During the first 15 games of the season, Jeff Green averaged 7.7 points and 2.5 rebounds per game while shooting just 40% from the field. In the last 5 games he's put up 16 points and 4.2 rebounds a game off 54% shooting (including 57% from 3 point land).
So things appear to be looking up for Jeff Green. But he was looking pretty good in preseason as well before taking two steps back in the beginning of the season. So fool me once... The question has to be asked, is this the real Jeff Green or is he going to be inconsistent all year long?
"I just went through a slump," Green said. "Every player goes through one. Now shots are going in for me; things are turning the corner." "It’s just about being more aggressive, getting the rim so I can get into a rhythm, offensively. Get easy looks and the other shots will start to fall.
Hopefully that's all it was, a slump. Hopefully he was just getting his legs under him to start the season. Hopefully he was just having trouble fitting in and is now starting to feel out his place in the lineup. Doc seems to think so.
What makes Doc Rivers so happy is that he isn’t being forced to draw up new plays to get Green good looks. They’re all coming from Green himself. "I think Jeff is just freeing himself up," Rivers said after Saturday’s 92-79 win over the Sixers, in which he scored 16 points in 23 minutes off the bench, converting 7-of-12 shots from the floor. "He’s starting to do it and it’s really been good."
Of course it is more complex than "Jeff is just freeing himself up." I'll let Greg Payne break it down for us.
The Celtics often try to defend Green's subpar outings with talk of him not having a matchup advantage on that particular night, though the flip side of that -- Green boasting an advantage over his man -- rarely is mentioned after a strong performance.
The fact is, standing at an athletic 6-foot-9 with the ability to bounce back and forth between the small forward and power forward positions, Green should either be creating advantages for himself, or eschewing one-on-one play entirely and garnering open looks by moving more without the basketball and positioning himself for free shots in accordance with how the defense is rotating. Over the past five games, he's struck a commendable balance between the two, and the Celtics are 3-2 as a result, but could easily be 5-0, with single-possession losses at Milwaukee and Philadelphia in that span.
Green is just such a hard piece of the puzzle to fit in properly. He doesn't do any one thing exceptionally well but he does a lot of things pretty well. He's a fill-in-the-blanks guy and has the potential to be a real glue guy and spark off the bench. As Greg points out, he's a tweener so he doesn't even have a natural position, but he can use that to his advantage as well.
He just has to stay (wait for it...) aggressive. This has been repeated so often that it has become cliche. But he seems to be getting the hang of it.
Green has responded well to Kevin Garnett saying he needs to stop being such a nice guy and play more like an (expletive). "Yes, but that’s not his makeup," Terry said. "That’s not in his DNA. That’s not in his personality. But what he can do is every night give us those high-flying dunks and those tough, aggressive finishes at the basket. It takes a special unique individual to come out every night consistently and have self-confidence. I mean, guys struggle with that. You see it all the time in this league.
Obviously what Kevin Garnett meant by his comments was that Green has to be aggressive on the court. He can't wait to get what the defense is going to give. He has to take it and force the issue. He has to attack and keep attacking.
I'm a big believer in confidence being a critical part of basketball. When you are confident, the shots go in more, the ball bounces right more, and things just seem to break your way. When you hesitate, you get run over. Plain and simple.
Some of Green's confidence is building because he's more comfortable with his health. Some of Green's confidence is because he's understanding his role in the offensive and defensive schemes better. So there's plenty of reasons to be optimistic with him going forward.
The word of caution, however, is that he's got to maintain that confidence and aggressiveness to stay productive. I'm beginning to worry that if he has an off night or two that he might regress back into his early season form. It may well be a cycle of good streaks and bad streaks with him - which doesn't help a team struggling with inconsistency.
Still, he's perhaps our biggest "X-factor" and when we get a good night out of him, wins are a lot easier to come by. Hopefully he can find his groove and niche in the system well enough that he can push us over the top. Or if not, (and forgive me if this sounds cold) hopefully he can at least perform well enough to become a valuable trade chip.
The Celtics clearly invested a lot in Jeff Green and believe in him quite a bit. He just has to have that same confidence and keep moving forward. And if that means tapping into the Stuart Smalley book of self motivation ("I'm good enough, smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me.") then so be it. Whatever works.