What Will Jeff Green Be Able to Give the Boston Celtics From Here on Out?Jeff Green is 26 years old. He was drafted nearly six years ago, in July of 2007.Green is discussed as a key figure, a foundational piece along with Rajon Rondo and Avery Bradley, for the post-KG-Pierce Boston Celtics. He is regarded in this way more for his potential than for the player he is today or the player he has been in his nearly five full NBA seasons.This is noteworthy in a league in which conventional wisdom suggests an NBA player is who he is going to be by the time he reaches 24.There are a variety of reasons Green may be a worthy exception to that rule. Perhaps most obviously, Green missed an entire season after undergoing major heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurysm. But Green may also be getting a longer leash than most because he spent much of his time in Oklahoma City playing out of position. With the transcendently talented Kevin Durant occupying the small forward spot nearly 40 minutes a night, Green logged the majority of his minutes at power forward. While he still posted respectable numbers (about 15-16 points per game, 45 percent shooting and 4-5 rebounds a night), Green struggled on the defensive end, where he was routinely outmuscled and outmatched by bigger opponents. Perhaps most importantly however, is that during those three-plus seasons in Seattle/OKC, Green was never able to focus on learning how to play the 'three' in the NBA.When Jeff Green was traded to the Celtics in February of 2011, he was asked to come off the bench for the first time since his rookie season. (And even back then, Green started 52 of 80 games.) To say it was a difficult transition to Boston would be unfair to Green, and to the word difficult. Not only was Green being asked to adjust to a new role on a new team in a new town, he was being asked to do so on the Boston Celtics, a hyper-competitive, fiercely proud and desperately urgent team in the midst of a title hunt. In the locker room, the Celtics were trying to recover from losing Kendrick Perkins, who had grown from a chubby teen with an awkward gate into a snarling defensive menace over eight seasons in Boston, becoming the best friend of the team’s mercurial point guard and a fan favorite along the way. That Green was, ostensibly, the reason Perkins was gone, should not be understated. On the court, Green was thrown into Boston’s notoriously complex system and asked to produce immediately.Then, of course, there is that whole business with the major heart surgery. After missing all of last year, Green was back for game one of the 2012-2013 season, though doctors repeatedly told the Celtics that he would not be at full strength until early March (in a sport that is typically only played until mid-April).So, fine, he’s had some legitimate reasons for having not reached his potential. But the reason coaches, scouts and analysts are so willing to overlook what Green has been so far – and drool over what he could become – was finally on full display Monday night against the Heat.Surgery has done nothing to diminish his breathtaking athleticism, which is perhaps best exhibited in what is becoming Green’s signature play: Green receives the ball behind the 3-point line, turns and squares up toward his defender. With just one dribble and three impossibly long-but-quick strides Green is already within range of the rim. Then, as if his final stride finds a trampoline in the parquet, all the incredible horizontal distance he has been covering immediately turns vertical and Green soars skyward. His enormous hands palm the ball with ease as his arm cocks back, then up, then down with such sudden force while many in the crowd are still on their way up, out of their seats in anticipation of a play that has already happened.It’s fun and it’s exciting. And it feels like it should happen a lot more than it does.
Simply put, Green is at his best when he gets to the rim. When he can’t do that, corner (or really, sideline) 3’s are his next best friend. The problem with Green is, he just hasn’t been aggressive enough in doing either. That is, of course, until Monday night happened.[caption id="attachment_58831" align="alignleft" width="179"] Jeff Green was able to attack the basket and score at the rim against the Miami Heat (photo credit: AP/Michael Dwyer)[/caption]Against the Heat, Green made at least 10 shots at the rim and forced the Heat to foul on about a dozen more drives. He had so many attempts from such a small area that ESPN’s shot chart simply couldn’t record them all.Before Monday night's Heat game, on the season, 235 of his 603 shots (39 percent) have come from within the restricted area. Of those 235 attempts, he’s made 63.8 percent. Green is also excellent from the corners, where’s taken 87 3-point attempts. From the left corner, Green’s made a ridiculous 52.2 percent and is shooting a respectable 39 percent from the right.But Green is still taking too many shots in the paint outside the restricted area, where he’s made only 22 of 84. More importantly, however, more than 40 percent of his shots come from mid range, where he’s shooting just 37.5 percent.Monday night, Green took 21 shots. Not a single one was from mid range.The question now is: was Monday’s performance just the latest and most brilliant glimpse of what the future could hold for Jeff Green? Or did it mark, at long last, the realization of Green’s lofty potential?Was this another glimpse of future-Jeff Green? Or has the future arrived?
