The on-court relationship between Rajon Rondo and Jeff Green should be prosperous, but will it play out that way in the months ahead?
Green’s spent most of the season as Boston’s primary offensive option, its leading scorer and greatest threat. He’s charged toward the rim, created shots on his own and even run a few solid pick-and-rolls.
With Rondo taking over almost all of Boston’s possessions from here on out, Green will drop back into a complimentary role. Can he thrive there?
Green and Rondo became teammates in 2011, when the Boston Celtics traded starting center Kendrick Perkins to the Oklahoma City Thunder. The deal was made to give Paul Pierce some breathing room and the Celtics some depth on the wing.
Pierce is long gone, and Green is now the team’s starting small forward. Given his age (27) and skill (he’s very good, sometimes), Boston should leave every game with this takeaway: How does Green collaborate with Rondo, the team’s franchise player? Do they work well together?
During their first season together, Green shot 51.4 percent from the floor in 269 minutes beside Rondo. He shot 46.9 percent when Rondo sat on the bench, according to NBA.com/Stats (subscription required).
Soon after, Green underwent open heart surgery and missed the entire 2012-13 season. Last year, the two were rejoined, but things weren’t nearly as successful for Green.
In 483 minutes besides Rondo, he shot just 38.2 percent from the floor and an atrocious 29.8 percent on threes. It’s curious, especially because Green’s efficiency in the restricted area and from the corners dropped, two spots on the court Rondo would figure to help significantly.
In 1,769 minutes last year without Rondo, much of it in an increased role with more responsibilities as a ball-handling scorer, Green’s efficiency was awesome. He posted a 49/41.5/80.4 shooting split, a feat only matched in the same number of minutes by Kevin Durant and Jose Calderon.
Ultimately, their entire sample size as teammates is too small. They've been together less than a full season, in a situation drastically different from the one they'll face in the months ahead.
Here's a look at a few plays from the past 18 months where Green was in a position to succeed thanks to plays Rondo made possible.
The first comes from a recent loss to the Miami Heat, Rondo's second game this season. The pair run a successful high pick-and-roll, leaving LeBron James and Mario Chalmers confused.
Screen-and-rolls involving Green and Rondo have the potential to be particularly successful because it puts the defense in an unfamiliar position. Instead of rotating away from the ball or covering it directly, James must either hedge, trap or switch onto the ball-handler.
He instead opts for the fourth option—nothing—and Rondo is given a free path into the paint. When the defense traps Rondo, Green will be open, either out on the perimeter or crashing toward the paint.
Here are a couple plays from last season that highlight why Green's incredible athleticism, and solid accuracy from the corner (he was at 42.4 percent this year before Rondo returned), should be a perfect match with Rondo's astonishing court vision.
Rondo is a fantastic passer, but one area that actually hurts teammates is his inability to spread the floor. Despite making legitimate strides with his jump shot, specifically from the mid-range, defenses still encourage Rondo to fire away from the perimeter.
It hurts Boston's ability to attack opponents in the post because Rondo's defender will always be free to drop down and double the block. It's specifically detrimental to Green, a player who picks defenses apart with his back to the basket.
What Rondo can do, however, is draw a defense's attention with his penetration, then hit Green with a pass that allows him to take his man one-on-one before any help defenders can get in the right position.
It also lets Green prosper off the ball, a place his game's ultimately better suited for. In the second clip below, Rondo drives toward the paint before finding a cutting Green with a perfect pass beneath the rim.
A great point guard is judged on his ability to make those around him better. Rondo is a great point guard, and Green is “around him.”
Green's shooting more threes than ever before and making them at a rate higher than his career average. But his PER is below league average. It's highly unlikely any one player can be responsible for elevating another from average NBA starter to All-Star.
Green is already in his seventh season. There's only so much Rondo, or any point guard, can do to help.
That being said, the two have potential to be very good together, and Green will benefit if they remain teammates the next few seasons.
Michael Pina has bylines at Bleacher Report, Red94, CelticsHub, The Classical, Sports On Earth and Boston Magazine. Follow him here.