The Boston Celtics have thrived without Rajon Rondo, and Jeff Green is a huge reason why. Since Rondo was ruled out with a season-ending ACL tear, the C's have gone 8-3.
The team's improvement actually begins with a guy who doesn't even start: combo forward Jeff Green.
How has Jeff Green fared without Rajon Rondo?
Jeff Green has led the Celtics in scoring in three of the 11 games without Rondo. In the loss to Denver, Green had a team-high 20 points, but the C's starting frontcourt struggled. Paul Pierce, Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett shot a combined 9-of-31 from the floor.
As imperative as Green's scoring is, the Celtics need a well-rounded effort from their entire team to win without their All-Star point guard.
Since Rondo went down, Green has indeed stepped up his scoring. The combo forward is averaging 14.4 points per game, which is nearly four points higher than his season average of 10.6 per game. Over the span, Green has shot 56-of-116 (48.2 percent) from the floor.
This, too, is an improvement in his efficiency. On the season, Green has shot 44.8 percent from the floor on just 8.4 shots per game. Comparatively, without Rondo, Green has averaged over 10 shots per game.
Green's role has increased in the Celtics' offense, and it is something that has been long coming. His per-minute production has been outstanding this season: 15.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 1.1 blocks and nearly a steal per game per 36 minutes—via basketball-reference.com.
However, Rivers has often hesitated to give Green a bigger role this season (both in terms of minutes played and shot attempts).
What Makes Green's Play So Vital?
With Jared Sullinger also missing the rest of the season due to back problems, Green has been called upon to produce at a higher level—and he's done so.
Where Green could improve his efforts, however, is on the boards. The Celtics rank last in the league in rebound rate at 47.7 percent, via TeamRankings.com, and that inability to corral rebounds has been a crippler for the C's.
Green has averaged even less rebounds than his season average since Rondo went down (just 3.8 per game over the 11 games). That is simply unacceptable since Rondo left a rebounding void, and Sullinger's absence only exacerbated the team's glaring deficiency.
Green is unquestionably still the same talent he was during his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder. His per-minute production is proof that his play hasn't fallen off.
But now is the time for Green to take his game to new levels. During his first three-and-a-half seasons in Seattle/Oklahoma City, Green looked as though he was on his way to becoming an All-Star.
Rivers and the C's need him to play to the potential that led to his fifth overall selection in the 2007 draft. Coming out of Georgetown, Green was thought to have superstar potential.
That just hasn't been realized quite yet.
Moving forward, Green must remain aggressive in looking for his shots. But most importantly, the 6'9" forward must utilize his athleticism where the C's need it most: on the glass.
Green really has no excuse not to average at least six rebounds per game, especially given the fact he has played 33 or more minutes in the last three contests. Yet he has averaged an underwhelming 4.6 rebounds per game.
The Celtics rebound differential in those three games is a minus-8.6. That just isn't going to cut it—not with the C's needing to play a near-perfect game to win without their four-time All-Star.
Why Didn't Danny Ainge Make a Move for a Big Man?
The Celtics knew life would be tough without No. 9, but if they are to remain contenders (arguable at this point anyway) in the Eastern Conference, they are going to need a concerted effort on Green's part to improve on their struggles.
Interior play has been an issue for the C's all season, and their lack of depth was not addressed at the trade deadline.
Ainge did make some waves by bringing in Jordan Crawford, according to the Washington Post, but the explosive scorer will not ameliorate the C's woes on his own—if he helps at all.
Despite names like Timofey Mozgov and DeJuan Blair available, according to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports, Danny Ainge made no move to bring in frontcourt help.
Instead, Kevin Garnett will continue to play out of position at center.
Jason Collins' inclusion in the deal that brought in Crawford only removes one more big from the C's rotation. Rookie Fab Melo will be called upon more heavily, and Rivers is hoping his immense athleticism translates to success on the court.
The Bottom Line
Boston's hope of potential playoff upsets begins and ends with Jeff Green.
Other Celtics have stepped up and must continue to do so. Avery Bradley, in particular, has been looking for his offense.
But without Green playing at the peak of his abilities, this Celtics team isn't going to make any waves this year.
The C's are not a team without weapons, but without all their players playing their best—starters and reserves alike—they will struggle to advance beyond the first round.
Green has stepped up his play, but he must continue to elevate it to higher levels still.
Green's rebounding must improve, and he has to take at least 12 shots per game to help the C's offensively. Should Green improve his rebounding and take on a bigger offensive role, the Celtics could easily be a surprise team in the playoffs.