Nenad Krstic fits in to the Boston Celtics with ease, like he grew up playing alongside Kevin Garnett and catching passes from Rajon Rondo. But Doc Rivers still keeps himself awake at night — quite literally — trying to figure out Jeff Green. (ESPN)
“I haven’t figured out how to use Jeff yet,” Rivers admitted. “I don’t know yet. We gotta figure that out quickly because he’s good.”
He’s good. This we know, even if Green’s advanced metrics point to an average player rather than one deserving of big money this offseason. He’s also quite versatile, which is nice because it allows Rivers the freedom to experiment with different lineups. But Green’s versatility causes Rivers problems which less versatile players don’t:
How should he utilize this new toy? How can Rivers maximize Green’s talents? How can Rivers coax this jack of all trades (but master of none) to help the Boston Celtics win an NBA championship?
Anywhere Rivers puts Green on the court, he should theoretically cause matchup problems. At 6’9, he’s too tall and strong for small forwards — especially backup small forwards, since Green now comes off Boston’s bench. With the speed of a far smaller man and ball skills to match, Green should handle opposing power forwards off the bounce. He should also thrive in transition, where his athleticism should make him a prime target for Rondo’s assists. Even as a small forward or power forward, Green is capable of taking a rebound coast to coast. (That is, if he ever grabs a rebound — sorry, I had to.) He can play with the ball, where his passing vision helps matters, or without it. He can start, he can come off the bench, and he can play the three or four (and Rivers has even experimented with Green and Paul Pierce both playing at the same time, with one of them — I’m not sure which — acting as the shooting guard).
If it sounds like I’m describing someone with All-Star talent, that’s because I am. Green can contribute to a box score in many ways, and, even though he has never produced at All-Star levels, he does have that type of game, somewhere underneath his slightly below-average PER. Which is why Rivers pores over game film, looking for ways to bring the All-Star out of Jeff Green.
“We’re trying to figure out what [all of Boston's new players, including Green] can do well,” Rivers said. “Then we’re trying to put that in our offense and try to run it that way. It’s going to be difficult, it’s going to be tough, but we’re going to get it done.”
Just like Glen Davis did not know his role entering this season, Green now tries to figure out what in the world the Boston Celtics want him to do. Do they want him to score? Facilitate? Defend? Save a cat that’s stuck in a tree? Play three? Play four? All of the above, all at once? Like Davis has, Green needs to embrace his versatility. He can impact games in many ways, so he should. He needs to let the game come naturally and not force things, but use his versatility as a weapon.
Through three games, Green has looked hesitant to play his game. At times, of course, such as his one gorgeous dipsy-doo layup in transition (I believe it was against Phoenix), Green shows why he’s considered a legitimate upgrade to Marquis Daniels. At times he can score (or at least get a shot off) far more effortlessly than most players on Boston’s roster, and far more effortlessly than almost any bench player in the league. He has taken two hard dribbles to the baseline and pulled up for a jumper on at least two separate occasions, and I thought to myself both times, “Damn. He can get a pretty quality shot almost any time he wants.”
There’s also Green’s smaller role. In Oklahoma City, he was the team’s unquestioned third option. In Boston, he doesn’t even start.
“It’s fine, it’s just having that energy right away,” Green said of coming off the bench. “It is tougher when you have been playing 37 minutes, but if I’m playing 16 minutes or 25 minutes, I’m going to give it my all and try to do my best while I’m out there on the court.”
In college, even when Green evolved into a superstar at Georgetown, he was unassuming and perhaps a bit too deferential.Maybe that mentality is partly why he has been hesitant, but the Celtics need Green to become more impactful. They need him to take charge of the second unit, and to play with channeled aggression at all times. They need him to corral his well-rounded talents and become a difference-maker in the mold of a Jason Terry. Not that he plays anything like Terry, because the two are quite obviously very different. But Terry impacts games off the bench like few other NBAers, and Green could reasonably become that type of spark.
The Celtics can win games without Green playing like a weapon. Heck, they’re now 3-0 since Green joined the team, even while he struggles to find his Boston sea legs. But if he ever becomes the player Doc Rivers envisions — the player Rivers searches for while he pores over game film each night — Boston’s bench should finally stop holding the team back, and instead (in a good way) help set the Celtics apart from other contenders.