Controversial contract aside, Jeff Green might be the most polarizing player in the entire NBA. Now getting his feet wet in a sixth NBA season, Green has the body, athleticism, and technical skill to be a very effective contributor on a championship-caliber team. But idealized ability and tangible production are two very different things, and so far Green's tenure with the Boston Celtics can best be described as an inefficient, contradicting frustration.
If you're using advanced statistics to judge him, pretty much everything about his basketball-related influence has been negative. The Boston Celtics score almost three fewer points per 100 possessions when Green is on the court, and give up an astounding seven more points per 100 possessions on the defensive end. Obviously not good news.
Green's PER is currently glued to single digit terrain (8.6), and his true shooting percentage (48.0 percent) is five percentage points lower than the league average for forwards who play at least 20 minutes per game.
Here are two shot charts to help show how poor he's performing in two separate situations. The first is when the game's overall scoring margin sits between one and five points.
And the second shows how he's shooting in the fourth quarter.
Green entered the league six years ago as a facilitator, but the Celtics are asking him to run as far as possible from that reputation. He's averaging 0.7 assists per game, which shouldn't be viewed as a good thing no matter what the Celtics offensive game plan reads. Right now his role resembles more what Doc Rivers likely had planned for Jason Terry: an immediate scorer off the bench who could create his own shot off the dribble.
Green's turnover percentage is 14.5, the highest since his rookie season, and a major reason why has been his lack of consistent aggression. Several times this season he's received the ball in the post with a subpar defender on his hip. With his four teammates cleared out to give space, Green has all the room, and time, to make his move, but for whatever reason, he doesn't.
Right now he’s averaging a 2.4 shots at the rim per game, and making 52.9 percent of them (both career lows). If he's to increase his positive impact on the Celtics offense, he'll need to boost these numbers significantly—he's flashed moments of improvement, but has yet to string together a series of games that would indicate a "refined" player.
That just about sums up all the negativity surrounding Jeff Green this season, but there's a reason Danny Ainge (one of the league's smartest general managers) gave him a long-term contract normally reserved for second-tier stars. It sounds strange, because almost every other relevant metric we have indicates less Green equals a more efficient basketball team, but the ball in his hands can still be viewed as a good thing.
The more Green shoots the ball, the better off the Celtics are—which is so weird because he’s barely hitting 40 percent of his shots (30 percent on the road and 26.3 percent from behind the three-point line!).
The Celtics are 4-1 in games when he scores in double figures, and 4-5 when he doesn’t. More importantly, Green has averaged 2.3 more shots and 1.6 more free-throw attempts in wins than in losses. His usage rate is 23.7 percent in wins and 17.1 percent in losses.
Despite all this data (lifted solely from this season: a small sample size) that says Green isn’t a good NBA player, contextually he's in a perfect position to fill an integral role with a really good basketball team. He’s important to them because he’s capable of doing things not a lot of Celtics can do, especially on the offensive end, where he ranks third on the team behind Rajon Rondo and Leandro Barbosa, with 39 percent of his made field goals coming unassisted.
Green is talented enough to take care of himself, and that’s important for a guy asked to carry Boston’s second unit.
An argument could be made that advanced statistics aren't able to tell the whole story of how important Green’s presence has been this year. When he’s aggressive on offense—especially in small ball lineups that utilize his versatility—opponents are forced to play units they don’t normally deploy, and the impact is more than noticeable.
For example, when Green is playing power forward beside Paul Pierce, the Celtics are scoring 108.2 points per 100 possessions, a number good for the fourth-most efficient basketball team in the league.
And he may be missing an alarming number of shots at the rim, but that hasn't stopped him from picking spots to be aggressive towards the basket. Chris Wilcox and Pierce are the only Celtics scoring a higher percentage of their points from the free-throw line (Green’s at 23 percent).
He was crucial in the team’s biggest win of the season on November 23rd against Oklahoma City, but two days later Green was a ghost, as the Celtics needed an extra five minutes to defeat a pitiful Orlando Magic team in Florida.
Sometimes he drives, sometimes he hesitates. Sometimes he attacks, sometimes he doesn't want the ball. Not much about Green is making sense right now. He possesses all the tools necessary to dominate opposing bench units, but so far he's yet to figure out how to use them. Until then, the word "polarizing" might be too forgiving.