I’m not sure if this holds true for most Boston fans, but I frequently forget that the Celtics have Jeff Green. The fact that Green sat out last season continues to throw me when I’m considering potential lineups for the 2012-2013 campaign. But Green will likely be a rather important contributor, so if you are like me and his presence often slips beneath your notice, we could probably use a bit of a refresher course.
One of my good friends is a diehard fan of the Thunder, dating back to their days in Seattle. He is constantly trying to convince me that the Thunder didn’t completely fleece the Celtics in the Kendrick Perkins/Jeff Green deal. I, of course, think he is wrong. I think that the Celtics were heavy title contenders in 2011 until the deal, after which they were barely contenders to make the Eastern Conference Finals. But my friend is insistent. “He was playing out of position. He could have been an All-Star in OKC. You are going to love Jeff Green.”
Let’s safely assume that the claims of Jeff Green the All-Star are hyperbole. But perhaps he is right that Green can be considerably better than we’ve seen, and given the bigger-than-basketball struggles Green has endured, even non-Celtics fans should wish Green the best over the next few years. Boston now has Green locked up for four years, for better or worse, so let’s break him down by the numbers.
One of the most common claims about Jeff Green is that as the Celtics begin a sort of youth movement, he will benefit from the transition opportunities afforded him by a point guard like Rondo. This may well be true. Green is fairly athletic, and far too often during the Big 3 era, Rondo would find himself up ahead of the pack with no teammates around him. But statistically, a team with a higher pace hasn’t really helped Jeff Green much. In 2010, Green’s final season with OKC, the Thunder were 12th in the NBA in pace. During that season, Green’s PER was 13.8, a bit below the league average of 15.0.
In 2011, when Green was traded to Boston, the Celtics were 22nd in the league in pace, and Green’s PER fell to 12.9. This drop could be attributed to Green’s discomfort within Boston’s system and the slower pace at which Boston played. The problem, of course, is that even in a faster system like Oklahoma City’s, Green didn’t have an incredibly high PER. So while Green may well be better utilized in a faster paced system, it doesn’t appear that the change would turn him into an incredibly productive player.
But assuming that Green will be somewhat better in transition with Rondo, the next question is where he should be played. Green is very tall, legitimately 6’9 with long arms, so if he could play the small forward, he would be well built. Unfortunately, Green’s numbers at the 3 don’t really justify a move to that position. For OKC, Green played just 12.1% of his minutes at small forward, and it’s easy to see why: OKC had Kevin Durant, and at small forward, Green’s PER was a paltry 10.5. At the four, where Green spent 61% of his time in ’09-’10, he was considerably better. Indeed, his PER was actually above the league average, at 16.5. In Boston, Green’s PER was low at power forward, but that can be at least partially attributed to the system. So the answer for Green is to play a faster pace and put him at the four, right?
Well…not so fast.
Though Green was fairly productive on offense in OKC’s system at power forward, he also allowed a 20.5 PER to his opponents. Green also gave up 11.7 rebounds per 48 minutes to power forward opponents, while grabbing just 7.8 rebounds per 48 minutes for himself. So while Green at the four may help the Celtics offensively, he may be somewhat of a liability on defense, and he won’t help with Boston’s legendary rebounding woes.
The good news, of course, is that if anyone can build a system that benefits Jeff Green and puts him in a position to suceed, it’s Doc. It should be noted that the 2010 OKC team that Green played for was not an elite defensive team, giving up 98 points per 100 possessions, good for 11th in the league. In Boston, Green’s power forward opponents were just slightly over the average league efficiency, at 15.9 PER, which indicates that Boston’s system will help him quite a bit more than Oklahoma City’s did.
If there is an obvious solution to Green’s defensive liabilities, I’m not sure what it is. Perhaps playing Green at the four and allowing Boston’s excellent defensive systems to make up for his mediocre defense will work, but the Celtics don’t really have another 3-4 tweener who could easily switch with Green on defense. So presumably, if Boston wants to play Green at power forward, they are going to have to build their defensive strategies around his slightly less than average defense.
I should note that by no means am I trashing Jeff Green’s abilities. He could be a very good piece on this team if he used correctly.
But we all need to remember, as we prepare for this season, that Green is a very complicated player with a very complicated skill set. Using him correctly may require some patience and some trial and error before he contributes efficiently.
Follow Tom on Twitter, @Tom_NBA.