.2 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game. As a rookie, Green’s shot 16 percent beyond the arc, touted a three-point rate of .269 and produced a true shooting percentage of 49.0. Today, those marks stand at 41.1 percent shooting from three, a 46.3 percent three-point rate, and a true shooting of 66.3 percent.

Following Dallas’ acquisition of Kyrie Irving, which saw Spencer Dinwiddie and Dorian Finney-Smith depart, his presence looms even grander. He’s logged 223 minutes in six post-trade games (37.2 per game) after tallying 22.7 minutes per night in 34 pre-trade outings. He’s also assumed a starting gig after largely adhering to a key reserve spot beforehand.

Green’s defense shone last year as well, but the offense proved untenable in high-leverage situations. Drilling 35.9 percent of his triples, he progressed from long range compared to his rookie campaign, though often remained hesitant and that mark was not prolific enough to invoke fear in defenses. Opposing teams would periodically station centers/bigs on him, deter his dribble-drive inclinations and muck up the entire offense. He only saw 32 total minutes throughout the Mavericks’ final 10 playoff games.

In 2022-23, he’s sought to remedy some of those issues. He’s much more willing from deep, remains a snappy, zealous slasher and has refined his floater (35 percent from 4-14 feet last year, 49 percent this year). When defenses ignore him, he’ll pop long balls or eat up the available space. If defenses rotate properly, he’s confident in firing away or burning hasty closeouts. His driving isn’t contained to chances off the catch either. Dallas deploys him in Motion Strong, lets him zoom downhill around handoffs, feeds him short roll looks and even empowers him to handle the ball occasionally. He’s also a keen cutter.

While Irving’s arrival has added a quick-hitting vibe to the Mavericks’ offense, Green provided a distinct nature in his rim pressure compared to the methodical Dinwiddie and Luka Doncic. Given Doncic is still the focal point, Green’s decisiveness is a stylistic jolt. Utilizing sturdy core strength, zippy straight-line speed and pliable midair contortion, he’s shooting 75 percent around the rim (94th percentile among wings) and capable of finishing in a variety of ways.

Not only can Green thrive individually upon the advantages his teammates typically prime for him, he’s a tremendous connective passer. Per Cleaning The Glass, his 0.67 assist-to-usage ratio ranks in the 60th percentile and he placed in 80th percentile or better his first two years. Slinging fastballs to and from various locations across the court, he’s more than qualified to assume a play-linking role in conjunction with his predominant play-finishing duties. Irving and Doncic are going to reliably compromise defensive shells. Green’s contributions help amplify the traits of those superstars, as any sound ancillary player should.

Doncic’s calculated nature is evidenced in Dallas’ 30th-ranked transition frequency. The team is first in half-court offensive rating and seventh overall, so that tendency doesn’t hamstring it much. Yet Green’s unwavering motor manifests in his fast-break punch. When he’s out there, the Mavericks’ transition rate spikes 4.8 percent and they average 26.8 more points per 100 possessions in transition. He shrewdly identifies vacant lanes, leaks out whenever possible and beams end to end like an 8-year-old who just heard the jingle of an ice cream truck.

Although they haven’t linked up a ton to this point, I anticipate he and Irving fashioning considerable synergy in the open floor as their time together advances. Dallas will never run a ton with Doncic at the helm, but Green embeds a staggering change of pace that catches the opposition off guard. He’s a jet engine on the break.

The dude legitimately ignites transition reps with sheer his athletic tools and effort. It’s a shock to the system for other teams. That occurrence isn’t confined to fast breaks. At least once or twice a game, something he accomplishes is rooted in his turbo-charged motor. He’s always trying to distinctly imprint himself on a possession.

Sometimes, that approach is leveraged against him. Generally, though, he’s a life jacket preserving touches for Dallas and a roadblock prematurely ending touches for opponents. He’s a playmaker by the broadest of definitions. It’s tough to sustainably operate like this and have it work to one’s benefit. Lawful chaos coursing through his veins, Green aims to prove otherwise.

Green’s defense initially earned him rotation minutes last season and continues to be the bedrock of his playing time; his offensive development has merely made it much more seamless to expand his role. He’s a spright and burly lateral mover, applies his torso well to curb dribble penetration or counter closeouts and is astutely positioned in help responsibilities.

How he zones up between two assignments on the perimeter is quite impressive and useful to extinguish fires started elsewhere. His hands are lively and dexterous, which help him routinely etch outcomes not attributed to his box score numbers. He’s aware off the ball and excels at complicating passing windows.

Dallas’ defense is 4.5 points better per 100 possessions when he’s on the court and he’s been its premier defender this year. Not many Mavericks perform closeouts well. Green is an exception. That dissonance helps underscore his necessity.

With Finney-Smith gone and Reggie Bullock struggling to regain his defensive form of 2021-22 at the moment, Green is the lone trusty wing defender in the rotation. Dallas doesn’t need to be a high-level defensive unit. Its playoff aspirations hinge on an elite offense, as has been the case ever since dealing Kristaps Porzingis last winter. But it cannot be a disaster defensively. Green is integral to that, as is Dwight Powell, along with Maxi Kleber in his eventual return from injury.

Green is a starter now. The Mavericks intend to play him a ton. The postseason represents a significant opportunity. Defensive-minded wings with shaky offensive credentials are usually marginalized in this context, especially amid deep runs. Green embodied that phenomenon in 2021-22.

Will shaky offensive credentials still be an apt label for him this spring? Does one season of effective floor-spacing and a renewed intermediate game reshape how defenses view him and how he’ll fare? If he’s treated as an afterthought again, can he knock down open triples and still deliver as a driver and facilitator?

Fair or not, there is much riding on his shoulders as a 22-year-old. The organization has rewarded his maturation with substantial credence, and he’s earned it. For numerous reasons, Dallas is a fascinating team to watch over the next few months. How Green handles his new spotlight and the rigors of playoff basketball are squarely among them.

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