Today, we take a look at Jeff Green, the part of Oklahoma City's "big three" that slowly faded away.
Jeff Green started out his post-high school years as the face of John Thompson III's Georgetown Hoyas. Green was always the star of his team, but he never saw any real statistical improvement over his three years at Georgetown. Fortunately for him, the team went from a early round knockout to a late round contender during his tenure, and Jeff Green's draft stock soared. He was a known quantity from the get go, so one could have seen him as a reliable lottery pick in a year of uncertain players like Greg Oden, Yi Jianlian, and Joakim Noah. Initially, he was drafted fifth by the struggling Boston Celtics, a strange pick considering that the Celtics already had Paul Pierce. But it all became clear when the Celtics swung Green (among other assets) to the Seattle Supersonics for the aging Ray Allen. However, the mystery ceased to clear, as Jeff Green and the newly drafted Kevin Durant also basically played the same position.
The mystery turned into a problem as Jeff Green progressed with the SuperSonics and Thunder. P.J. Carlesimo never really knew what to do with him, sliding him between Power Forward and Shooting Guard multiple times during his tenure. When Brooks replaced the ailing Carlesimo, he didn't really find the perfect solution for Jeff Green either. Rather, he found the least awkward one possible. Since Green was less of a dynamic scorer than Durant, he would start at Power Forward and be relied on more for mid-range jumpers and rebounds. Unfortunately, this was a bad situation because Jeff Green wasn't a power forward. He didn't have the size to match up inside, and he often looked lost on the floor. As time passed, he went from the third member of the Thunder's big three to the Thunder's most forgotten man, and he was traded to Boston in February for a man who could provide the inside presence Jeff Green never could.
After the Thunder's 2010 playoff run, what had been a problem for the past three years had finally hit the Thunder organization in the face. Jeff Green is simply not a power forward. He was effectively dominated by Gasol and Bynum down low, and while he didn't flounder offensively, he was considered a distant third option behind Durant and Westbrook.
Thus, heading into this season, a good amount was expected of Jeff Green. Personally, I wanted to see him man up against the league's bigger power forwards defensively and exploit them offensively with his superior athleticism and foot speed. Others wanted to see him simply take on a bigger role offensively, as he hadn't been very consistent in the previous season.
Regular Season Grade: C
Though it's hard to argue against his early season performances, Jeff Green suffered from the inconsistency problems that continued to haunt him. During January, Green had four single digit performances against high-profile teams, and was routinely out-matched against more powerful power forwards. Basically, Green fell into a slump, and it became clear to Thunder fans that Green was what he was. Sometimes, he can be your greatest asset, and sometimes, he can be your greatest enemy.
But the biggest problem I had with Jeff Green was that his performance was never really indicative of whether the Thunder had won that night. The correlation between his stat line and the result of the game was seemingly random. Rather, Jeff Green's defense on the opposing power forward would have been a much better indicator of the game's result. That, coupled with his offensive slumps, really turned him into more of a liability than an asset. But the straw that breaks the camel's back for Jeff Green, in my opinion, is the performance of the Thunder without Jeff Green this season. Without Green, the Thunder were 6-1, with wins over Portland, Boston, and Philadelphia. Green was a great part of this team emotionally, but when it came down to cold hard facts, Green could never really fit on the same team as Kevin Durant.
Post Season Grade: N/A
Most Memorable Game:
Kevin Durant is out for the night, and the Thunder are playing the underwhelming New Jersey Nets. It looked like an easy win at first glance, but it turned into one of the most epic games of the year as Jordan Farmar and Anthony Morrow played out of their shoes. With Durant gone and Westbrook getting all that he could handle, Green was looked to in his natural position of Small Forward in a Durant-like role. And he shined like a brand new Bentley, hitting over 50% of his shots from the field, going perfect from the free throw line, and even netting himself 5 rebounds and four assists. Green finished with 37 points, a career high. The game will be remembered for Westbrook's heroics in the third overtime, but the Thunder and Westbrook would have never gotten that far without some stellar play earlier in the game from Jeff Green.
Most Memorable Single Moment:
It happened against an inconsequential team during the month of October, but Jeff Green's game winner against the Detroit Pistons is hard to forget. Personally, I remember this play not because it was overly clutch or amazing. Rather, it showed Thunder fans exactly what Jeff Green was made to do. While Durant and Westbrook were getting the focus of the defenders, Jeff Green rolled off of an excellent two man screen to get the ball at the top of the key. He was guarded by the slow Jason Maxiell, and the Pistons had no help defense in the paint, as Durant and Westbrook were still getting the attention of defenders on the perimeter. Green took advantage of the situation and out-ran the slow-footed Maxiell to the rim, sealing the win for the Thunder.
Green should have a long future in the NBA. Though I've spent basically this entire article thrashing him, he is a very good Small Forward. Actually, I'd go so far to consider him a poor man's Kevin Durant. His mid-range jumper is like butter, he can drive to the hole like nobody else, he plays good defense on men of his size, he can rebound well for his position and he's not turnover prone. He does have a suspect three point shot, and is prone to looking lost on the floor. But, should the Celtics re-sign him, he would be an excellent replacement for an aging Paul Pierce. And should he end up signing with a different team, he could start for about half of the league's teams. Either way, I look forward to the inevitable battle between him and Durant, whenever that may be.
A: Far exceeded expectations
B: Exceeded expectations
C: Met expectations
D: Did not meet expectations
F: Fell far short of expectations