Long, lean and athletic, Jeff Green has all the makings of an NBA All-Star at first glance. The former first round draft pick out of Georgetown University is a sight to see once he gets rolling. But for myself and many who consider themselves fans of his considerable talents dating back to his days at Georgetown under Coach John Thompson III, Jeff Green can’t seem to catch a break either genetically or career wise. After averaging 14 points per game and dominating the Big East Tournament on his way to earning MVP honors back in 2007, Green was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the fifth overall pick and was traded to the Seattle Supersonics in exchange for Ray Allen and Glen “Big Baby” Davis, pairing him with another lean, mean scoring machine in Kevin Durant.
Green would average around 15 points and 6 rebounds per game in his first three seasons in Seattle/OKC following a rookie year in which he averaged 10 points per game and was named to the NBA All-Rookie Team. Very respectable numbers by any measure, especially so when considering his neophyte status at that early stage in his career. But despite his obvious talent, Green seemed to defer indefinitely to fellow first round pick Kevin Durant.
In the boxing game, they say styles make the fight. Similarly, in basketball, personalities make for a winning unit. The proper blend of toughness, selflessness and narcissism can turn an also ran into an NBA contender. As kind and soft spoken as Kevin Durant is, Jeff Green was even more reserved in his on the court demeanor. With such gifts as a 40 inch vertical leap, a serviceable handle for a 6’9” wing player and the versatility to play the three and four in stretches, one would think a killer instinct came naturally with such gifts.
But that wouldn’t be the case.
As Durant’s numbers went from 20 points per game in his rookie season to 30 points per game by his third year in the league, the Oklahoma City Thunder brain trust decided that having two talented choirboys on their roster simply wasn’t going to get them over the hump as both Green and Durant seemed to shrink away from the challenge of competing against Kobe Bryant and the Lakers in the 2010 NBA Playoffs. The addition of uber-aggressive PG Russell Westbrook that same year would make his output immediately expendable the following off season.
He averaged 12 points and 4 rebounds while shooting an abysmal 33 percent from the field in the series as his averages dipped across the board. In 2011 he was subsequently traded back to the Boston Celtics in exchange for bruiser Kendrick Perkins and Lilliputian combo guard Nate Robinson.
But the change of scenery didn’t garner a change in intestinal fortitude for Green. Acquired as a younger, more athletic option to the aging SF Paul Pierce, Green’s minutes and averages plummeted across the board. He would only average 9 points and 3 rebounds per game his first 26 games in Boston after the trade, and 7 points per game in the playoffs.
After signing a 1 year, $9 million deal in 2010, Green failed his physical a week later and was diagnosed with an aortic aneurysm, a life threatening condition caused him to miss the entire season.
Following his return to the Boston Celtics in 2012, Green was brought along slowly and would average 13 points and 4 rebounds per game with 17 starts in 81 games. That average would increase to 17 points per game with the departure of Paul Pierce and a season-long hand injury to PG Rajon Rondo. He was the man, the captain of his own destiny. However, the ship he was in command of was taking on water at a catastrophic rate. The Boston Celtics would go 41-40 during the 2012-2013 season, featuring a playoff appearance in which Green would average 20.3 points per game; but the losses would mount the following season as the Celtics would go 25-57 during 2013-14 season. Green was averaging a career-high 17.6 points per game for the continuously listing Boston franchise prior to being traded to the Memphis Grizzlies.
Despite Green’s frustrating inconsistencies throughout his career, he appears elite in all but demeanor when he gets going. This can be evidenced by the 43 points, 7 boards and 4 blocks he hung on the Miami Heat, and LeBron James in particular, in 2013. You don’t just drop 43 points on any level if you’re not damn good at putting the ball in the basket. However, as stated earlier, he might just be a little too selfless, too meek to be the man on a team. He scored 10 points the game before the aforementioned breakout performance, and 13 points after that, and 10 points after that game. Frustratingly inconsistent by any measure.
However, the Grizzlies are hoping that he can be the piece that puts them over the top. Memphis has sorely been in need of athleticism, length and defense on the wings since the departure of Rudy Gay. That was the whole mindset behind acquiring the rusty but ready Vince Carter. It might just be a match made in heaven when you think about it. With such bruisers as PF Zack Randolph, C Marc Gasol and SG Tony Allen, the Grizz have enough mean to go around. With depth and a fearless point guard like Mike Conley, the Grizzlies don’t need Green to make plays for anyone else. They just need to him to take advantage of his opportunities when they present themselves. With such shooters as PG Courtney Lee and the aforementioned Vince Carter, the Grizzlies don’t need Jeff Green to be on every night on the offensive end. They just need him to give maximum effort defensively on a nightly basis. With his length and athleticism, that task should be easier for him to accomplish than it would be for 90 percent of the league.
On the surface, this looks like a match made in heaven for both Green and the Memphis Grizzlies, who’re currently 2nd in the Western Conference standings behind the Golden State Warriors. So far he’s averaging around 13 points per game since arriving in Memphis, including a 21 point game his second game there, as well as 17 point and 18 point tallies within the next seven games. But he’s also had a 6 and 8 point game as well.
Inconsistencies aside, Jeff Green has found the perfect home in which to flourish or flounder as he pleases.
The rest is up to him.