Jeff Green is 26 years of age. He has been playing basketball from a young age and has played over 370 games as a professional during five seasons in the NBA. Green was considered the fifth best player in the draft of 2007, selected fifth overall by the Oklahoma City Thunder, while the Boston Celtics identified him as a key piece when they traded starting center Kendrick Perkins to the Thunder.
Yet, only now is Green showing the confidence that comes with a person of his caliber. Only now is his game on the court accurately reflecting his expectations off of it. Only now are opponents learning his name, are his teammates trusting his judgment and putting the ball in his hands.
Only now is Green living up to his reputation.
After 26 years, the game has finally slowed down, the basket has widened and the respect is coming. Now that may come across as a negative on his previous achievements, but Green didn't take the typical path of a top lottery pick in the NBA draft. He became a lottery pick by being a leader for the Georgetown Hoyas from 2004-2007, where he was considered the smartest player Coach John Thompson III had ever coached. Green won awards and hit game-winning shots in the NCAA tournament, leading the Hoyas to their first final four appearance in over 20 years. However, that is when Green's journey took an unexpected turn...
Selected after Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Al Horford and Mike Conley originally by the Boston Celtics, before being traded to the Seattle Seahawks as part of the Ray Allen deal, Green started 52 games as a rookie but played just 28 minutes per game. Both he and Kevin Durant were immediately thrust into the spotlight on a team that was severely lacking in talent. Durant, as the second overall pick that year, immediately became the leading star in Seattle and put Green in his shadow. When the team moved to Oklahoma City and Russell Westbrook was drafted ahead of next season, Green was reduced to a role player for his franchise. He was still a starter and all of the statistical aspects of his game increased, but he wasn't the main focus of the team as he had been in college.
Once traded to the Celtics in 2010, that role diminished even further except it came with heightened scrutiny. The Celtics fan-base has always had very high expectations of their players, while Green was seen as the most valuable part of a package that replaced the much loved Kendrick Perkins. Green was expected to perform immediately despite being a relatively young person, and even younger player, who had just endured his third career move and second transition to a new team. To make matters worse, the trade came mid-season so he had to learn on the fly with his new teammates in new surroundings.
Green struggled during his first spell with the Celtics. He wasn't a prominent figure in the team's playoff journey that year, but had shown flashes of his potential for the following season. However, the following season was to be even more disappointing than the previous. Green wouldn't play one second of basketball for the Celtics during the 2011-12 season. Instead, he was undergoing life-changing heart surgery that would keep him off the court for over 12 months. Basketball was the last of Green's worries. If his physical hadn't brought light to the aortic aneurysm that needed to be repaired, he faced the prospect of losing his life. That physical wasn't guaranteed either, with the NBA enduring a lockout that threatened to take away the season for everyone that year.
After a year out from the game, Green returned at the start of this season. Expectations were relatively high out of necessity rather than belief. Ray Allen's decision to move to Miami broke up the big three, while the Celtics as a roster were lacking in impact players off the bench the previous season with Allen. It was unrealistic to think that Green would seamlessly transition from the open-heart surgery theatre to the TD Garden without some problems along the way.
Those problems proved to be hesitance and his fit with his teammates. Green had a reminder on his chest of his frailties. A long surgical scar that stretches from his neck to his stomach. The once high-flying aggressive attacker was settling for jump-shots and passing away from favourable match-ups He wasn't playing like the Celtics had expected to him after that trade with Kendrick Perkins, while the fans' anxiousness was resulting in a lack of patience that threatened to hurt his production further.
Green had his moments, he even had his games, when his raw potential could be seen but he couldn't consistently put together a stretch that really benefited he and his teammates. The Celtics' championship window was only slightly ajar, the franchise didn't have time to wait for Green to turn up. Instead, they would move forward without him in the spotlight. Relegate him to a minor role and stunt his development with another hurdle that this time represented a road-block.
On the 25th of January 2013 that all changed. On that day the Celtics were playing the Atlanta Hawks in Atlanta. It would be the final game of the season for all-star point guard Rajon Rondo. Rondo tore his ACL late in an overtime period.
The Celtics' championship window that was perceived to be slightly ajar had been slammed shut.
At least, that's how it was perceived. Instead of having that door slammed shut, the Celtics' bit-part players, led by Green amongst one or two others, prised it open for one final run with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Rondo's injury coincided with Green's comfort level rising. Not only had he played through three months of basketball to earn that trust back in his physical ability to play the game, without Rondo the Celtics reverted to a more orthodox offensive approach that required less thinking and more performing from Green. His first post-Rondo display saw him set his season high in minutes with 42 against the Miami Heat. Green didn't have his best game, but he was heavily involved which was a sign of things to come.
Green went from playing anywhere from 14 to 32 minutes before Rondo's injury, to 21 through 42 post-injury. Over the 12 games that Green played after that trip to Atlanta, Green averaged 31.5 minutes per game as part of his 25 minutes per game for the season. He is only averaging 10.9 points per game this year, but 15.8 points per game post-Rondo. He has also averaged over four rebounds per game post-Rondo, compared to just three prior.
Statistically, Green has become a greater overall piece of the puzzle. However, it is his play on the court that has really been notable. No longer is he hesitant when taking on lesser match-ups No longer does he pass of the responsibility of putting the ball in the basket to other players or wait for his opportunities to pick off scraps from the work of others. Instead, Green is now at the forefront of the team's offensive approach, including clearout plays to put him in space using his physical advantages over defenders. His all-around game is flourishing, as he is not a defensive liability, and it culminated in a game against the Phoenix Suns recently.
A season-high 31 points was complemented by seven rebounds, four assists, five blocks, two steals and just one turnover in 39 minutes of play. Shooting over 78% for the game and 60% from behind the arc highlighted just how difficult Green is to defend on any given day. While it may have only been one game against the lowly Suns, it was a game played without Kevin Garnett and his first start of the season. Green didn't just prove that he can still play at this level, he proved that he can excel with added responsibility on his shoulders.
As much as Celtics fans have learned to doubt Green because of his inconsistencies and short-comings adjusting to life in Boston, nobody can claim that he has ever shied away from taking on the challenges and responsibilities that come with being a professional basketball player. This Celtics team is living on resiliency post-Rondo, Green is epitomizing everything that is currently good about this team.
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