“When they put me in some box as a saint/I never was, it’s the false prophet that never came/And well they think that everything that I written has all been fake”
-Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, “Starting Over”
Writing stories of any kind can be an arduous task. Whether the story is fiction, non-fiction, feature or blog, the writer is always writing for an audience. That audience is a challenge because the audience expects narrative, and the best narratives always have a resolution. Resolution doesn’t have to have one singular emotion (not every great story has a happy ending), but we expect an ending.
The problem with writing about sports, or really any ongoing true story, is that there really is no resolution. In the song that I quoted above, Macklemore raps about how difficult it is to be held up as an alcoholic who got sober. As he points out in the song, getting sober is a process and any process involves mistakes and slip-ups. It isn’t going to go perfectly. But that’s not the narrative that most people want to see. What they WANT to see is Macklemore choosing to become sober and achieving that goal because it fits more neatly into their idea of how the story should end. But Macklemore’s story doesn’t end. It just keeps going, and his REAL narrative keeps growing right along with it.
Macklemore’s narrative is a good thing to keep in mind when thinking about Jeff Green and his early season play for the Celtics so far. We have spent a lot of time and energy analyzing Jeff Green so far this season here at Celtics Town, but considering his importance to this team and the enormous contract he signed this summer, perhaps we can be excused in doing so.
And frankly, of all the confounding Celtics players, none have been more confounding than Green. After struggling out of the gate, he interspersed a few good games with his bad ones, finally lining up two consecutive good games for the first time this season on back-to-back nights against Portland and Milwaukee. So what do we make of Jeff Green? And exactly how encouraged should we be by his performance this weekend?
There’s no easy answer, and there might not be until the end of the season, because narrative doesn’t resolve itself immediately. But there are positives and negatives that can perhaps help us put Green’s performance so far in the right context.
1. His spot-up jumpers (and 3-point attempts) have been on point. Green is averaging 1.1 points per possession on spot-up opportunities, and he’s shooting just under 50% from the field. But even more encouraging than either of these stats is Green’s 3-point shooting. He’s 8-20 for 40% from 3-point range on spot-ups which is considerably better than we were expecting from him preseason. His 3-point percentage (9-27, 33.3%) looks pretty mediocre, but that includes four half-court heaves at the end of the quarter, something most NBA players choose to pass up because (guess what?) it messes with your 3-point percentage. Take away those heaves, and he is at just under 40% for the season overall. So Green’s 3-point shooting has been a very pleasant surprise so far.
2. He has been attacking the basket. Ever since he smashed all over Al Jefferson, Green has been attacking the basket harder. It’s difficult to show statistically, but Green seems to be more aggressively and more assertively, looking to finish around the rim since that dunk. I’m playing sports psychologist here (not my area of expertise), but Green has been gradually gaining confidence as the season progresses. It seems possible that a dunk like that might have accelerated the growth in confidence quite a bit, doesn’t it?
1. He learns from his mistakes on defense.
On the first play in this video, Green badly overcommits to Millsap’s left, allowing the versatile forward to drive to his right and score over a charging Sullinger (who once again showed his utter lack of lateral quickness). In the next play, which occurred mere minutes later, Green is faced with a similar situation, charging out after Millsap on the perimeter. But this time, he stutters his feet in time to stop directly in front of Millsap, who puts the ball on the floor and forces up a difficult runner.
Is this a positive or a negative? It’s hard to say. One would like to say that it’s great that Green learns from his mistakes, but one would ALSO like to say that by this point in his career, Green would have figured out not to overcommit to a Paul Millsap-type player behind the 3-point line in the first place.
More Jekyll and Hyde from Green: he is susceptible to pump fakes, but he plays decent defense against driving players even though his lateral quickness is pretty limited. One of his defensive strengths is his anticipation: he does a good job of getting in the way and bumping driving players off their desired path using just his chest (the second play in the video above isn’t a perfect illustration, but it is a good one). Then he uses his long arms to contest shots. Green doesn’t average many blocks per game (just 0.9 per 36 minutes), but he definitely alters some perimeter attempts.
2. Green’s post-up opportunities. Take away Green’s post-up opportunities against Portland and Milwaukee, and he is shooting just 20% in post-up opportunities for the season. Going 4-4 in post-ups against the Trail Blazers and the Bucks has certainly helped his post-up stats, but it’s also a very small sample size, so it’s hard to draw any kind of real conclusion from them.
However, there are caveats here as well, this time positive. Although he has missed a fair amount of shots, he has looked considerably more comfortable as the year progresses, actively and aggressively calling for the ball in the post and attacking smaller defenders when he gets it. Green utilizes his length pretty well and has done a very good job of sealing his defender in front of him on several attempts this season, most notably against Milwaukee when Doron Lamb was forced to guard him on two possessions. Several times this season, he has forced teams to use the weakside post defender to double on him and as Green gets used to absorbing a double team (and as his teammates get used to adjusting to this defensive scheme), look for his assists out of the post to go up.
1. Bad defensive rebounding. We knew Green was a mediocre rebounder before the season, but the fact that we saw it coming doesn’t make his numbers any easier to stomach. Green has played 31% of Boston’s minutes at small forward and 12% of Boston’s minutes at power forward. This means that Green, as a combo forward, SHOULD be sharing some of the rebounding load. He doesn’t. His rebound percentage, 7.8% of the available rebounds, puts him just above Rashard Lewis (7.6%) and Marvin Williams (7.7%), which is far from the company the Celtics would like him to be keeping.
The worst part is that Green COULD be a good rebounder. Really, anybody with long arms, good height and a decent vertical leap (three characteristics Green possesses) could be a good rebounder with good timing and anticipation, and a solid work ethic. It would be foolish to question Green’s work ethic (the man had heart surgery last season), but his timing and anticipation are questionable at best. The Celtics desperately need Green to be productive as they are allowing him 21.6 minutes per game off the bench, and that production includes rebounding.
3. Inconsistency. This is the obvious one. At times, Green has looked like a legitimate threat off the bench, and it has happened just frequently enough to indicate that his good performances aren’t flukes (ask Utah, OKC, Portland and Milwaukee). On the other hand, it’s unspeakably frustrating to have Green score 17 points against Oklahoma City on 6-11 shooting only to go 0-9 against Orlando in the very next game.
The problem with analyzing basketball players is that they are people and as such, they are extremely complicated. No player figures themselves out and plays better consistently in every single game for the rest of their career. But Green has shown signs of improvement, and if he can make production like we saw against Portland and Milwaukee the norm, he will be a lot closer to being worth the enormous, potentially cumbersome contract he signed this summer.
Better yet: We’ll be one step closer to the happy resolution that everybody loves.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.