Jeff Green has finally blossomed into the potential superstar Boston Celtics general manager Danny Ainge always thought he could be. The 6'9”, 235-pound Georgetown product finished the season with a 15.07 player efficiency rating and a slew of highlights.
More importantly, he showcased his ability to take over contests with his inside-outside talents. He can drive to the hole or pull up in a defender's face. He gets to the line one play and knocks down a trey the next.
Indeed, the greatest part of Green's game in 2012-13 was his offensive emergence in the second half. He averaged 16.6 points per game between February and the end of the season (compared to 9.8 over the previous three months).
The Georgetown product and former heart patient also dramatically improved his passing game in the last three months, averaging 2.46 assists per game as opposed to 0.8 from November to January. His rebounds per game also rose from 3.2 to five during those respective stretches.
So what possible complaint could any Celtics fan pose about Green's game? Any player who puts up 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.7 assists, 1.1 blocks and 0.8 steals after the All-Star break, while shooting 49 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc, surely deserves more praise than criticism.
However, there are ways he can move from emerging star to franchise superstar if he focuses on the right areas. Here are the most important factors for Green to consider if he wants to maximize his potential next season and beyond.
As previously mentioned, Green's offensive explosion after the All-Star break was masterful. Just look up his rim-rattling slams in the faces of victims like Chris Andersen, or witness the game-winning drives he made against the Indiana Pacers and Cleveland Cavaliers. Those teams don't doubt his ability.
However, Green's game still leaves a lot to be desired on the defensive end, especially in away games. He posted a good defensive rating of 96.3 at home, but a rather shoddy 103.9 mark on the road.
He often lets pressure situations expose him in tight games. Despite his quickness on the other side of the court, and in transition, he often gets crossed up or loses opponents on the first step of their moves.
Green also struggles mightily when it comes to defending in the post. He has learned to stand his ground a little better than in the past, but he still lacks the confidence most stars have on the defensive block.
If coach Doc Rivers gets traded or walks away this offseason, it will be even more vital for Green to stay on track with improving his defense. Matters could be even worse if Kevin Garnett, the defensive anchor of the squad, and captain Paul Pierce departed. That would leave Green, who has always been suspect with help defense, at the forefront of a frontcourt he might not be ready to lead.
Green must push himself to becoming a complete player. All signs point to his dedication in this regard, and that job description includes “consistently good defender.” He has the ability to improve, but must put the work in to truly make it happen.
While Green posted his career-best per-36 points average this season (16.6), he unfortunately finished tied with his all-time worst rebounds per 36: a meager 5.1. The other time he posted 5.1 boards per 36? In 2010-11, his first year as a Celtic.
This is troubling stuff. A guy with his height, size, build and quickness should be grabbing at least six or seven boards per contest, never mind per 36 minutes.
If Paul Pierce gets traded, or Garnett retires (or, brace yourselves, both), it will essentially be Jeff Green's team. But the heir apparent to two of the team's best rebounders cannot get away with averaging under four boards per game.
It's not that he has bad instincts, but rather that he's too tentative in crowds.
His total rebounding percentage (the percentage of available rebounds he grabbed while on the floor) was a putrid 8.3 percent this season. On the offensive glass, it was an abysmal 3.0 percent. Both of those rates are the worst of his five-year career.
Ainge saw these issues coming when he inked Green to a four-year, $36 million deal last summer. That's right, the deal included rebounding incentives. The president of basketball operations spoke with ESPN Boston writer Jackie MacMullan about it this February:
I don't think people fully understand how serious it was. It was life-threatening. That one area was our biggest concern. To me, it's not a lack of effort. It's about bad habits. I don't think Jeff has ever focused on rebounding in his life, from what I can tell.
One assumes that it couldn't possibly get any worse.
But Green absolutely must improve by leaps and bounds if Boston stands any chance next season, with or without Pierce and Garnett. Jared Sullinger will be coming off a rookie season shortened by back surgery, and quality-rebounding guard Rajon Rondo is still nursing his ACL back to health.
The Celtics desperately need Green to body up down low when the ball is in the air. If he doesn't crash the boards next season, Boston could go from the second-worst rebounding squad in the league to the worst rebounding squad in the history of the NBA.
No pressure, Jeff.
When Green is at his best offensively, he consistently drives to the hoop with aggressiveness. For a guy who sports a lankier brand of muscle, he certainly surprises defenders with his toughness.
His dribble-penetration ranks among the elite of the league, because only a few players in the world can stop him when he goes to the hole with power.
However, the only player who can seemingly take him off his game is himself. Oftentimes, he loses the aggressiveness and lulls himself to sleep.
In order for Green to be considered a go-to guy, or an All-Star for that matter, he must consistently play at a high level both inside and outside. He has exhibited impressive field-goal rates when he's in full gear, so he must learn that Boston needs him to score for it to win games.
Green has never been considered an elite athlete, so to speak, but he has the components to become one of the best scorers in the league. But scorers can't pick and choose when they want to go off—that's how you end up on the bench next to Jordan Crawford.
Looking at his statistics in wins and losses, it's evident that he must be confident and productive for this team to succeed. In 41 wins during 2012-13, he shot 48 percent from the floor and 40 percent from deep. In the Celtics' 40 losses, his rates dipped to 45.2 percent from the field and 37.1 percent from deep.
If Rivers leaves, the reserved (and practically lobotomized at times) Green could take a couple of steps back. Someone needs to ingrain in his head that he is worthy of go-to player status. Without the confidence of a star, he will never play with the consistent aggressiveness of a star.
All statistics compiled using Basketball-Reference.com, NBA.com/stats and ESPN.com.