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What are reasonable expectations for the Celtics’ Jeff Green?

Posted by Adam Kaufman  February 8, 2014 04:28 PM

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Sixth-year NBA forward Jeff Green is averaging 16.3 points and 5.0 rebounds per game in his third season in Boston. The Celtics have played 51 games and Green’s started them all.

He’s 27, incredibly durable (save for a season lost to heart surgery), a decent shooter, remarkably athletic, and he leads his team in scoring.

Green’s also arguably on the top of the fans’ Least Favorite list.

Sometimes the stats don’t matter. The eye-test always does.

Green’s game has been compared to that of Jekyll and Hyde, if the latter had been real or a baller. The swingman is the poster boy for inconsistency.

In his last three games – all Celtics wins over mediocre competition from Orlando, Philadelphia, and Sacramento after a stretch of 19 losses in 22 contests – Green’s point-totals read like something you’d see from an immensely talented rookie.

He kicked off the month with 8 points on 2-of-13 shooting versus the Magic, followed that up with a 36-point effort at the Sixers on 11-of-18 shooting, and then managed 17 points on 6-of-20 shooting against the Kings.

Want to know what to expect from Green on a given night? Join the club. He couldn’t even tell you within a given game.

Probed by 98.5 The Sports Hub’s “Toucher and Rich” program in his weekly chat on Thursday morning, C’s president of basketball operations Danny Ainge said of Green’s lack of consistency, “Other than the Lebrons [LeBron James] and the Kevin Durants of the world, and Paul George, you really don’t get consistently 25, 30-plus points per night.”

Who’s asking for that?

The most casual basketball fans know Green isn’t James, Durant, George, or Carmelo Anthony. He’s not even Rudy Gay.

Whether or not he’s capable of being such a dynamic scorer is another story, given his apparent potential when he’s feeling particularly aggressive. He’s reached the 25-point mark on six occasions.

“Most players don’t ever score 36 points in a game and Jeff’s had two in the last couple weeks, 36 and 39,” Ainge continued. “I think that’s just how Jeff is. He’s a very good player. He’s not a superstar player where we expect for him to do that.”

It’s not about the frequency of Green’s big nights. It wouldn’t matter if he never scored 30 points in a game again. It’s about being a reliable contributor, which he’s really never been in his career. After that 39-point game against the Wizards on Jan. 22, it took four contests to total his next 39.

The fact is Green’s complete efforts are very rare and typically come against bad teams. It’s all too often he finishes in single-digits in scoring, something that’s happened nine times, or in nearly 18 percent of his games this season. Heck, he only attempts 13.5 shots a night. Those aforementioned stars take 17 or more.

While it’d be preferable Green average nearly 20 points a game, 16.3 would be fine if it was even the least bit steady. It would have been nice to effectively lean on him as a top option in the absence of Rajon Rondo, or now when both Rondo and Avery Bradley enjoy nights off to rest and recover.

That is a reasonable expectation for Green, not superstardom or even regular stardom; just above-average and dependable contributions. Physically, he has the talent to achieve it. Mentally, there’s something missing.

Generally speaking, the 6’9” forward isn’t the ‘jump on my shoulders and I’ll lead the way’ kind of player. At this stage of his career, it’s overly apparent this is who Green is. He isn’t going to suddenly start cutting to the basket more frequently, where he’s most effective, or regularly put up more shots. Some nights, he’s content to just hang out around the arc.

As it goes, one day fans are left in awe of Green’s jaw-dropping finesse. The next several, they’re just scratching their heads wondering if that other performance really happened.

“I understand it because I think expectations aren’t right,” Ainge said of fans’ frustrations with Green, before defending his player’s four-year, $36 million contract that expires in 2016. “Well, $9 million, that’s half of a max contract. Jeff has given us 16 or 17 points a game on a very efficient overall year he’s having. I think that’s what people should expect. Jeff’s not gonna be the guy that’s gonna carry us every single night, and we don’t have that guy that does that, other than Rondo when he gets back to being 100 percent.”

Finally, a breath of fresh air.

There was a point when members of the organization spoke glowingly of Green. We were led to believe he had the potential to be the next Paul Pierce. If there was ever any shred of optimism in that statement, the ship has sailed.

Green failed to be the guy on any sort of regular basis before Rondo’s return, and he certainly won’t emerge as such with Rondo back. Maybe every once in a while, but far from every night.

The NBA trade deadline is rapidly approaching. Phones will be more active in Ainge’s office between now and Feb. 20 than any night Green’s ever had on the floor in his career. Teams will ask about Rondo and Jared Sullinger, perhaps Brandon Bass and Kris Humphries.

But, Green? It’s tough to say what his market is or if he’s viewed as a viable contributor on a contender. One thing should be clear, though: No matter what the Celtics say, it’s not a question of whether they want to trade him; it’s whether they can for better than 50 cents on the dollar.

Follow me on Twitter at @AdamMKaufman

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
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About this blog

Adam Kaufman is a writer and broadcaster who can also be heard regularly on 98.5 The Sports Hub, WBZ NewsRadio 1030, the national CBS Sports Radio Network, and broadcasting Boston College hockey games. The Massachusetts native is a Syracuse grad and a pop culture fanatic who offers a unique and entertaining look at your favorite Boston sports teams. Please don't hold his love for Jean-Claude Van Damme movies against him.

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