There are three (and only three) players about whom I feel confident saying they will return from this year’s squad. The list, in order from least confident to most:
- Jared Sullinger. Sully presents an intriguing trade chip if Boston needs a sweetener going after bigger names, but his value is considerably higher as a Celtic. Very little reason to trade him on his own.
- Rajon Rondo. Rondo’s status may never seem certain around the trade deadline, but other teams will want to see him returning healthy before they pull the trigger on a trade involving him.
- Yourself, Jeff Green.
Why do I feel so confident? Consider the following (yes, more bullet points):
- One year after open heart surgery, you averaged 16.6 points per 36 minutes.
- Your 3-point shooting was unbelievable. According to mySynergySports.com, you shot 39.1% from 3-point range, which is excellent. What’s more, you finished at 40% if we remove nine missed half-court heaves that you chucked up, which brought down your average. In spot-up situations, which amounted for nearly 70% of your 3-point attempts, you averaged 46.8% from 3-point range. That’s unbelievable.
- Oh, and by the way, you averaged 1.17 points per possession in spot-up attempts, which was 33rd in the entire NBA.
- Your individual defense, particularly on LeBron James, was spectacular. In Synergy’s (admittedly somewhat flawed) defensive statistics, your opponents shot just 36.3% for the season.
And we can’t forget this:
Those are just unkind, Jeff. I fully approve.
I think what was most satisfying about your season was the way everyone wrote you off before the year even began. Danny gave you a pretty large contract as the season began, and immediately writers began jumping all over it. I’m including myself in this; I thought it was a horrible risk to give a player like yourself (significant health risks, little actual production) four years/$36 million. I wasn’t necessarily against giving you $9 million a season, but why hand you the long contract right away? Why not overpay you for one season, then reassess at the end of it? Then, when the season began and you struggled, we all began to worry. What if Danny just threw away 36 million over four seasons? I despaired.
As it turns out, I was wrong to despair. This happens a lot.
Once you settled into a groove (which, incidentally, was something you never had a chance to do in 2011), you came out swinging. I remember that dunk on Al Jefferson in particular because I wondered if it might shake you out of your reverie and remind you that playing basketball is FUN, especially for an ultra-long, bouncy forward. I’m not sure if it was the dunk that did it, but you performed considerably better after it. You and Pierce, especially, seemed to develop a great give-and-take that resulted in some of the best games of your career including a MONSTER night against the Heat. Somehow we managed to waste your performance, which was depressing, but watching you single-handedly lay a beatdown on Miami was probably the most satisfying moment of the season.
It’s also difficult to complain about your playoff run. You averaged 20 points and 5.3 rebounds in 43 minutes per game, which was considerably higher in both categories than your regular season averages. You shot 45.3% from 3-point range (!!!!!!), which was excellent. Generally, you did just about everything Boston could have asked from you. The long minutes were beginning to get to you by the end, but they were getting to everyone else in Doc’s 7-man rotation. It was a lot to ask.
There are certainly areas in which you could improve. You are still not a great rebounder (or even a good one), which is disappointing for a player of your size and athleticism. If you could average seven rebounds per game, I’d feel a little bit better about the idea of you replacing Pierce, but at this point in your career, I’m just not sure those kind of numbers are realistic on the boards. Your help defense can be problematic. Your first step, although it’s long, still isn’t really quick enough to get around some of the faster perimeter defenders. I’m not sure how you would work on those things over the summer, but improving them would go a long way toward cementing your reputation as an excellent player.
We already hinted at this in an earlier section, but the next question for you is whether or not you can replace Paul Pierce. The easy (and correct) answer is no, you can’t. Pierce is a Celtic legend and his departure will be the cause for mourning. But can you produce numbers similar to his? Possibly. That remains to be seen, especially when Rondo returns. You never really got a chance to get comfortable with Rondo, which was disappointing given your similar skill-sets. Your interaction will be an entertaining subplot next year.
But that comes later, and it’s possible you may not even have to replace Pierce. All in all, your season was probably the most satisfying of any Celtic. You out-performed expectations and while I wouldn’t say you silenced your critics (because there are still plenty of them), I WOULD say that they should stay silenced. At this point, your contract is looking pretty damn good.
I’m looking forward to next year, Jeff. I think it will be a good one for you.
Follow Tom on Twitter: @Tom_NBA.