Of course, only time will tell, but the road is now clear. And it’s a road that leads straight to the basket.
***We’re still making our way through March, but by almost any and every measure, February was Jeff Green’s best month. He averaged the most minutes (31.3) and points (15.3) of any month this season. That’s not entirely surprising, of course. It stands to reason that the more a player is on the floor, the more points he is likely going to score. Green’s production however, was not simply a product of increased opportunity as he also posted his highest field goal, 3-point field goal and free throw percentages, (.512, .414, .863) respectively.
And yet, Green has still shown a frustrating lack of consistency. He stumbled in the final two games of February shooting a combined 7-22 with just five total rebounds. He bounced back with two solid outings against Golden State and Philadelphia, scoring 18 and 16 points respectively in back-to-back wins but over his next four games, Green shot a combined 16-47 (34%) from the field.The low-point came in the two-game stretch against the Thunder and Bobcats as the Celtics dropped both games. Against his former team, Green went just 2-11 with two rebounds and not a single assist, block or steal in 28 minutes. His two makes – from two and four feet. He attempted only one corner 3.Perhaps even worse was Green’s 4-11, three-rebound performance against the lowly Bobcats. Looking to rest their aging veterans, the Celtics sat Paul Pierce and limited Garnett to just 21 minutes. Jeff Green got the start in place of Pierce and in his audition for assuming Pierce role when the Captain eventually does move on, Green was an utter failure. The Celtics played undisciplined, uninspired basketball and got run out of the gym by a truly terrible Bobcats team, who beat up Boston 100-74. In 30 minutes Green made just four baskets on 11 attempts and grabbed three rebounds for a startlingly bad -17 plus/minus. Three of his four baskets came - you guessed it - at the rim.In the subsequent two games Green was solid, even good. Against the Raptors, he helped the Celtics snap out of their funk with 20 points, and a box score Pu Pu platter of six boards, three assists, two steals, and a block. And on Saturday, Green stepped up in the rematch win over the Bobcats, knocking down 5 of 9 from the field with five rebounds and four assists. So why has Green been turning it around? He’s using that great length and athleticism to get to the basket. In the win over Toronto, seven of Green’s 14 shot attempts came within a few feet of the rim. On those shots at the rim, Green went 5-7. He went 2-7 from everywhere else.On the season, 62.2 percent of his shots come within three feet of the basket. He’s making 63.8 percent of them. Corner 3’s account for 23 percent of his shot total and he’s shooting an impressive 43.4 percent from those zones but he struggles from nearly every other distance. Green is 22 of 84 in the paint (non-restricted area). And on mid range shots, which account for more than 40 percent of all his field goal attempts, Green is shooting just 37.5 percent.Slice the data a little differently and the story stays the same. He’s only taken 30 shots from 10-14 feet but he’s made 15 of them. By comparison, he’s shot twice that many from 5-9 feet and only made 16. And from 15-19 feet, Green has taken 78 shots and made just 26. Credit goes to Green and the Celtics coaching staff for recognizing this, as he has taken the vast majority of his shots at the rim or from the corners.And that was BEFORE Monday night's masterpiece against the Miami Heat.At some point soon, the talk will inevitably (and finally) move on from the realm of what could be to what is. The Celtics hope that when that day comes, it will be because Green has arrived as a consistent force commensurate with his prodigious abilities. All statistics were provided by NBA.com unless noted otherwise