Jeff Green – From Operating Table to Dropping Buckets

Jeff Green’s story is truly a fantastic one. He was a rising talent with the young Oklahoma City Thunder, but an inauspicious twist of fate would put him on the operating table, jeopardizing not only his NBA career but his life.

After signing a deal with the Boston Celtics, who originally drafted him (he was traded to then then-Seattle Supersonics on draft day as part of the Ray Allen deal), he was diagnosed with an aortic root aneurysm and failed his physical. Green was forced to have open heart surgery which naturally ruled him out for the 2011-12 lockout-shortened NBA season.

Now he is back where he belongs – on a basketball court. His scar constantly reminds him of what he has been through; fueling his ambition towards the sport he loves.

With all of what he had to push through, it is admirable how well Green has been playing lately. If his consistent play in the first two weeks of March didn’t grab your attention, the 43-point outburst in a losing effort against the reigning NBA champions most certainly did.

Kevin Garnett missed seven games in March due to injury and Green has stepped up. Take a look at his numbers:

2012-13: 12.3 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 1.5 apg

2012-13 March: 17.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 3 apg

Now, you might argue that this is just a lucky stretch. That it’s nothing but a little hot streak. That we have simply witnessed the culmination of Green’s capabilities. Conventional wisdom tells us that when Garnett is back, his teammate’s numbers will go down. But are we seeing what Green is capable of on a regular basis?

In March, Green is playing 33.8 minutes per game, over six minutes more than his season average, but only two minutes more than he did in February. Last month, he put up three more shots per game while converting at a 48.8% clip from the field.

So what has led to Green’s recent success? Here is a comparison of his shot distribution this season and in March:

Jeff Green Shot Distribution

In March, 56% of Green’s shot attempts are in the paint, which is higher than his 53.7% season average. He is taking more shots in the paint and in the restricted area, while converting at a higher rate in March. He is also shooting less from mid-range and corners, but is attempting more 3-point shots above the break.

On the season, he has been assisted on 60% of his field goals, but in March Green has been actively looking to take initiative and create his own looks, being assisted on just 53.5% of his makes. In other words, he has been attacking the basket and is doing so very effectively.

As mentioned, Green put on a show for the fans when he torched the Miami Heat with his 43 points. In that game he set the tone early and abused Miami’s defense in various ways.

In the first clip, Green races past Shane Battier with a quick first step and gets a nice look close to the basket. The very next possession Battier has already learned his lesson. Green is positioned at the left elbow and is actively looking for the ball, while Battier is trying to front him.

Shane Battier fronting

Green is already earning the respect of his opposition, so much that Battier wants to deny him the ball by all means necessary. Green is able to push his defender off and create just enough separation to receive the pass from Jason Terry.

Bass screen

Brandon Bass quickly comes over and sets a hard screen that forces Miami to switch. Chris Andersen is a decent rim protector, but he is out of his comfort zone at the perimeter and is left on an island.

Spacing Green Iso

At this point, Green is bursting with joy. The situation he has put himself in is the basketball equivalent of Boxing Day. You guessed it – he is going iso against Chris Andersen. Green takes the ball out further away from the basket, allowing his teammates to spread the floor as shown in the picture above. In the last play, he blew by Battier going to his left, but this situation is different.

Ray Allen and LeBron James are guarding the wings, and are in a position to help when Andersen inevitably gets beaten. James has the athleticism to potentially close down the lane and recover to Paul Pierce if Green decides to kick it out. Probably realizing this, Green takes a couple of dribbles and goes to his right, where a significantly inferior defender in Allen is positioned.

Andersen actually does a decent job staying with Green on this play, contesting the shot. However, the play still resulted in two points for the Celtics. Green put his athleticism on display, as it was not an easy play to finish. He was forced to pick up his dribble far away from the basket, but still managed to find just enough room to bank in the layup high off the glass.

Green went to the basket early and often, shooting 9-16 in the paint on the night. The Heat simply had no answer for him and put him on the line for 13 free throw attempts.

Another department of Green’s game that has seen improvement is his 3-point shooting. This year he has shot 36.8% from beyond the arc and burned the Heat with five triples. Yet again, this was not something Miami gave Green credit for, especially early in the game.

On the first play, Jeff sets a hard screen on Mario Chalmers and moves over to the left wing. Miami love helping each other on defense, but on that particular play Chris Bosh overhelps on Paul Pierce, who is working on LeBron James in the post. Look at how much space that leaves for Green to knock down the 3-point shot:

Jeff Green 3 one

The second play of the montage shows much of the same. Green gives up the ball to Pierce and runs to the left corner. Crafty as Pierce is, he works his way down to the basket and it looks like he is going to force up a tough shot. LeBron notices this and gets ahead of himself. He has already painted a picture in his head – an emphatic highlight reel dunk on the other end, perhaps of a Dwyane Wade lob or full court pass. James is off to the races and leaves Green open in the corner. The only problem is that Pierce does not take the shot and instead gives Green the ball for yet another 3-point shot. LeBron didn’t give Green enough credit for his 3-point shooting and look how much space he gives up:

Jeff Green 3 two

This was a serious mistake by James. Green is shooting the corner 3-ball at a 44.9% rate on the season, 47.8% in March and was a perfect 4-4 on that night.

____________________________________________________________________________

It’s not only Green’s game against the Heat, but all of March that is extremely encouraging to Boston fans. He has been consistent the whole month, failing to score in double digits in only one out of 16 games. And it’s hardly just a hot streak.

With all that Green has been through, it’s easy to forget that he was actually a top-5 draft pick in 2007. When you are a high lottery pick, it usually signifies that you are talented, and Green undoubtedly is. While he doesn’t quite possess a superstar pedigree, he has a unique set of skills. He is a rare combination of athleticism, agility, strength and shooting touch. This type of aptitude is rare in what we consider our stereotypical power forwards.

Garnett and Pierce will be gone very soon, but the Celtics have a bright future and Jeff Green should be part of it.

Follow Vytis on Twitter: @VytisLasaitis

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