When Kevin Garnett started to miss time due to a slew of injuries and illnesses last season, reserve forward Jeff Green was thrust into the starting lineup. The production of the fifth year player out of Georgetown University throughout the rest of the team’s 2012-2013 campaign was encouraging, albeit the Celtics’ first time failing to reach the second round of the playoffs since 2007. Green filled his temporary role by smashing his season averages almost every night, and eventually leading the team in scoring through the playoffs, averaging nearly 20 points per game.
Much has changed in Boston since Jeff Green’s spark and the Celtics early departure from the playoffs. Head Coach Doc Rivers jumped ship and headed west to join the Clippers, and the Celtics’ most tenured players in Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were unloaded in a deal that sent them to Atlantic Division rival Brooklyn Nets.
In between talk of the Celtics tanking next season for a higher lottery pick (which is as preposterous a concept as it is likely that the Celtics’ could land the first pick in the draft lottery, anyway), the general consensus is that the weight of the franchise lies on the shoulders of three time All-Star point guard Rajon Rondo, 2nd team All-NBA defense shooting guard Avery Bradley, and revitalized forward Jeff Green.
Unless Rajon Rondo suffers a major setback from last season’s ACL injury, it is a sure bet that he can pick up similarly to where he left off: continuing to play relentless defense and threading passes through the tightest of windows to rack up absurd assist numbers. There’s no reason to think that Bradley is going anywhere but up. He’s one of the league’s most tenacious on-ball defenders, and being over a year removed from dual shoulder surgery, we can assume that his offensive production has nowhere to go but up.
Jeff Green, however, has an opportunity to have a special – and unpredictable – season. Throughout much of his first full season in Boston, Green seemed to go missing during games while coming off of the bench. Perhaps it was due to recovering from a life season heart surgery, which doctors claim takes a year to fully recover from. That prediction seemed to hold validity, as Green took off in the later part of the season. Two games in particular down the stretch of the regular season showed what he was capable of, and might have given a sneak peak as to what is to come for Green.
In the Celtics’ four-game-losing-streak-snapping win over the Cavaliers in late March, Jeff Green was trusted with the ball, down one, with two seconds to go. He responded, driving to the hoop and laying it in as time expired to get the very much needed victory; all while scoring fifteen points, grabbing seven rebounds and tallying five assists. Then Head Coach Doc Rivers is notorious for drawing up plays at the end of games, and his decision to get Jeff Green – not Paul Pierce – the ball at the top of the key proved vital. However, what Green did, by recognizing a seam to his right, while staying conscious of the clock, and powering through defenders to lay the ball in as time expired was special. It takes a player with not only great intangibles, like awareness, but also size and strength to get to the hoop in a matter of a second.
In an early March game against the Miami Heat, Jeff Green nearly led the C’s to a thrilling win without defensive stalwart Kevin Garnett suiting up. Green took it to the Heat and MVP LeBron James early and often, scoring 43 points and grabbing seven boards in a 105-103 losing effort. The numbers aren’t all that’s impressive, it’s the way he garnered the stats that gives hope to Green’s future. He was attacking the basket from the get-go, drawing fouls and scoring through contact. He wasn’t limited with his scoring ability though, as he also connected on a range of three pointers, connecting on five of his seven attempts from beyond the arc. All of this while being guarded by the most coveted player in the NBA.
Green clearly has the ability to take over any basketball game, and despite his brilliant mind on the court, his biggest asset may be his size. He’s naturally a small forward, but he brings a body with dimensions of 6’9″ and 235 pounds, which gives him some versatility. Green is big enough that he can muscle with the likes of other large combo forwards like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, who Paul Pierce always struggled to defend with his lack of matching physicality. Pierce was too often undersized against the likes of Anthony and James, and he was inevitably beat down in the low post. Two Eastern Conference Finals ago, Boston’s power forward Brandon Bass was often called on to guard James, but James’ athleticism and speed was just too much for Bass to slow down. While Green may not have the defensive reputation of Pierce, nor the same girth as Bass, he has the combination of size and athleticism to slow down players like Anthony and James.
No one is expecting much from the Celtics in 2013-2014, but with the potential of a healthy Rondo, Bradley and Green running the show, the return of pieces like Brandon Bass, Jared Sullinger and Courney Lee, and the recent additions in Kelly Olynyk, MarShon Brooks, Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace, this team may be able to turn some heads, while in the process making fools of the pundits who legitimately suggested a storied NBA franchise could entertain the possibility of tanking.