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Jeff Green's Transition to Power Forward Could Reshape NBA Career Arc

Mike Walsh@WalshWritesCorrespondent IOctober 31, 2014

If Green plays power forward, it should open up more looks at the rim.
If Green plays power forward, it should open up more looks at the rim.Chris Szagola/Associated Press

Jeff Green the power forward wasn't something many Boston Celtics fans were ready for.

The thought of this too-often lackadaisical wing bodying up to bigger, stronger and generally tougher physical 4s wouldn't typically strike one as a great idea. However, Boston's head coach, Brad Stevens, made a point to mention the possibility of this happening early in training camp.

Through the preseason, though, we didn't see a whole lot of the supposed experiment. Green only played in a few games, and in those he played almost exclusively at small forward, with two bigs consistently on the floor.

It does appear that with the start of their regular-season slate, and with a full complement of players, Stevens is implementing this lineup wrinkle. Rajon Rondo returned to action in Boston's 121-105 victory over the Brooklyn Nets, giving the Celtics a nearly complete roster to play with. That allowed Stevens to really dig into some of his more experimental lineups.

A few of which featured Green playing in the frontcourt with three guards and a center. Green played 36 minutes, six more than any of his teammates, allowing for him to be a constant in a few different rotations.

Scott Souza @Scott_Souza

#Celtics coach Brad Stevens: don't be surprised if, early in the season, you see Jeff Green or Gerald Wallace at power forward.

Over the game's final eight minutes, Green played power forward alongside Kelly Olynyk, with Evan Turner, Marcus Smart and Avery Bradley in the backcourt. The only changes that took place were around Green, with Olynyk entering for Jared Sullinger and Turner coming in for Rondo.

Green played in a similar series of rotations in the first half, with a rotating crew of centers including Tyler Zeller.

While it is a one-game sample size, we can certainly pull some things from how Stevens mixed and matched his lineups. Green is clearly going to be a mainstay, with his ability to float into the power forward position being a valuable asset for a team that wants to keep its pace up.

With Rondo still not 100 percent, Green is Boston's healthiest player in his prime. He is conditioned and athletic enough to handle big minutes, allowing Stevens to get more quick guards onto the floor at the same time.

Marc D'Amico @Marc_DAmico

.@unclejeffgreen on benefits of added weight: "I'm able to take some of the bumps and continue to play through it and finish at the rim."

The knock on Green since arriving in Boston has been that aforementioned lackadaisical attitude and play. He has tended to float in and out of games and been wildly erratic with the quality of his performances. There have always been a series of extenuating circumstances, though.

According to WEEI's Ben Rohrbach, "inconsistency continues to plague the versatile forward, and neither of his Celtics coaches — Doc Rivers nor Brad Stevens — have been shy about acknowledging Green’s erratic effort."

A lot of pressure was put on him after the first-place Celtics dealt Kendrick Perkins, their starting center, to acquire him on February 24, 2011.

Then there was the aortic aneurysm that needed surgery and held him out a full year. Upon his return, the entire landscape of the team had changed, but he was still stuck playing behind Paul Pierce.

Finally thrust into the starting role last season, he was forced to compete without Rajon Rondo on a team that, from afar, may have had questionable motives.

Still just 28 years old, an argument can be made that Green hasn't fully filled out as a player. Of course, if he is going to break out, it would likely have to come this year. A short 12 months from now he will be on the fast track to 30 and probably in a contract year, (Green has a player option for $9.2 million in 2015-16).

Upping Green's minutes is a risky move, but it could be a way to keep him invested in games. During arguably his best two professional seasons, 2008-09 and 2009-10 with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Green played 36.8 and 37.1 minutes per game, respectively.

While playing 36 minutes in the opener, Green only took 10 field goals. However, he was active elsewhere. In the first quarter in particular, his only two attempts were an offensive rebound putback and an end-of-shot-clock desperation three, both of which he hit. He also drew three fouls while playing defense and hit the boards pretty hard. He was engaged despite not being looked at too often on offense.

In the game, he got himself to the free-throw line nine times, had six rebounds, three assists and two steals, while maintaining a plus-15 rating.

This might simply be a situation where fans will have to put their trust in Stevens. Through his 15 months as head coach of the Celtics, he has earned a fair amount of trust, so when it comes to experimenting with Green, there is a lot that could go right.

