clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The Pelicans ended up with the better small forward

Do you think Jeff Green is heads and shoulders above Quincy Pondexter? It may be April Fool's Day, but this is a legitimate question and the answer may surprise you.

Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

On January 12th, 2015, the day a three team trade was completed between Boston, Memphis and New Orleans, the vast majority of opinion applauded the Grizzlies the loudest. The collective wisdom believed that team had finally landed a legitimate starting shooting forward, Jeff Green, to replace Tayshaun Prince's woeful production.

From Michael Pina:

Green is the best player in this three-team deal by a mile, and Memphis badly needed someone with his size, versatility and skill-set to fill its cratering hole on the wing.

On a radio show with Chris Vernon, Bill Simmons stated that the trade was an A+ for the Grizzlies. He went on to quip, "Memphis is the safest team out in the West."

Numbers Don't Agree

Well, to burst these bubbles and a number of others, it hasn't worked out that way. For starters, just have a look at the performances of the Grizzlies and Pelicans before and after the trade.

W/L record OFF Rtg DEF Rtg NET Rtg
MEM before Green 26-11 (70.3%) 105.1 102.0 +3.1
MEM after Green 25-13 (65.8%) 101.1 98.4 +2.8
NOP before Pondexter 18-19 (48.6%) 105.9 106.0 -0.1
NOP after Pondexter 21-15 (58.3%) 104.5 103.0 +1.5

From the data, the Grizzlies have moved in a slightly downward trajectory while the Pelicans have improved significantly. Who's to say exactly why Memphis has slipped but the biggest takeaway should be that the addition of Green doesn't appear to have resulted in some meaningful gain for that team. (This will become more apparent in a moment.)

Wondering about individual statistics? The head to head comparison is rather similar on the surface.

Per 36 averages PPG 2FG% 3PM 3FG% TRB AST STL BLK TOV PER
Jeff Green (MEM) 15.8 43.5% 1.4 38.8% 5.2 2.1 0.7 0.5 1.2 14.8
Quincy Pondexter (NOP) 11.5 48.4% 1.9 41.5% 4.0 1.8 0.5 0.6 1.1 11.3

At a minimum, Green was expected to provide offense after being the leading scorer on the Boston Celtics. Since his arrival in Memphis, he's averaged the fourth most points behind Gasol, Randolph and Conley. That's perfectly fine, but the troubling aspect has been his efficiency from inside the arc -- Pina did mention style issues could rain on the parade (slow pace/lack of transition).

But for this relationship to go as planned, Green needs to make a serious stylistic adjustment. The Celtics are one of the fastest teams in the league. They launch threes with freedom and borderline recklessness. Memphis ranks 27th in pace. Their attack is predicated on low-post play, feeding the big fellas and capably orbiting their dominance with able-minded ball-handlers and (theoretically) a few shot-makers/creators on the outside.

Sure enough, Green has not enjoyed nearly as many easy points in Memphis, and with Gasol and Randolph occupying the paint, the driving lanes are much narrower than they were in Boston. On the bright side, his three-point percentage has risen and that's because of the increase in open looks. On the Celtics, as a go-to scorer, he often took a number of bad shots, such as when the shot clock was winding down, thus suppressing his efficiency.

Meanwhile, Pondexter has filled his role as an offensive floor spacer to a tee.

Not coincidentally, Quincy Pondexter just enjoyed his best three-point shooting month of his career (48.5%).

Despite being much lower on the offensive totem pole, Pondexter has attempted more 3 pointers (3.6) than Green (3.1) and has been decidedly more efficient from all parts of the floor as reflected by a superior 58.3 TS% to Green's 53.1 TS%.

Where it really starts to get interesting is with the advanced numbers. First, let's have a look at the On/Off numbers posted on NBA Stats.

Green ON 101.5 103.3 -1.8 48.0% 75.9%
Green OFF 101.5 93.1 +8.4 48.7% 76.1%
Pondexter ON 102.5 102.8 -.3 49.5% 74.9%
Pondexter OFF 107.7 103.2 +4.5 50.9% 74.6%

This data is mind-boggling! The Grizzlies improvement in Net Rating is by over 10 points when Jeff Green sits!!! His offensive abilities have had absolutely no positive effect on that side of the ball, but defensively, the disparity is shocking. Tell me, how many times have you heard Jeff Green's defense is noteworthy, that he's one of the few players in this league that do a solid job on LeBron James?

