Boston Celtics Can't Afford Jeff Green to Be Just an Average NBA Player
The first came with time winding down in regulation when Green slapped a Jason Terry misfire directly out to Paul Pierce, who then knocked down a game tying three-pointer. The second came in overtime, with Green failing to box out Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova on a missed free throw and allowing a loose-ball scrum that ended with an elbow to his face and Milwaukee retaining possession.
These two plays are a microcosm of Green's tenure with the Celtics: They would not have been in position to win the game had he not made an extraordinary play on the offensive glass, but his inability to make the more routine rebound later in overtime cost them any chance at completing the comeback and winning the game.
This is the Jeff Green that Boston has tussled with all season long: an inconsistent backup forward who's shown flashes of brilliant play on one night, only to follow it up with a "what was that?" clunker a few games later.
As one of a few players on the Celtics roster who is capable of getting better within the team's system throughout the season, Green's development is absolutely critical if Boston wants to contend late in the playoffs. While his contract is certainly higher than anyone (except him) would like for it to be, his importance as a versatile clog who allows Doc Rivers to create matchup problems against almost every other team in the league can't be overlooked.
This season the Celtics are a better team with Green on the bench than on the court, scoring 5.7 fewer points per 100 possessions on offense and allowing one more point per 100 possessions on defense. If Green plays terribly down the stretch, it shouldn't be a surprise to see the team flounder along with him. He needs to produce, contribute regularly and, most importantly, make defenses strategize to stop him.
Moving forward, here are two areas of Green's game that could prove crucial as the season progresses.
Varying Methods of Offensive Attack
When he first came to the Celtics in 2011, Green was primarily utilized in post-up situations. It was Doc Rivers' way of incorporating his new piece into the second unit and making him a prime scoring option on the fly—before he completely understood the playbook and slower offensive scheme than what he was used to in Oklahoma City.
This season the Celtics have put Green in the post, but considerably less than that first half-season stint two years ago. The reason? He allows mismatches to form and punishes opponents when they do. (You know Green's effective when the other team is forced to make a lineup change due to what's going on on the court.)
Behind a full training camp and intrinsic need to include him in as many sets as possible, the Celtics have experimented with many different ways to best get Green going offensively.
He isn't good enough of a ball-handler to run a pick-and-roll, and with more than one teammate possessing an elite ability to knock down mid-range shots, running him off screens doesn't make too much sense either.
One possible solution moving forward could be for Green to really wreak havoc in transition. Off missed shots and turnovers, he's a serious weapon in the open court, and finding him before the defense gets a chance to properly set itself can work wonders.
According to Synergy, Green is just 11 of 20 in fast-break opportunities this season, but such a low percentage is hard to fathom when you take into account his athletic ability.
According to Synergy, Green is one of the 10 best isolation defenders in the league, allowing just 0.48 points per possession with opponents shooting a collective 4-of-23. It's far too soon in the season—and late in his career—to label Green a "shutdown" defender, but these numbers are significant when you look at each individual play and who it was against.
Green's blend of size and speed allow the Celtics to switch without consequence when his man comes to screen for a ball-handler. Almost all of the isolation stops came in these situations and no matter who Green took on, he ended up holding his own.
Here are two clips that result in Green facing off against a pair of the quickest guards in the NBA.
Here's a clip of the Celtics choosing to go small, resulting in Green matched up as a power forward against Philadelphia's Spencer Hawes.
Having a bench player exist as your greatest X-factor on a game-to-game basis isn't a recipe for consistent success, but right now that's where the Boston Celtics find themselves. While greater issues such as rebounding and rim protection could still be solved in a trade, the versatile advantage that Green creates is Boston's best weapon on both ends of the court.
If he can't increase his production in the post and maintain his solid defensive impact in space, the Celtics will lose a source of major strength. And their status as a legitimate contender will inevitably crumble, that's how important Jeff Green is.
All statistics used in this article are from NBA.com/Stats and Synergy Sports. They do not include Boston's December 27 game against the Los Angeles Clippers.
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