Jeff Green is the most gracefully gifted athlete I can remember seeing in a Boston Celtics uniform.
He has said and done all the right things since joining this franchise, is a good basketball player and appears to be a generally good guy.
With everything he brings to the table, it is very hard to say that Green can't succeed because he is going to succeed.
Having a great 2013-14 season is close to the most obvious call one can make for Green at this point. The question isn't whether he can put up career numbers. The question is whether he is a real building block for the Celtics' upcoming restoration period.
For that to be the case, Green has a lot more to prove than an ability to score 20 points a night. Monta Ellis and J.R. Smith averaged north of 18 points per game last season, but are either building blocks to anything?
Limits as a Player
The idea that Green could simply be a "good stats, bad team" player shouldn't seem so outrageous.
The feel-good 2009-10 Oklahoma City Thunder were his only real example of playing big minutes on an above-average team. However, Green choked hard in the playoffs then slumped slightly the following season before being dealt to Boston and seeing his minutes slashed.
Those who are pro-Green will point to his shining performance against the New York Knicks for the Celtics in the postseason. He scored a lot of points, but wasn't that kind of a result of playing 43 minutes per game and the fluke of hitting 10-of-22 three-point attempts?
It was a great and gutsy performance, but points had to come from somewhere. The rest of the Celtics couldn't get out of its own way. Green averaging 7.5 free-throw attempts only adds to the idea that he had the basketball in his hands an inordinate amount of possessions.
That also conveniently ignores the competition and situation. New York simply wasn't that great of a team, although they had a great player. The Knicks’ best two defenders, Iman Shumpert and Tyson Chandler were tied up with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. Meanwhile, Green was left to shoot over smaller guards or ghost the likes of Carmelo Anthony, J.R. Smith and New York's various other spare parts.
Either way, a six-game sample size, with just two wins, isn't convincing enough. Green showed glimpses of consistency through the season's final two months. However, by definition, glimpses of consistency are still inconsistent play. That has been the knock on Green since joining Boston and even more so since he signed his four-year, $32.2 million contract with the Celtics.
What we learned from the end of last season was that Green can score when the ball is in his hands. Next season, elite defenders won't be worried about Pierce or Garnett any longer since they are now in Brooklyn. They will key on Green to an extreme until Rajon Rondo's return. However, Green will still put up solid numbers. He is too good of a scorer not to do so.
Starting with his 43-point barrage in a loss to the Miami Heat in March, the Celtics finished last season by going 5-11. Against playoff-bound teams during that time, they were 1-6. Including their 2-4 playoff record, the Celtics were 7-15 following the game in which everyone seemed to think Green turned a corner.
Leadership Question Marks
The argument that someone cannot do something because they have never done it before is weak. Still, Green has never proven he can lead a team.
In Oklahoma City he was simply outclassed for the job talent-wise. In Boston, there was a culture set by Garnett, Pierce and head coach Doc Rivers that he had entered into.
All three of those men are gone now. There is a brand new head coach and Rondo won’t be on the floor to start. The 27-year-old Green, who has a history of being quiet and a follower, will have to step up as some sort of leader.
There were times last season when Green would make a big play and have to sneak a peek at Garnett to get enough encouragement to show his own emotion. That generic stare became his calling card for a period.
Green’s leadership is going to come quietly. If it comes at all, it will be by actions on the court. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough. These are deep-seeded issues and people don’t generally change who they are at the core due to an exterior situational shift.
At Georgetown, Green was a guy who led by example. He led the Hoyas in minutes and scoring in each of his final two seasons. The team was solid, but in what should have been a Georgetown shellacking in Round 1 of the NCAA tournament, it instead beat Northern Iowa by five, as Green went 0-of-5 in 37 minutes.
The following year, Green put up only five shots in 40 minutes during a Final Four loss to Ohio State.
Quietly leading by example is great, if you are talented enough. Tim Duncan gets away with it, but Jeff Green won't. Green's quiet play certainly isn’t going to get his team through a rebuilding period.