Celtics on NBC Sports Boston @NBCSCeltics

Prepping for Green: "The Celtics are gonna cause some real matchup problems on defenses if this guy plays power forward."

First off, Green could prove to be a nightmare matchup for defenders when he is lining up at power forward. Obviously this would work best if Boston had a trio of guards who were better outside shooters, but it still has the potential to be effective.

With teams having to worry about three speedy players on the perimeter, that will often leave Green in one-on-one situations with a typically slower big trying to check him. Green is a supremely athletic talent, who should be able to take advantage of those matchups. The added responsibility would also hopefully keep him invested in games.

The stretch 4 position is very in vogue in the NBA these days, and the Celtics are not exempt. Last year we saw Sullinger jack up 208 three-pointers after taking only five as a rookie. This year, there is word that Brandon Bass may join him in working on his perimeter game, per Frank Dell'Apa of The Boston Globe.

The issue with this is that these players aren't used to playing this way. That isn't a way of poking fun at their percentages or anything. It doesn't even have to do with how good they are at outside shooting. One or both of them could just happen to have a knack for it or work hard enough to develop it into a real weapon.

The issue is that their newfound skill can wreak havoc on other parts of their game. With Sullinger last season, it was free-throw shooting. He took five more three-pointers than he did free throws. That isn't an acceptable ratio for a power forward, whether he is trying to stretch the defense or not. 

Instead of Bass or Sullinger in this suddenly popular role, if Green were able to get a groove going in the spot, things would run a lot smoother. It could prove to be a win-win situation for both the team and him individually. He'll be up for a new contract either this coming summer or the next. Boston has seen limited interest in Bass as a trade chip, likely because he doesn't shoot threes.

"The league might be fetishisizing the 3-point shot, especially among big men, at the expense of other skills," writes Grantland.com's Zach Lowe. "The Celtics have tried like hell, but they can’t get anything of value on the trade market for Brandon Bass and his $6.9 million expiring contract."

If Green enters this equation from the other end, moving from a three-point shooting wing to a big who can shoot threes, his price quote for a new contract doesn't dip and may, in fact, increase. If teams are so in on that position, Green could become a much more desirable free agent.

Other athletic scorers dominate when they get slid into the power forward role. Although they are on another level from where Green is, Kevin Durant and Carmelo Anthony are two players to look at when considering Green at the 4.

Back in 2012, Lowe wrote another piece for Grantland.com detailing the need for Anthony to play more power forward. The reasons he lists read like a blueprint for Green to maximize his skill set and minimize his poor habits and questions of consistent effort.

Playing defensively against bigger guys down low, Green has more opportunity to use his body, while saving athleticism to use in small, concentrated bursts to get a steal or block a shot. The main goal of this change is to sweep those possessions where Green gets lackadaisical on the perimeter under the rug. With a smaller space to defend in, it is less likely he gets caught out of position or lets someone get by him.

On offense, a move like this almost forces the player to take advantage of the mismatch. There is less threat of a defender staying with you on a drive, so the necessity to take a low-percentage mid-range shot is less. Green is a graceful and ferocious penetrator when he sets his sights on the rim. Forcing power forwards to guard him on the perimeter would make him utilize that move more.

Bleacher Report's Fred Katz detailed the benefits of keeping Durant at power forward for the Thunder but raised the major question of defense. Namely, Oklahoma City doesn't want Durant getting pounded on by 4s on a nightly basis. He is too valuable of a player to them.

Chris Herring @Herring_NBA

Is Carmelo Anthony best at power forward? Yes. Is that true when someone other than Martin or Chandler is in at center? Probably not.

Katz makes the comparison to the recent Miami Heat teams, which played LeBron James at power forward but allowed him to guard wings and keep Shane Battier on the bigger forwards defensively.

The question for Boston would become, how valuable is Green? Both financially and offensively speaking, he isn't as valuable as Anthony, Durant or James. He has to be a step below them, and Boston doesn't have a Battier-type.

In the long run, it would be up to Stevens to weigh the pros and cons and come up with an amount of playing time that would keep Green healthy but still utilize him as a matchup advantage.

If their season opener was any indication, Green at power forward is a very real thing that Celtics fans should get used to watching. It is an intriguing decision on Stevens' part that could very well define just what Boston is able to do this season.