This article is a guest post from Michael Pina, creator of the all-everything NBA blog Shaky Ankles. His work has been featured on Hardwood Paroxysm and linked to The Point Forward, Ball Don’t Lie and True Hoop. Follow him on Twitter @ShakyAnkles.
When Jeff Green has the ball, 99 times out of 100, there’s a physical advantage. He’s faster than almost every power forward in the league — allowing his face-up game to exploit lumbering monsters with blow bys off the dribble — and bigger than most threes, opening up post play that creates passing and scoring opportunities for orbiting teammates. Defensively you would guess this to be an adverse dilemma, but you would be wrong. Green has feet that could win a dance-off and an upper body chiseled down from a block of granite.
The trade that ripped Jeff Green from the only professional team he had ever known and dropped him in Boston was the most blindsided hit fans of both teams have taken in years. (For Oklahoma City it had no precedent.) In its aftermath national pundits dubbed it “The Perkins Deal.” Never “The Jeff Green Trade..
Normally when such a transaction is made, in every sport, it’s nicknamed after The Best Player involved. I know it’s difficult and possibly pointless, but throwing context, chemistry, and timing out the window, Jeff Green is that Best Player. He’s more versatile, athletic, and technically skilled than Kendrick Perkins; he has the type of talent to be a Sixth Man of the Year winner on this Boston Celtics team, but thanks to the sheer shock and abruptness of the deadline deal, Perkins is the one who everyone talks about.
It’s all about the big guy down low: the Thunder got tougher, now Ibaka can roam the lane and block shots from the weak side — and he’s better than Green anyway! Boston lost its identity while Oklahoma City found one seems to be the deal’s theme; this shouldn’t just motivate Jeff Green, it should piss him off. Badly. It should eat away at his inner soul, it should bother him like the most insatiable middle-of-the-back itch of his life.
He’s being called soft on Boston’s sports talk radio every 15 minutes and is playing with a pre-2009 Lamar Odom-like mentality; it’s vexing for many: Danny, Doc, Perkins’ old teammates/friends, and Celtics fans. But really, the one who needs to look in the mirror and wonder why such overbearing talent isn’t being put to its natural use is Jeff Green. These games right now are important for everybody, but individually on a financial, respect and reputation/stigma based context, no one needs them more than Jeff Green.
Through his first two Playoff games with Boston, he barely blipped on New York’s radar: 12 total shots taken for 10 points (one free throw converted), three rebounds, zero assists, zero steals, and six fouls. He had a little more of a presence in Game 3, but still missed more shots than he made and picked up 5 fouls.
Green isn’t just playing with the weight of Perkins on his shoulders, he’s a free agent after this season and how he plays right now will dictate how he’s perceived for the next stage of his young career. Green needs a role. Great, we all know that. But maybe it’s a different one than Ainge had in mind. Having him defend Carmelo Anthony for the first few quarters and allowing Paul Pierce to save energy for fourth quarter offense is huge, and there’s no doubt that should both Boston and Miami advance, Green will be assigned LeBron James duty for extended stretches, but on the other end let’s see him run free. Let’s see Jeff Green turn into a 24-year-old Gerald Wallace. Let’s see him bounce around the court, throw his body at the glass, run up and down in transition and get rewarded with beautiful opportunities from Rajon Rondo. That’s the role Green should have.
People compare him with James Posey and the sixth man role he had in Boston during their 2008 title run, but Jeff Green can do so much more; he can be a liberal Posey, knocking down shots but also creating his own offense and responsibly locking down the opposition’s star so his aging teammates needn’t worry. What Posey had that Green lacks, however, is simple: Confidence.
Posey won a ring with Miami before he joined Garnett, Pierce, and Allen in Boston. He had been there done that and understood more than anyone — save Kobe Bryant — what it took to win in that 2008 championship. Green doesn’t have the slightest clue, and that’s fine. Nobody expects it from him, and it isn’t why he was brought over. What he should do, though, is play fearless, and the only thing holding him back right now is himself, which is silly because statistically he’s held his own when given an opportunity.
According to Hoopdata.com, since coming to the Celtics, Green has the team’s highest field goal percentage from 16-23 feet with 51%. He has a lower percentage of shots assisted from 3-9 feet than Glen Davis and Kevin Garnett. (He’s second on the team in attempts per game from that distance, behind only Garnett.) His percentage of shots assisted from 10-15 feet dropped from 62.5% in OKC to 14.3% in Boston, which is very interesting.
The Celtics are a team built on discipline and execution. They rarely go for any isolation plays apart from Paul Pierce at the end of a quarter, Kevin Garnett on the baseline, or Glen Davis on the wing. Apart from that most of their offense is dictated by their defense’s ability to create turnovers and quick points in transition or complicated flex plays carried out by Rajon Rondo’s ingenious decision making. This shows Doc Rivers’ want and need in letting Green create some production on his own.
His usage percentage actually went up since coming to Boston, along with his true shooting percentage. Mostly everything else stayed the same, with rebounding numbers going down a bit, which is probably due to Boston’s defensive style of play that mostly prioritizes backwards retreat over board crashing — although in the playoffs they should rise for Green as he’s used more as a rebounding presence.
As the regular season came to a close and Boston began to rest their starters, Jeff Green stepped his game up. He took 33 shots, shot 43% from the floor, and grabbed 23 rebounds in those last two contests. But nobody remembers February through April once the season is over. It’s what occurs in the playoffs we mount on our mental plaques.
Jeff Green has at least two weeks, but more likely a month or two, to shape his reputation into that of a valuable championship contributor. Whether he does or not is the ultimate scale tipper: Can Green cash in or check out? Will the Celtics overcome age, expectations, and injuries to win their second title in four years? Only then will his name be inscribed in history books as the headlining piece of that maligned deadline deal.
Everyone will finally recognize Jeff Green as The Best Player involved.