While discussing Green's case with my Dad the other day, he made reference to a past Celtics player in comparison with Green. According to him, Boston is more likely stuck paying the second coming of Dino Radja. I was eight years old when Radja finished his NBA tenure, but, per Basketball-Reference, Green is one of three active players listed as a similarity score match for Radja.
In a period of particular putridity in Boston, Radja dragged the Celtics through three-plus horrendous seasons, averaging 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds. Take away Radja’s height and add a mediocre three-point shot, and you may have the next three seasons of Jeff Green.
Before you jump on Pierce as being Green's equal until the Big Three formed, remember that Pierce led Boston on deep playoff runs when he was 24 and 25 years old. Green is 27, but until he spends three straight seasons averaging north of 25 points per game while missing just two games total, only then can Green and Pierce be mentioned together.
There are a litany of players who qualify as good-stats, bad-team players. They are good for basketball, fun to watch and can make a lot of money in the league. However, players like Ricky Davis and Kevin Martin are rarely built around with any success.
A New Idea and A New Front Office
Austin Ainge is the 31-year-old son of Boston’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge. In the spring of 2011, Austin joined the Celtics' front office under the title of director of player personnel.
Michael Zarren is a 37-year-old graduate of Harvard Law School. He is employed as Boston’s assistant general manager. Zarren is a big proponent of this new-age basketball idea, according to Celtics.com:
Zarren is widely recognized as one of the leaders in the field of advanced statistical analysis of basketball players and teams, and is an important part of the team’s strategic planning and player personnel evaluation processes.
With Danny’s former right-hand man, Ryan McDonough, now the Phoenix Suns’ head honcho, it seems that Austin and Michael can continue moving up the ranks.
While there will be no official word, one has to wonder how much influence the young Ainge and Zarren had on hiring young head coach Brad Stevens. In turn, how much did they push for Stevens’ analytical maven, Drew Cannon, to come along for the ride?
The elder Ainge, still only 54, seems to have surrounded himself with a group of advisors who take a more serious look at advanced metrics than in the past. This younger group of NBA minds are helping an old-school former player ease a transition into a new basketball world.
The point here is that advanced statistics have never been a friend to Jeffrey Lynn Green.
John Hollinger, one of the NBA’s advanced statistic pioneers, once raked the Green signing over the coals.
I can't stress this enough: Green is 26 and played four full seasons in the league, and after all that time there's no evidence he's actually any good...
This makes a lot of sense, as Hollinger’s favorite stat, Player Efficiency Rating, doesn’t always agree with Green’s game. His best year, according to that particular calculation, was this past one, when Green rated 14.89, per Hoopdata.com. Last year’s league average PER was 16.63.
I don’t bring any of this up to sully Green’s season or projections of his future performance. I enter into this minefield of analytics because it is what the new Celtics regime will do. The elevation of Austin Ainge and Zarren’s stature, the hiring of Stevens and subsequent hiring of Cannon point to a direction of advanced statistics being used by Boston to build its team upon.
Rivers always had a soft spot for Green. That may have simply been an attempt to shield his player from the storms resulting from the Kendrick Perkins trade and Green's seemingly unearned contract.
However, Rivers also placed a lot more stock in Green's eyes and team chemistry than analytics did. Boston’s former coach praised Green’s play in practices and the like, so must have had some hand in getting him re-signed.
If the opportunity to grant Green that big contract came along in 2014 instead of 2012, the future Boston Celtics may look to invest elsewhere.
Given the stunts that that big trade and subsequent health issues clearly placed on Green’s development, it is still difficult to find his ceiling as a player. However, given his lack of leadership characteristics, the still-sizable holes in his game and this relatively new-look Celtics front office, I can’t say Green is a building block right now.
I’m sure we’re in for plenty of big dunks and 20-point games from Green, which is fine and fun to watch, but that doesn’t really build to much.