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"The Dunk Contest Hurt Gerald"

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The NBA offseason is happily winding down, and we've suddenly gotten inside of a week until tip-off of the real deal.  But there is some pressure associated with that: It wouldn't be a complete offseason in the land of the green without the requisite chatter about one Gerald Green.  Thankfully, his new coach came through for us at just the right time as far as providing fodder is concerned.

Green is now located in Dallas after signing a minimum contract with the Mavs, this summer, and the New York Post's Peter Vecsey reports that the fourth-year pro has put in a ton of work on his game this offseason.  He has worked on becoming more attentive on the defensive end and improving his conditioning to get himself in better all-around basketball shape.  Green has had a productive preseason thus far, and it's nice to see the 22-year-old appearing to head in the right direction overall.

But what sours Vecsey's column for me are the remarks he got from current Mavs coach Rick Carlisle:  "The dunk contest hurt Gerald.  People looked at [Green] more as a side show than a real professional basketball player. He realized that and was willing to do something to change the perception. He was ready to do what had to be done."

The idea that Green's past struggles are in any way the responsibility of the public for perceiving him in a certain way sounds like quite an excuse.

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Carlisle's overall point isn't necessarily inaccurate.  It's the way he frames it that is, although he does at least indicate that the onus was and is on the player to fix perceptions.

Still, Gerald Green didn't struggle in Boston and Minnesota because of some perception that he was a side show clown.  He earned that perception by not playing good basketball.

The guy has an uncanny set of physical gifts.  He is a 6-foot-8 swingman with a long wingspan, good quickness and superb leaping ability.  He has range on his jump shot, and when he gets hot, he has a beautiful shooting stroke.

But his lack of basketball IQ combined with what occasionally appeared to be wavering intensity prevented him from synthesizing those tools throughout his first three years in the league.  Sure, he could get to the rim with ease, and he could fill it up at times, but for the most part, he failed badly to put all his assets together.  He took ill-advised and poorly selected shots and grew a bit too happy with the three-pointer, leading him to an unimpressive true shooting mark of just 51.4 percent over his first three seasons.  Green didn't see the floor very well either, and once the ball got in his hands, it tended to stay there until he was ready to fling it at the basket.

Despite having the long physique and fleetness of foot needed to be a solid defender, Green was lackluster there and on the boards as well.  Over his first three years, he constantly lost his man and got confused in rotations, and the numbers back up the poor play.  The 2006-07 Celtics, for whom Green played the lion's share of his 143 career games, were nearly two points per 100 possessions better defensiely without Green on the floor than with him.  He played the vast majority of his minutes at small forward that season and gave up and astounding 57.2 effective field goal percetange to opponents at that spot.  Meanwhile, Green has grabbed as many as five rebounds in a game exactly 15 times in his career to date, and he averages just 4.5 per 36 minutes.  Not enough for a small forward with his size and leaping ability.

It's an affront to both the public and the fun that is All-Star weekend to speak in a manner that implies that those have somehow been the responsible factors in Gerald Green's struggles so far.  The dunk contest is in its third decade of existence.  Past winners such as Dwight Howard, Josh Smith, Jason Richardson, Vince Carter, Kobe Bryant, Cedric Ceballos, Dominique Wilkins and that Jordan fellow (among many others) seem to have done okay for themselves.  Even the likes of Nate Robinson and Fred Jones have established themselves as players in this league.  That's largely because they all have managed to focus on playing basketball for the rest of the season that didn't involve the dunk contest.  Just because Gerald Green hasn't been able to do that well enough isn't a reason to put blame for any of his problems on that vast silhouette of "perception."

Perhaps the word about Gerald Green's summer improvements will prove to be true, and it will be a pleasure to witness if so.  But if he does in fact make progress this year, it will be for the same reasons that he struggled prior: His own hard work and attention to nuances of the game - or lack thereof.

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