Celtics Remain Contenders with Jeff Green
Yes, Jeff Green’s return to the NBA after missing the 2011-12 season with an aortic aneurysm is a touching story. Heart surgery is more serious than basketball, and while the Boston Celtics forward has been cleared by doctors, stepping back on the floor can be a nervous moment.
“I can’t put it into words,” Green told HOOPSWORLD of the Celtics’ first preseason game, a 97-91 loss to Fenerbahçe in Istanbul on Oct. 5. “Just to be able to step foot back out on the basketball floor, at the time, it was the least of my worries, but to be able to come back and play again, it’s a blessing and I’m very, very thankful.”
Green’s thankfulness is undoubtedly buoyed by the four-year, $36-million deal the Celtics gave him over the summer, but this story doesn’t end with Green running back out onto the court with a new deal in his back pocket.
The real story of Green’s return is about the Celtics remaining competitive. Age hasn’t significantly deteriorated the skills of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, but Ray Allen left for the Miami HEAT and Boston needs someone to step up.
In the preseason, that guy was Green.
“I just think he’s more aggressive, obviously,” Celtics coach Doc Rivers said, as quoted by Paul Flannery of WEEI.com. “He’s comfortable in his game. He understands how to score, how he can score through our offense. The other part is he’s happy. The guys like him, he likes them, he’s comfortable here now. I think last year, even though he didn’t play, probably did a world of good. Just being around the guys and they accepted him and I think all that helped him.”
Green led the Celtics with 13.9 points in 29.3 minutes per night. He rebounded well (4.9 rebounds per game), played good defense (1.0 blocks per game and .5 steals per game) and kept his fouls in check (1.9 per game) while playing both small and power forward.
And it’s that versatility that is going to pay the biggest dividends for Green in 2011-12.
Green isn’t known as a great defender, but he did hold small forwards to a 7.8 Player Efficiency Rating while he was with the Celtics in 2011 (the league average is 15).
Green didn’t have much offensive success at either small forward (13.8 PER in 2010-11) or power forward (12.6), but that was before he really understood what Rivers wanted from him.
Now Green is expected to stick small forwards like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony on defense and pick and choose his spots on offense. That’s a change from earlier in his career, when Green was able to shoot practically at will with the Thunder (after hitting 38.9 percent of his 3-pointers in 2008-09, he decided to take an additional 65 attempts the following season, but ended up making just 33.3 percent).
Fortunately for Green’s shooting percentage, this Celtics team isn’t reliant on players forcing things on offense. Practically every player on this team outside of Rajon Rondo and Darko Milicic plays two or more positions. That means sometimes the Celtics will have a size advantage, sometimes they’ll have a speed advantage, but they always have to be cognizant of who they’re matched up with.
“Yeah, no team can discover a mismatch to our team,” Green said. “No matter if it’s me, Brandon (Bass), Kris Joseph, KG. We have guys who can play multiple positions, Courtney (Lee), and we can match with any team. So, it works to the best of our abilities to put a lineup out there that can guard anybody.”
Of course, playing both forward spots (and even a little shooting guard) isn’t possible without being in basketball shape. Green isn’t recovering from an injury — just a health scare — but that doesn’t mean he’s ready to log 30 minutes a night.
“The doctors gave me the okay, and I knew it was going to be a struggle at first, and it still is,” Green said. “I’m not at one hundred percent yet. That’s what I’m using the preseason for: to get in shape, to better my game and do things I need to improve on. I still got work to do.”
One of the biggest clichés in sports is “I’m not complaining,” but when a player loses an opportunity because of an injury — or in this case, a medical condition — he should have every right to complain. Some opportunities won’t come around twice.
Before learning of his heart condition, there was talk that Green could start over Pierce, which would have given the Celtics bench the scoring threat it was looking for last season.
Green no longer seems like a candidate to start, but he knows he’s going to get major minutes even if he’s coming off the bench. And while every athlete says “I’m not complaining,” Green might actually mean it.
“To me there is one goal: no matter what I do, no matter how many minutes I play, the goal is to win a championship,” Green said when asked about starting over Pierce. “The other stuff will come. We work together. If he has an off night, I’ll pick up after him. If I have an off night, he’ll pick up for me. That’s how it is.”
And when you consider where Green is coming from, backing up a legend like Pierce and contributing on a title contender is nothing to complain about.