Unless we’re discussing the eight or nine best players in the world, it’s impossible to separate a contract’s price from a player’s expectations, value, and overall performance.
Jeff Green is the manifestation of this theory. In August he was guaranteed $36 million over four years, even though he didn’t play a single game during the previous season after undergoing open heart surgery. The money was too much. The years were too many.
And so, just like that, as he prepared to enter his athletic prime, the book on Green was written before he had the opportunity to prove people wrong. But after showcasing a basic skill-set that allowed him to completely take over quarters, hit two game-winning shots, and hold his own against the best players at his position for extended stretches, it might be safe to say that Green did just that.
We’ll start by looking at how he performed in 17 games as a starter: 20.1 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.1 blocks per game, 52.3% from the floor, 51.9% on 3-pointers, and 79.8% from the line. The odds of Green extrapolating those numbers over the course of an entire season aren’t promising—mostly because nobody’s ever been that efficient while scoring that many points—but it still represents an incredibly positive development.
Green’s contract isn’t a bargain. You aren’t getting eight Big Macs for a dollar here. But he’s proven to be a very, very good player. There was the time he scored 43 points in 40 minutes against the Miami Heat, or the 11-of-14 massacring he conducted in Phoenix. And he was complete in those scoring outbursts. Green passed the 30 point mark three times this season, and in those three games he totaled 13 blocks, five steals, and 20 rebounds.
But this isn’t an argument for Green to be treated as an All-Star, because he’s not in that ball park right now. It’s a case for him to be respected as a very good piece on what could be a very competitive team. His contract has existed as a stigma but it shouldn’t anymore.
The main criticism surrounding Green is based in his inconsistent play. Local media wondered why, if he possessed all the skills everyone kept saying he had, he couldn’t take over games and score whenever he wanted. The word “aggressive” was showered upon all Jeff Green related analysis for the first few months of the season, mostly to the effect that he needed to be “that” all the time, during each and every possible minute of action. The only thing stopping Green from scoring 30 points every time he took the floor was himself, according to a few people who don’t know much about basketball.
Green definitely didn’t average 30 points a night. In 29 of 81 games, he scored less than 10 points, pushing his deficiencies to the forefront. Sometimes he entered games with a giant padlock wrapped around his shoulders and draped across his chest. Green simply couldn’t score, and he’d stop looking for his own shot if he didn’t have “it” early on. Quotations are used here because I’m not smart enough to know what “it” is.
On the defensive end he’s a versatile athlete, which is phenomenal. And he controls that athleticism in uncanny ways when it comes to protecting the rim as a weakside or trailing defender. But his pick-and-roll defense often looks like Doc Rivers repeatedly excommunicates him during the specific time in practice when Boston’s coaching staff is instructing their players on what to do. Green is a snail fighting through picks, too quick to settle on a switch when his teammate, who’s defending the roll man, has no idea he needs to step up and take the ball-handler. This turns contested jumpers into open jumpers. It’s repeated miscommunications that we’ve seen all year long, and it needs to end if Green is ever truly to be recognized as an “elite” defender.
But overall, and more specifically with the ball, he improved his play as the season went on, going toe to toe with his competition, and acting as a beast through Boston’s brief playoff run. Green’s point totals from that series go like this: 26, 10, 21, 26, 18, 21. He played over 42 minutes in every game except one, and created match-up problems galore for a Knicks team that had nobody to guard him. That the ball wasn’t in his hands enough is more a question for the coaching staff than the player, in this situation.
If you’ve ever asked “Why isn’t Jeff Green a superstar?” out loud and was legitimately crushed about him not quite ever putting it all together, I feel for you. I really do. Because Jeff Green will never be a superstar in the sense that he’s able to carry a team to the playoffs or make an All-Star team.
But understand his strengths (taking advantage of physical mismatches in the post, getting to the free-throw line, creating his own shot with a fairly consistent jumper, thriving as one of the 10 most feared in-game dunkers in the league). Just make sure you remember the unpredictable nature in which they’re ignited.
Despite starting the season on the bench, in somewhat of a confusing role, he ended the year with career-bests in PER, points per 36 minutes (16.6) and True Shooting percentage, spending long stretches of more than a handful of games swooping through defenses and putting the ball in the basket in extremely efficient ways. He made it look easy, which is one of those unquantifiable characteristics all great players share. But Green came and went. Watching him play sometimes feels like standing outside during a breeze-less 101 degree day, then getting pelted with a few water balloons. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but it sounds about right if you think long enough.
Until you’re able to separate Green’s play from how much money he’s making, you might not agree with the assertion that he exceeded any and all expectations. Don’t worry about the contract. Everyone know it’ll probably remain a bit too high until it expires—Green will be 27 next season, most likely a full-time starter, and someone who’s already established what he can and cannot do in the NBA. But to cite his deal in any discussion centered around the league’s least team-friendly contracts is admitting you aren’t watching/haven’t watched him play in at least two years.
In Jeff Green’s case, separate the deal from the man and what you’ll find is a frustratingly marvelous athlete. But he’s still one hell of a basketball player.
CelticsHub Grade: B