Jeff Green has had a bit of a raw deal since coming to Boston. After two and a half seasons with the Celtics (excluding a season lost to heart surgery), Green has yet to endear himself to many Celtics fans who remain disappointed with his production. This is hardly Green's fault. In part because expectations were perhaps set a bit too high after the team traded away fan-favorite Kendrick Perkins to acquire him mid-season in 2011 - a trade many fans still blame as the reason the Celtics fell short of their championship goal that season. However, the main issue for Green is that he's being asked to be something he's not - The Man.
Green led the Celtics in scoring last season with a career high 16.9 points per game. Only two teams in the league had a leading scorer that averaged less points per game than Green and one of them - the Detroit Pistons - had two other players trailing their leading scorer that still averaged over 15.0 points per game. Boston's second leading scorer last year was Avery Bradley, at 14.9 points per game.
The increase in scoring coincided with a career high Usage Percentage (23.6), as the team shifted more responsibility to Green. In the wake of a roster shake-up that sent Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett to Brooklyn, with Rajon Rondo still working his way back from ACL surgery, the keys to the offense were handed to Green. He was asked to become the primary scoring threat for a team that lacked any other options to carry the load. As his scoring total went up, his efficiency went down. His field goal percentage plummeted over 50 points to a career low 41.2%, while his True Shooting Percentage of .520 dropped to the lowest it had been since his rookie season. His 13.1 PER ranked outside the top 200 in the league and his 3.7 Estimated Wins Added was 126th. None of this would suggest that Green should be the primary option for any team's offense.
Yet that's where the Celtics find themselves with Green. Even when Rondo returns to full health later this season, he's still a pass-first point guard who ideally won't be leading the team in scoring. Unless one of the team's younger players makes a significant leap this season, the role of primary scorer will once again fall to Green. The problem with that is it's not who he is. Green is a solid role player on a team full of role players.
Green is at his best when he can be utilized as more of a second tier option on offense. In his time with the Oklahoma City Thunder he had Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook drawing the bulk of the attention from opposing defenses, which allowed him to pick his spots. When he came to Boston he had the Big Three and Rondo. Last year was the first time he was expected to become the main scoring threat for his team and he predictably struggled to adjust to that new role.
Last season also represented the most time he has spent at the small forward position. He's alternated between both forward spots his entire career, but he spent a career high 74% of his minutes at SF last season. As a 21-year old rookie he spent just over half his time at the position, but during his remaining time with the Thunder he never spent more than 22% of his time there. While he has struggled at times to defend bulkier power forwards, he is able to take advantage of his quickness to exploit many of those match ups on offense. He loses that advantage when being guarded by a wing player, which may be another factor in his decline in efficiency. Given the depth the Celtics have at power forward, Green is expected to once again get the bulk of his minutes on the wing this season.
Green is a good player that can be very useful when used correctly. He's an athletic player that can attack the basket with force and is dangerous in the open court. He's an above average outside shooter, especially from the corner, where he's shot just under 40% in his career.
What he's not is a primary scorer, which is what he's been forced to try to become due to the Celtics not having any other reasonable options. He certainly had his moments last year, such as his buzzer-beater corner three to beat the Heat last November or a pair of 39-point outbursts against Washington and then New Orleans. He's capable of showing flashes of brilliance where he has the appearance of being a star player, but he's never been able to put it together consistently. That's what you would expect from a solid role player, but to be The Man, you have to bring it on a regular basis.
This is why Green would be more valuable to another team. One where he doesn't have to be the primary scoring option. Green could thrive in that type of role, but unless the Celtics can cash in their chips to acquire a star player, he won't get that chance in Boston before his contract expires. He's entering the final year of his deal (assuming he declines his $9.4 million Player Option to look for more long term security), which could make him enticing to teams looking to add the missing piece to a contender without committing long term to the player.
The Celtics are at a crossroads with Green. They can try to build up his value in the short term with an eye on dealing him at the trade deadline for more assets (Danny Ainge can seemingly never get enough of those), but if he continues to be inefficient as a miscast scorer, he isn't likely to hold much trade value. Or they can continue to fit Green into Brad Stevens' system with the intent to sign him to an extension. If Boston does land a star player in the near future, Green could become a great fit once he can get back to his comfort zone. The risk with that path is they may lock themselves into a deal with Green, yet come up empty in finding a leading scorer to take that burden from him. Add that to the potential loss of Rondo (whether it come by trade or free agency) and this offense could remain ugly for the foreseeable future.