Conversely, Pondexter hasn't been anywhere close to the same drain, especially defensively. Just have a look at some of these numbers from NBA SavantESPN Real Plus/Minus and Layne Vashro's Four Factor Ratings.

Jeff Green 45.3% (MEM) -4.62 -2.20 -2.42 -2.08 -1.25 -0.84
Quincy Pondexter 45.4% (NOP) -2.44 -1.54 -0.90 .46 1.24 -0.78

Jeff Green is in the bottom 5 (81/85) for RPM among all shooting forwards in the league. His Four Factor Rating is the worst mark on the Grizzlies.

On the other hand, Pondexter's RPM hovers in the middle of all shooting guards (59/98) and he has the 4th best FFR Net on the Pelicans. Compared to Green, his numbers shine defensively as he's got the 3rd best FFR DEF on the team, sitting only behind Anthony Davis and Omer Asik.

The Cherry

Quincy Pondexter has become the 3-and-d player the Pelicans have so desperately needed after Luke Babbitt and Darius Miller failed in that role earlier in the season. His locker room contributions have been equally as important as he's emerged as one of the leaders of the team. The greatest part is that he's under contract for 3 more seasons with the cost never eclipsing 4 million dollars.

Contrarily, Jeff Green's addition to the Grizzlies has not resulted in a single iota of improvement anywhere. There were a number of writers who didn't expect solid gains, but they all figured Green should still easily eclipse Tayshaun Prince's contributions. From Kevin Pelton:

Here's the good news: Green doesn't have to even be average to upgrade the Grizzlies. For all their efforts to replace Prince, they were still playing the veteran 24 minutes per game because his size was unique on the roster. Prince was the biggest player in Dave Joerger's frontcourt rotation and Memphis' best option for matching up with stretch 4s. (Jon Leuer brings the stretch element on offense but not on D.) Green steps immediately into those roles and does so as a better option than Prince.

Well, what if I told you that it's been so bad that Green's On/Off numbers are worse than what Prince had in Memphis? That it's the same story with Real Plus/Minus? But -- here's the kicker -- the cost for such a lateral move of production came at a cost of two draft picks including a first rounder.

Memphis also sends a 2015 second-round pick to New Orleans and a protected future first-round pick to Boston.

Green has a player option for next year, so theoretically he could walk at the end of this season. Bill Simmons (in the link at the start of this article) believes he will do just that because he'll be able to fetch well over 10 million a season. Thus, if the Grizzlies don't re-sign him nor win the championship, this trade will go down as a very expensive and failed 1/2 season rental. The worst case scenario?

The pick, obviously, is a concern. Trading picks is how you not only compromise your future ability to improve in desperate situations, but honestly, the bigger cost is in PR. Teams get mocked for having to give up good picks in bad years because that's when you need them, and it makes you look short-sighted. Think of Charlotte with the pick they sent to Chicago for Tyrus Thomas, or the Knicks in pretty much every other year.

But Memphis' evaluation of the pick is a little complicated. For one, it won't be conveyed until at least 2019 because of a previous pick which is currently in the hands of Denver (after being sent to Cleveland). Both picks are protected but the most likely scenario is that the Grizzlies give up a pick in 2017, two years from now, and then two years later.

If Marc Gasol leaves this summer, Zach Randolph turns into a pumpkin, the team is then forced to trade Mike Conley to save his soul, and the entire thing turns into a rebuilding project... then yeah, Memphis is in trouble. They'll owe picks they'll need and it will be disappointing and frustrating for fans. This is assuming they don't win the NBA title this year, which, while possible, can never be counted on because you need luck in any given year and the Grizzlies play in the Western Conference Death Match.

Sobering Reality

Jeff Green's production has been given a pass at every turn because he was ultimately supposed to surpass Tayshaun Prince's ineptitude. As a number of metrics have shown, that hasn't exactly happened. Instead, David Joerger is still searching on how best to make use of Green as evidenced by a reserve role in 4 of the Grizzlies last 7 games.

Memphis had the best shooting forward of the bunch, Quincy Pondexter, but I'm yet to see it mentioned anywhere. One that costs close to 3 times less, one that is guaranteed for 3 more years, and one that didn't cost several future draft picks.

I'm not mentioning Fletch's tweet for any disparaging purposes (heck I figured Green should have outplayed both Prince and Pondexter), but it's extraordinary to see the exact opposite scenario has occurred: Memphis helped a division rival get better, the New Orleans Pelicans.

And lost in all of this? It's yet another deserving feather in Dell Demps' cap.