Phoenix Suns hyperathletic wing Gerald Green has not only shed his label as “just a dunker” during his first year in the Valley of the Sun, but he’s also reinvented his NBA career by becoming a reliable rotational guy and all-around player.
When general manager Ryan McDonough traded veteran power forward Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers in exchange for Green, Miles Plumlee and a protected first-round draft pick last July, the deal was seen as one more step toward a potentially lengthy rebuild.
At the time, the Suns were stockpiling picks with the vision of revamping the roster through the draft or by acquiring a big-name star via trade, according to NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper.
Indy appeared to be short-term winners of the swap, even prompting headlines like “With Luis Scola, the Pacers might have the best team in the East.”
Green and Plumlee were seen as afterthoughts—throw-in pieces needed to make the deal work financially for both sides. As it stands, however, both Suns' acquisitions have broken out under head coach Jeff Hornacek.
Green has played every game for the Suns (including 46 starts) and is averaging 15.6 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1.6 assists per game—all of those numbers are career highs.
Plumlee, an NBA sophomore, is notching averages of 8.5 points, 8.1 rebounds and 1.3 blocks per contest.
Scola, meanwhile, has sputtered with Indiana by averaging 7.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 0.9 assists while shooting 46.2 percent from the floor (all career lows).
The trade has become grossly one-sided in Phoenix’s favor with added foresight. Against all odds, the upstart Suns are competing for a playoff berth in the loaded Western Conference. Consistent play from Green has been one of the biggest reasons for the turnaround.
Maturity and Consistency
Green came to Phoenix knowing the opportunity to carve a niche could very well be his last. He had already spent stints of his playing career with the NBA D-League as well as overseas in Russia and China.
At 28 years old, the time to prove his chops as an NBA talent was running out. The wisdom he gained during a roller coaster playing career, however, prepared him mentally for that challenge.
Green said the following, according to The Boston Globe’s Gary Washburn:
When you go places in life that you think you’ll never go, you change a little bit. You mature a lot faster. I knew something had to change. It either was going to be me or I wasn’t going to be back in the league. That made it an easy decision for me to change. Two years ago, I was nowhere to be found. Now I’m older, more mature, understand that this is not a hobby, this is a job.
While playing a career-high 29.1 minutes per game with Phoenix during the 2013-14 campaign—and starting 20 more games than his previous career high of 26 in 2006-07 with the Boston Celtics—Green has reached the 20-point plateau 20 times.
The Suns have compiled a 14-6 record when The Green Machine scores at least 20. His offensive output has been a huge barometer to team success.
When point guard Eric Bledsoe was sidelined indefinitely following knee surgery—a variable that cast some doubt on Phoenix’s playoff chances—Green stepped up in a big way. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game as a starter, according to NBA.com.
While Green is still a high flyer who can swing momentum with thunderous highlight dunks, his prowess from beyond the arc in 2013-14 has taken his game to another level.
According to NBA.com, Green’s percentages are comparable to or above league average from every long-range location on the court.
He’s shooting 40 percent from deep at the top of the key and 50 percent from the left corner.
He’s made five or more three-pointers in a game 11 times and is shooting a scorching-hot 46.7 percent from deep in March (through eight games).
His ability to spread the floor on offense around the dribble penetration of Goran Dragic and Bledsoe has made the Suns offense a dynamic force.
There’s no question that Green has always possessed the transcendent athletic ability needed to compete with NBA stars, but he hasn’t made a meaningful impact in the pros until now. That’s partly due to his maturity at age 28, but his emergence wouldn’t have occurred without Coach Hornacek.
“The coaches have really done a great job of putting us in places to be successful,” Green said, per AZ Central Sports’ Paul Coro. “Everybody gets an opportunity to go out there and play. Jeff has confidence in everybody. A lot of coaches don’t do that. He’s just so positive and has so much energy and faith in us.”
Green’s relationship with Hornacek is a stark contrast to the one he had with former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, if only because he was a youngster making the leap from high school to the pros.
“Yeah, he was [tough on me], but if I knew then what I know now, the things that Doc was telling me were all the right things,” Green said, per Washburn. “He wasn’t telling me nothing that was incorrect. All Doc was trying to do was help me and I just didn’t understand the fact … I just didn’t know how to be a pro.”
The swingman experienced a tumultuous, winding journey as a professional, but it appears he’s finally found the perfect situation.
Behind his calm demeanor, positive attitude and confidence in a variety of role players who have never played big minutes before, Hornacek is a calculated X’s and O’s guy.
According to CBS Sports’ Matt Moore, the first-year head coach said the following earlier this season:
We’ve given the point guards the shot charts to look (at). We’ll tell them in transition, "Let the guys get set before you throw it to them." It’s been shown that if they’re on the run, the percentage goes way down. So if you know Gerald Green shoots a high percentage from the corner, wait till he gets all the way down there and gets set.
Green’s confidence to let the ball fly from downtown is merely one factor at play. Coach Hornacek has put all of his players in a favorable role because of a specific system.
Moore broke it down as follows:
These things seem simple, but that’s kind of the beauty of what Hornacek is accomplishing. He’s using advanced analysis to reinforce a pragmatic coaching style that resonates with the players. Put guys into a position to succeed, give them confidence, encourage them to make the right play, and leave the more complex elements to the coaching staff.
With 16 regular-season games remaining in 2013-14 (including the March 17 matchup with the Brooklyn Nets), Phoenix is fighting to get back into the playoff picture. Prior to the game against Brooklyn, the Suns are one game back of the eighth-place Memphis Grizzlies.
Of course, regardless of whether the Suns earn a playoff berth at season’s end, fans can be proud of what this roster has accomplished.
When was the last time all of us know-it-alls missed so badly with our preseason prognostications like every last one of us did on Phoenix?— Marc Stein (@ESPNSteinLine) December 31, 2013
In the face of basement-level expectations, Hornacek’s crew rallied and put the league on notice by winning consistently and beating elite teams (like the Indiana Pacers—twice).
The experience and confidence Green and other players have gained during 2013-14 points to a bright future in the desert. Thanks to player development under Coach Hornacek, the Suns are well on their way to becoming a Western Conference power once again.