Jeff Green did not play a NBA game a season ago. So how is it that he has become one of the most important players in the upcoming Eastern Conference playoffs?
An X-factor is generally an inconspicuous player who has the ability to exceed his potential on the grandest stage. Jeff Green was not involved in any NBA activities last season, following his heart surgery to repair an aortic aneurism.
Inconspicuous, check. Now he has returned to the Boston Celtics and built up his body and game over the course of a full season.
Now Green is ready for the playoffs.
Very underrated...— Jeff Green (@unclejeffgreen) April 14, 2013
It wasn't until recently that Green became a fixture in the starting lineup, and even then it was just as a filler for Kevin Garnett or Paul Pierce. Both veterans have been back for a few games now, and Green has been right there with them, leading to the assumption that this will be Doc Rivers' playoff lineup.
It is difficult to argue anymore that Green should be held on the bench. It is clear that he plays better with better players around him. While he will still struggle playing the role of No. 1 option, he is a wildly above-average No. 2.
According to SynergySports, Green is best used off the ball. Yet, for some reason, it wasn't until after master distributor Rajon Rondo's ACL injury that Green really started to take off this season.
Green is fantastic both in transition and on cuts, but he stumbles a bit when posting up or running an isolation play. He needs another true scorer on the floor with him, and that isn't necessarily what Rondo brings.
This points to a greater probability of success while playing with Paul Pierce. The Celtics captain is a much better ball-handler and distributor than Green, as well as a one-on-one scorer. Pierce's specialties fill in Green's weaknesses, and the reverse is starting to prove true as well.
Per SynergySports, Jeff Green allows .81 points per possession. That number dips to .72 with him guarding isolation plays. Overall, opponents are shooting 35.9 percent against him.
This is not to say that Pierce's defensive skills have waned; quite the contrary—his numbers are similar to or better than Green's. However, a lot of that comes from how well Pierce knows the Celtics' defensive schemes and how receptive he is to help defense. In one-on-one situations with the league's top young scorers, it helps to have a player like Green for sheer body type.
Green has two inches on Pierce and is nine years his junior. Having Green around defensively against the likes of 6'8" 20-somethings Carmelo Anthony and Paul George will be wildly important if the Celtics are to make a run in the 2013 playoffs.
Green's numbers as a starter this season are undeniable. In 16 games, he's averaging 20.8 points and 5.9 rebounds. His shooting percentages spike to 52 percent and 51 percent from the field and beyond the arc, respectively. Green is also getting to the line well over five times a start. All these numbers are dramatic improvements over his time coming off the bench.
Pierce has not become expendable; rather, now he's even more of a necessity for success. There are a handful of examples from the season that show Green will struggle without Pierce's offensive presence alongside him.
Who is the biggest X-factor of the 2013 Eastern Conference playoffs?
Green went 4-of-11 for 14 points and three rebounds in a 100-74 loss to the Charlotte Bobcats. He scored just 10 points and didn't get to the line once in a 110-100 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Even in the 109-101 loss to the Miami Heat recently, in which Green posted 25 points, he was 1-of-6 from beyond the arc and finished with a minus-10.
Those numbers prove that Green is not yet a superstar, and the Celtics won't be able to win with him alone. He needs someone to take the spot-up jumper he won't hit, or pull a post move he doesn't have. Those plays will open up what he can do: backdoor cuts, corner threes and transition buckets.
Good news for the Celtics can come in the form of Green's numbers against the New York Knicks, Boston's opponent in the first round.
In four games against the Atlantic Division champions, Green is shooting 55.6 percent. He is averaging 17.8 points and 6.5 rebounds per contest. This comes with 20 total trips to the free-throw line and a 5-of-13 mark from three-point land.
Those numbers drop off when compared to a dismal two games against possible second-round adversaries, the Indiana Pacers. The Celtics are the No. 7 seed, though, so it is imperative to focus solely on the Knicks right now.
Perhaps even more important than these numbers, however, is the fact that Green appears to be enjoying his time with the Celtics. Being an X-factor in the postseason comes from more than just putting up statistics—that is sometimes better left to the superstars. An X-factor has to carry a team emotionally as well as physically on the court.
Green has formed bonds with his teammates that, after a year away from the game, are all the more impressive. He has earned their respect as a teammate and is now letting his personality show through.
When you boil down Green's personality, though, the one adjective that seems to remain is "confident." For a player who has previously been criticized for being invisible, that's huge.
Jeff Green is a confident man, and that makes him the biggest X-factor of these playoffs.