After four games it’s fair to say that it’s time to stop making excuses for Jeff Green and start getting concerned. Following a preseason that featured a lot of this and got Celtics fans fairly excited, Jeff “comeback player of the year” Green has come crashing (brutally) back to earth. Through four games this season Jeff Green is averaging eight points and two rebounds in 22 minutes a game and his defense has been so bad that Doc rivers pulled him from the game after he blew one too many defensive rotations, later openly expressing his disappointment when asked about Green the following day. So what is up with Jeff Green?
At a bare minimum this season, Green was expected to backup Paul Pierce at the three spot. Since Green apparently still doesn’t grasp the Celtics’ defense (he wouldn’t be the first and he certainly won’t be the last) he’s going to have to make up for his mistakes with natural ability. Unfortunately for Green his lateral quickness is less than desirable. The following is a list of current Celtics scores on the lane agility test from the draft combine (many are missing as they were not recorded or the Celtic in question did not participate, but you get the idea). Lower is better: Darko Milicic 11.30, Chris Wilcox 11.43, Avery Bradley 11.47, Brandon Bass 11.61, Jeff Green 12, Jason Collins 12.10, Fab Melo 12.14, Jared Sullinger 12.77.
Let’s talk about the lane agility drill for a second (you can check out a video of Enes Kanter performing it here). The lane agility drill is intended to test speed, ability to change direction, and coordination (things that don’t change too much post-draft), and if you watched the video you can see that lateral movement is a huge part of it. Generally you would expect guards to do better on this test (making Darko’s score both impressive and incredibly disappointing) but Jeff Green’s lane agility is closest to that of Jason Collins and Fab Melo. Basically, Jeff Green moves kinda like a truck (and who would believe that this guy isn’t coordinated?), meaning that his ability to recover on defense is rather limited. Normally you would make up for this with good anticipation and air-tight team defense, but like I already said Jeff Green doesn’t get the Celtics defense, so when he misses a rotation against an opposing small forward it’s more or less a lost cause.
The solution to this of course would be to play Jeff Green primarily at the four (which kind of defeats the whole point of him backing up Pierce but WHATEVER). The problem with this is that Jeff Green kinda sucks at rebounding. As Tom pointed out this summer, when Jeff Green played power-forward for Oklahoma City he got absolutely crushed on the boards. For his career Jeff Green’s total rebound percentage (percentage of available rebounds grabbed when he’s on the floor) is about 9.4%. This is lower than the career TRB% of everyone on the Celtics other than Rondo, Bradley, Terry, Lee, Barbosa (a.k.a. the guards). So far this year Jeff Green’s TRB% has been 5.5%, good for 4th worst on the team (he’s out-rebounded Barbosa, Terry, and Lee). Because the Celtics don’t have a center who can simultaneously protect the rim and rebound (I know Garnett exists but rebounding isn’t always his favorite thing, at least on the offensive end) you can’t play Green at the four without accepting that you’re going to lose that battle on the boards, badly (and Jeff Green isn’t a plus defender at the four either, merely competent).
So if someone is a minus on the defensive end, the easiest way to make up for it is the have a compelling offensive game. Unfortunately for Jeff Green, he hasn’t exactly gotten off to a great start on that end of the floor either. Because Jeff Green doesn’t have great lateral quickness it’s hard for him to weave his way to the basket the same way he did during preseason; instead, Green can either try to take advantage of his range (against fours) or his strength (against threes). Since Green is being asked to be Pierce’s primary backup we would expect him to see more time at small forward, where he’d have to bully opposing players in the lane and the post to be successful. But Jeff Green isn’t a bully, I don’t think he has a mean bone in his body, so instead we see a lot of standing around and looking confused from him while Pierce is on the bench.
Now, most of these problems are fixable. With a bit of an attitude adjustment, Green can be a solid defensive four (the angry Jeff Green of my dreams crashes the boards) and an offensive force at either forward position. But this is a player so passive he apparently declined to shoot a technical free throw Wednesday night (according to Mike Gorman), and it’s becoming increasingly clear that Doc is struggling to find ways to motivate him. I’m sure Jeff Green will improve — his per minute numbers have been down across the board so it seems reasonable to assume he’ll regress to the mean as the season progresses. But those are the numbers of a Jeff Green who’s been thoroughly mediocre thus far in his career, and if Green doesn’t find a bit of an edge on the court I’m afraid he’ll continue to be just that.
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