Jeff Green is a former Big East Player of the Year. He was a No. 5 pick in the NBA draft. He has survived both a blockbuster trade and heart surgery. His next step has to be to NBA superstardom.
There is a thing that great players do for their teams. They make up for errors, marginalize mistakes and turn the tables of a game with big plays. Superstars in the NBA create a margin of error for their team.
A margin of error is something the Celtics no longer have. Since their superstar point guard, Rajon Rondo, went down with an ACL injury, they have been slowly realizing that.
One of the Celtics’ lone deviations from that thinking is that Jeff Green can become a superstar.
He has the athleticism and the talent to do so. However, he’s had that same talent and athleticism for a long time now.
The problems are the same ones that plagued him during his years at Georgetown. Nearly everything published about him came with a caveat of not enjoying being the No. 1 option. He was constantly deferring to Roy Hibbert there, as he did to Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook while with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
When he joined the Celtics two years ago, he was practically invisible on the floor. It was hard to see his value as he faded to the background of Paul Pierce and Rajon Rondo’s offense. For most of this year, he has been in a reserve role that never quite sat right. This year, Green was supposed to take control and be that No. 1 guy on the second unit, but it never took.
As a starter, the progression has begun. Green has been seeing starter’s minutes throughout March and has answered more often than not. In nine games as a starter this season, Green is averaging 22.7 points and 5.8 rebounds per game. He’s shooting astounding clips of 55 percent from the field and 51.5 percent from beyond the arc.
The consistency still isn’t there, but he has topped 20 points in five of his last 10 games. Green falls into funks, like scoring just 10 and 13 points in embarrassing losses to the Dallas Mavericks and lottery-bound New Orleans Hornets.
Regardless of how long the Celtics can wait for Green to fully mature into a consistent star, it appears they are willing to wait. That much can be easily gleaned from their four-year contract offer prior to the season. That deal was more than generous after Green spent the 2011-12 season recovering from heart surgery.
After a year off, obviously there was a grace period of getting readjusted to the speed of the game. Celtics fans and brass could wait on Green to regain his confidence because they had Rajon Rondo to cover for him. Then Rondo went down and the tone of the season changed. More was needed and suddenly expected of Green. It got harder and harder to remember the ordeal he had undergone just a year before.
With the Celtics losing guys seemingly every week, you may also overlook that Green is one of three players to be active in all 73 games thus far. Along with Jason Terry and Brandon Bass, Green has been on the floor for every one of the Celtics' games. After missing a whole season in the previous year, that is a fairly impressive stat.
The latest injury to Kevin Garnett has probably ruined the Celtics' chances of advancing beyond the No. 7 spot. Garnett is far too important a gear to lose in the current Celtics machine. Even when Green posts 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, the Celtics can lose by 19 to the New York Knicks.
The silver lining of Garnett’s time off has been Green’s consistent opportunity to start. He’s been on the floor to begin each of the last five games and is averaging 21.2 points and six rebounds. That includes a breathtaking game-winner against the Cleveland Cavaliers on March 27.
In joining the Celtics' starting lineup, Green uniquely was both promoted and demoted. He received added notoriety from becoming a starter, but went from being a first option to a second option.
Coming off the bench, Green’s offense was a requirement. He was looked to first when the Celtics needed a bucket. With the first unit, Green slides into a secondary scoring role, behind Paul Pierce.
This type of role seems to suit Green far better right now. He can get his buckets a lot easier with less defensive attention. Utilizing Pierce’s shooting prowess as a constant threat, Green is able to get to the rim at a much more efficient rate.
If and when Kevin Garnett returns, does Boston have to keep Jeff Green in the starting lineup?
It comes through in free throws. As a starter, Green is getting to the line 6.3 times per game. That mark would place him at No. 8 in the NBA, tucked between LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. Every other name in the top eight belongs to an NBA superstar.
Unfortunately, Green’s move to the starting lineup has just brought about more questions than answers. His play has vastly improved with more minutes and a seemingly bigger role, but signing Jeff Green wasn’t about 2012-13. Danny Ainge locked this player down to be a superstar in the years to come.
It is no sure thing that Pierce and Garnett will return next season. Pierce's deal isn't fully guaranteed, and Garnett is completely tied to whatever Pierce decides to do. Should they call it a career and set their GPS to Springfield, Mass., this team falls into the hands of Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green.
Rondo is a superstar in his own right, but not the kind that Green has shown a proficiency at playing opposite. Green has always had a scoring crutch, whether it be Hibbert, Durant, Westbrook or Pierce.
The crutches have got to go at some point, because the Celtics can't wait much longer for Jeff Green to be a superstar.