Is Jeff Green Ready to Follow in Paul Pierce's Boston Celtics Footsteps?

Matthew SchmidtFeatured ColumnistMarch 4, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - FEBRUARY 22:  (L-R) Terrence Williams #55, Jeff Green #8 and Jason Terry #4 of the Boston Celtics celebrate after Terry hit a three point shot against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA game at US Airways Center on February 22, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona.  The Celtics defeated the Suns 113-88. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

If you have been paying any attention to the Boston Celtics recently, you are probably well aware of the fact that Jeff Green has been playing some mighty fine basketball. He has been playing so well that many are now wondering whether or not he can be the guy who replaces Paul Pierce when the captain decides to call it quits.

That is a far cry from what many were surmising about Green not more than three months ago.

Not even a year removed from heart surgery, Green was being ripped for his inconsistency and was accused by some for simply not caring enough. Talk about jumping to conclusions, huh?

What these people somehow could not comprehend was that Green was still in the recovery process. He needed some time to re-acclimate himself to the rigors of the NBA. It's one thing to do wind sprints in practice, but it's another thing entirely to play in an actual game.

Now, Green appears to be getting back into the swing of things—and more.

After displaying a rather significant improvement in January, shooting 48.5 percent from the floor after hitting on only 42.1 and 41.4 percent of his shots in November and December respectively, Green exploded in February. The 6'9" forward averaged 15.3 points per game at a 51.2-percent clip and shot 41.4 percent from the three-point line.

He also attempted more free throws (51) in February than he did in any other month, getting to the line 4.3 times per game. Compare that to his previous high—the 2.5 per game he took in January—and it's evident how much more aggressive Green has become.

Green is scoring in many ways: He is slashing to the rim; he is hitting jumpers; he is knocking down threes; he is scoring in the post. The variety he has demonstrated in his offensive repertoire has been very impressive and has begun to ease the minds of Celtics fans who wondered what would happen after Pierce retires.

Of course, Green has a long way to go. After all, Pierce is a champion and will have his No. 34 hanging in the rafters of TD Garden someday. Green hasn't even begun to approach the type of impact Pierce has had on the Boston organization, and it's a tall task to ever expect him to have that type of monumental impact.

Jeff doesn't have to be Pierce, though. He just needs to hold down the fort.

Ever since his days with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Green's potential has been tantalizing. The Georgetown product has flashed incredible athleticism and the ability to take over games for stretches. We were all just waiting to see him do that in a Celtics uniform.

Once Rajon Rondo went down, Green's role grew, and how he has reacted to the added pressure has been nothing short of marvelous.

Green has gotten better and better, and on Feb. 22 against the Phoenix Suns, we saw Green like we've never seen him before. With Kevin Garnett getting the night off, Jeff dominated up front, dropping 31 points and 11-of-14 shooting. He also grabbed seven rebounds, dished out four assists, blocked five shots and came up with two steals. To put it plainly, he did it all.

You could just tell that night that the C's had a special player on their hands. His confidence has skyrocketed, and so has his mean streak. Green is playing with more passion than we have ever witnessed, and you have to think that that is in no small part due to Garnett.

With Rondo being lost for the year, Green has now become the Celtics' third most important player. It seems as if Rondo tearing his ACL was the best thing that ever happened to Green. He was forced to become more assertive, and he has taken that challenge and run with it. He knows he must step up if Boston is to go anywhere this year, and he has done just that.

It's not just offensively where Green has excelled, either. He has also been extraordinary on the defensive end of the floor.

The best evidence of his defensive improvement on Jan. 27 against the Miami Heat, when Green held LeBron James to 3-of-11 shooting whenever he was defending him. This is LeBron James, who set an NBA record for consecutive games scoring 30 points while shooting 60 percent, and Green held him to a measly 27 percent. If that isn't noteworthy, nothing is.

If he isn't stymying the great LeBron, he is throwing down vicious dunks over the likes of Chris Bosh and Nikola Vucevic. He is running the floor like a gazelle, coming up with chase-down blocks like LeBron himself. He is also turning into a go-to scorer in big moments, as seen in his recent clutch performance against the Golden State Warriors.

Little by little, Green is adding pieces to his arsenal. Whether it be becoming more aggressive on the offensive end or becoming more of a force defensively, he is doing it. He is developing into a Swiss Army knife of a player who any team would love to have on its roster.

With Pierce's inevitable retirement looming, it's more imperative than ever for Green to continue improving his game and molding himself into a leader on this Celtics squad. Let's remember that K.G. is nearing the end of the line also, so Green could end up being the center of attention very soon.

There are still two months remaining in the 2012-13 campaign before the playoffs. How Green performs down the stretch and in the postseason could go a long way in determining how ready he is to successfully step into the starting small-forward role when Pierce hangs it up.

If his rapid improvement this year is any indication, it's safe to say that Green will prove that he is undoubtedly prepared to assume the position as the face of the Boston Celtics.