Arguably the most talked about contract given out before this season belongs to Jeff Green. The 26-year-old forward entered the season fully recovered from heart surgery after spending the entire lockout-shortened season away from the game. So, when the Celtics elected to give Green a four year, 36-million dollar deal, the criticism around the NBA was very loud.
Would he live up to his contract? Why would Boston commit so much money to a guy who was largely disappointing to many and was coming off a major heart operation? Those questions were tossed around almost daily on message boards, on Twitter and in articles from writers all over the nation.
However, when the time came for the games to finally be played, we got a chance to see just how prepared Green was for a full season with an important role on the Boston bench.
One of the largest criticisms over the course of Green's career has been his inconsistency. He's a forward capable of playing the small forward and the power forward positions, but for a large portion of his career he's been unable put forth phenomenal numbers and play the part of an extremely athletic combo forward. At least to the level that many think he should.
This season, he's been a work in progress. Some games have been horrendous. Other games have been a refreshing glimpse into the player so many fans and critics alike want Green to be.
His raw numbers at the All-Star break are average. Through 52 games, he's averaging 24.6 minutes a night, shooting 44.3 percent from the field, 34 percent from beyond the arc, pulling down 3.3 rebounds a game and averaging 10.3 points.
Those numbers are sure to change, though, as his minutes will increase. Boston has 10 able-bodied players on its roster (nine is more fair since Fab Melo isn't even worthy of much more than mop-up duties).
Green struggled pretty badly during the first two months of the season, which is understandable when you consider that was essentially the first month of real basketball he had played since his massive surgery.
His December was awful on offense. He posted an Offensive Rating (points scored per 100 possessions, OffRtg) of 94.4 and a Defensive Rating (points allowed per 100 possessions, DefRtg) of 100.2. To be fair, the Celtics as a whole struggled during the month of December, but Green struggled to find the strongest parts of his game.
A major source of his struggles offensively came from the positions he was placed in during the early parts of the year. Having been out of the rotation for an entire season, Doc had the unfortunate and tough task of inserting Jeff into areas where they thought he could be most effective.
However, the result wasn't usually pretty, especially when Boston ran sets to get Green the ball in the post. While at times he had mismatches, the Celtics would clear out for Green to go to work, but his decisions seemed to always come a little to late. This allowed help to arrive, and resulted in a number of broken possessions.
Gradually, he's gained confidence and has improved. Since January began, he's been better both offensively and defensively. Some of that probably has to do with the different roles he's had to play because of the addition of Avery Bradley, the fluctuating bench rotation and the shuffling of Jared Sullinger and Brandon Bass which altered some floor units.
Now, through seven games in the month of February, Green has been a joy to watch. He's had moments that still leave you wondering what he was thinking, but he's taking players off the dribble, attacking more frequently and making a phenomenal impact on the Boston bench. Green is at his best when he attacks the basket aggressively, when he doesn't think but instead reacts.
Green's not scoring quite as much as he has during other months, but he's getting to the line, attacking the basket and his efficiency has improved. His true shooting percentage is a season-best 63.2 at the All-Star break. His playing time has increased by almost seven minutes since January -- up from 23.9 to 30.1 through February's seven games -- and that will likely continue.
With that, he's posting his highest OffRtg of the year of 104.1 and his lowest defensive rating, 89.8. To be able to put together a string of seven games like he has, especially at a time when Boston desperately needed help with Rajon Rondo injured, is just what the Celtics needed off the bench. In fact, he's actually having his best month in a number of areas outside of the baseline advanced numbers.
His assist percentage (AST%) of 10.3, or the percentage of teammate field goals made that a player assisted when he was on the floor, is considerably higher in February than it was at any point during the season. His +/- is 8.7, up from January's 3.1 which was his previous high.
Below is a month-by-month look at some of Green's numbers, both basic and advanced.
Green has been one of Boston's best and most consistent shooters from the corners. It's taken a while for his shooting to get to the point where it's rather consistent, but the corners are arguably his best position from the floor, offensively.
He's only shooting 42.9 percent from the corner, which is less than desirable when you compare it to the averages of the best corner three shooters in the league. However, a deeper look into his shooting from the corners explains that percentage. Green is shooting an impressive 17-of-36 from the left corner, 47.2 percent, but when he rises and fires from the right corner he's only 13-of-34, 38.2 percent.
Green has seen time at both forward positions quite a bit, but he seems to be most effective when used as a power forward. When looking at per 48 minute production, Green is averaging 20.1 points as a power forward, and has a higher effective field goal percentage, more rebounds, more assists, more blocks and a higher Player Efficiency Rating (PER) at the four. In fact, his PER at the four is 15.9 while only a 9.9 when he plays the three.
The Celtics have done a good job of utilizing lineups that create mismatches for Green, and he's been able to take advantage of those when he plays power forward. Still, as Danny Ainge noted on WEEI on Thursday, Boston has struggled at times to space the floor well enough to allow Green to go to work.
Perhaps one of the most encouraging parts of Green's ever-developing game is his ability to take it to the rack with authority and draw contact. At times he's seemed to develop a "I'm going to the rim and I'm just going to throw it up and hope I get a foul called" mentality, but it's worked out pretty well for him.
Oftentimes, this happens when Green gets out on the break. Transition opportunities account for 14.5 percent of plays involving Green, and he's averaging 1.12 points per play and shooting 55.3 percent. He's managed to get to the line 23.2 percent of the time during those plays, which is considerably higher than any of his other type of plays.
Below is a look at how Green creates some of his offense, courtesy of MySynergySports.com. Click to enlarge.
Defensively, Jeff has gotten stronger as the season has progressed. A year away from a system like the one Boston employs, combined with the addition of a number of new bodies, somewhat explains Green's (and other Boston players) struggles on defense. As he's gotten more comfortable, more in shape and more secure in the role Boston wants him to play he has excelled.
His past two months have seen impressive defensive strides. He's helping better, for one, and is challenging just about anything he can. His rotations have gotten better as well, and it's obvious Avery Bradley's return helped Green (and the rest of Boston) defensively. The defense he played on LeBron James on January 27th is an encouraging example of what Green is capable of with his skill set. Now he has to find ways to do that on a more consistent basis.
According to MySynergySports, Green's best defense has come off screens, defending spot-up chances and in isolation. With the matchups he usually is faced with, it would make sense that he's considerably better defending off screens (though these plays don't occur nearly as frequent as isolation or spot-up chances). His length and ability to fight through picks have played a major role in his ability to alter shots.
All in all, though many want to criticize Jeff because of the large amount of money he's being paid, he hasn't been overly terrible. Could he be better? Absolutely. Do the Celtics likely wish he were better? Probably. But he's growing and improving as the season goes on, and if we're honest, that's all we can really ask for, right?
He's coming off of a major heart operation and a long recovery. It's incredible, really, to think that he's back on the court and playing after the severity of his surgery and the struggles he encountered during his recovery. Let that add some perspective the next time you watch him play.
There's so much more to be said about Green's game and his season so far. It hasn't been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and he would probably be the first to tell you that. But it hasn't been awful, either, and that alone is something to be encouraged by.