Jeff Green's on-court label couldn't be more simple: passive aggressive. Not in its typical definition, but in a more literal tense. Take the phrase and split it right down the middle. One part passive and one part aggressive. This makes up the concoction that is Jeff Green. The determining factors as to why are still mysterious, but one thing's for certain: it's who he is.
A flashy game precedes Green. He's known as a high-flyer, an overly powerful finisher at the rim. His three-ball functions, and his midrange is above average. He's not a bad passer, although he doesn't really pass much to begin with. Actually, Green only averages 1.6 assists per game, ranking him 31st among all shooting guards and 19th among all small forwards. On the other end of the floor, he's a proven stopper in one-on-one situations. He's had large success guarding the league's best player in LeBron James, and he's capable of learning top-tier defensive systems. He's lanky and strong. His build resembles that of the league's most exciting scorers (think Paul George, Kevin Durant, Joe Johnson); but he isn't them.
And that's what Boston is learning.
Back in 2011, when the Celtics pulled the trigger on a trade exchanging Green and fan favorite Kendrick Perkins, Green's label quickly became the heir to Paul Pierce's throne. To an extent, that was a dream scenario, although not completely far-fetched. Before Green landed in Boston, he was scoring 15.2 points per game. On a team featuring the high-capacity Kevin Durant, that was no easy task. But a new team (the team who technically drafted him), a new coach, and a new system left him on the outside looking in.
The next stop in Jeff Green's story is well known. Heart surgery to repair an aortic anyeurism, an existence far bigger than basketball. Nobody can speculate as to what something that ill-natured does to someone else; so I certainly won't. Yet, the seriousness of his treatment did lead to a newfound gratitude for Green and his easy-going demeanor. Post-surgery, Green stayed in Boston without actually being a member of the Celtics. An act that made sense from a medical standpoint, but also showed commitment and companionship between him and Boston's fans.
Fast forwarding to this summer, with Rivers, Pierce, and Garnett all elsewhere, we made it clear that Green's time to takeover was beginning. Rajon Rondo still recovering from his ACL tear meant there was nobody in his way; no alpha male whom he needed to defer to. For the first time in Green's career, the keys to the whip were his. But the season's start didn't prove true to expectations. Throughout the first few games of the season, we saw the same old Jeff Green. Glimpses of dominance followed by valleys of mediocrity. His game winner against Miami revived the hopes of many, some seeing it as the light Green needed to channel his inner Paul Pierce. But in the five games following that buzzer-beater, he shot an unimpressive 33.8%, totaling only four assists over the stretch.
Last week, Celtics' general manager Danny Ainge offered up an unusual but spot-on assessment of Boston's small forward. To the media, Ainge explained:
"Well, I don't think Jeff will be a focal point of our team this year...If we expect Jeff to be the focal point and turn into Kevin Durant or LeBron James or even Paul Pierce, I think that we're putting unrealistic expectations on him."
The truth can hurt.
Ainge was harsh, but also honest and correct. The thing Green and many Celtics' fans would benefit in realizing, is that Jeff isn't changing. There is no deeper layer waiting to be shown, no unrevealed secrets. His style of play allows potential for Sports Center top ten highlights; and he contributed 43 points once in a loss against Miami. The reality however, is that he isn't capable of sustaining those efforts night in and out, and he isn't a complete player.
But few are.
There's no knock on Jeff Green when saying that. For whatever reasons, his arrival in Boston came with us pushing him into an atypical category of players. A category where average players are expected to become superstars overnight. A category where (more often than not) a player's comfort goes to die. Many of us expected him to disregard steady progress in exchange for immediate stardom because we wanted it. It wasn't entirely fair to do that, and there is an honest belief, for me at least, that forcing his hand has hampered him.
Right now, Green plays at a respectable level. He attacks more, gets to the line more, and his scoring is a tick above his previous career high. He plays well alongside his teammates; especially Jordan Crawford and Jared Sullinger. On a team where player development has taken the reigns, he's doing just fine.
Plenty of players are inconsistent and slightly overpaid in this league, but few are as defined by it as Jeff Green. As Boston continues to learn what they have in their troubled small forward, accepting his game for what it is -- can and should be the next step.