Jeff Green's emergence as a legitimate top option was one of the more positive stories for the Boston Celtics during the 2012-13 season, and his ascent into the realm of the NBA's stars will just continue into 2013-14.
After sitting out an entire season as he recovered from heart surgery, Green worked his way back into form and then burst out during the second half of the year. After the All-Star break, the combo forward averaged 17.3 points, 5.0 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game, shooting 49.3 percent from the field in the process.
He left little doubt that he could become a star, but only if he follows these three keys.
Stop Settling for Pick-and-Pop Looks
Green has the ability to become an elite scorer in the NBA, but it's not because of his outside shooting. That's a major part of the equation, but the truly impressive part of his offensive game is the total package.
As soon as this year, Green's inside-outside prowess could make him one of the better point-producers in basketball, but only if he stops settling for less efficient looks.
When the forward has an attacking mentality—as he did against the Miami Heat in the 43-point outburst that you can see below—he's unstoppable.
A major reason for this is his ambidextrous play around the basket. If you watched enough Green finishes, you wouldn't be able to tell which was his strong hand. And while he's more comfortable going to the right, he's one of the better finishers with what I hesitantly call his non-dominant hand.
It's just too hard to stop him when he targets the rim because of this versatility, and Basketball-Reference shows that he made an impressive 65.8 percent of his looks at the basket.
However, Green can fall into the bad habit of settling for jumpers instead of using his athleticism to his advantage. While he's a good perimeter shooter, this isn't his primary strength, and he can't afford to treat it as such.
Take this play against the Brooklyn Nets as an example.
After he sets the screen for Paul Pierce, Green has two options.
He could roll into the green (ba-dum-ch) area on the court and present himself as a viable passing target, or he could pop back out to the perimeter and free himself for a jumper. In this situation—as is usually the case with Green—rolling is the better option.
If Pierce can work the ball to him, he'll have three more options: finishing the play himself, drawing the defender out and dumping the ball to a teammate for an easy layup or kicking it out for an easy corner-three.
Instead, Green pops and ends up shooting the ball from the red "X," which happens to be one of the least efficient areas on the court. A two-pointer from 22 feet is worth the same number of points as a layup, but it's a significantly harder shot to make.
Green falls into this trap far too often. He can begin to play passively, and then that becomes a slippery slope, one that leads to an inevitably lackluster game.
If he's going to emerge as an elite forward, he has to use this aspect of his game as a secondary option, making aggressive cuts to the basket his priority.
Don't Be Afraid of Contact
Now, while Green does hesitate to remain aggressive, he still spends a lot of time at the rim. And for a player who's in the paint so often, he doesn't draw a whole lot of contact. Seeing as he's a good free-throw shooter (80.8 percent in 2012-13), that needs to change.
Green can't shy away from contact. Instead he has to seek it out and strive to spend as much time on the line as possible.
According to Synergy Sports (subscription required), Green drew fouls on just 9.4 percent of his possessions. That's not a good enough number for a player who thrives driving to the hole. He needs to imitate a former teammate, Kevin Durant, who lives for contact.
Durant was fouled on 11 percent of his possessions, and that's not just a result of superstar calls or anything like that. He works to find contact, and he often finishes through that.
It can't be overstated just how good Green looked on offense during the 2012-13 campaign.
According to my pure scoring metric, he was nothing short of elite. Green's score of 8.38 (he didn't score enough to qualify for the original rankings, though, as 15 points per game were necessary for inclusion) leaves him No. 11 among all the qualified guys.
Now imagine what he could do if he spent more time at the foul stripe. His field-goal percentage would go up, and he'd be getting more freebies. He took only 4.2 free-throw attempts per 36 minutes last season, and that number must rise.
Something around that Pierce level of 5.9 charity shots per 36 minutes would be rather nice.
However, the need to stop eschewing contact isn't limited to the offensive end of the court. Green has to be willing to play more physical defense against power forwards. Take a look at the PERs he allowed to different positions during the last go-around with the C's, as shown by 82games.com:
The bigger the players got, the more he struggled with them.
Now to be fair, he played quite sparingly at the 5 for Boston, recording few enough minutes that it rounds down to zero percent of the available totals. But the point still stands.
Green has to be willing to body up against bigger players more often, especially given the inexperience of the frontcourt. He can't be content just to thrive as a wing defender.
Keep Focusing on Defense
Green has the potential to be an absolutely fantastic scorer, but he's inevitably going to stand out even more on the defensive end of the court. There's some All-Defensive team potential here if he continues on his current trajectory.
Below, courtesy of Synergy, you can see his ranks in certain defensive situations. I'll be comparing his 2010-11 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder (the C's portion is too small a sample size) to this first full year with Boston.
Talk about a drastic improvement, right?
Green doesn't have to make any massive changes to his defensive play (other than bodying up against bigger players with more confidence). Instead, he just needs to stay the course and continuing evolving as an elite defender.
In 2012-13, Boston allowed 104 points per possession when Green sat and 103.6 when he played. That's not a huge difference, but think about how impressive it is when he was typically replacing either Paul Pierce or Kevin Garnett—two stud defenders in their own right—on the court.
That said, there are still areas for improvement. Green can get caught against good spot-up shooters, as you see below.
Whether he gives them too much space or closes out too aggressively, the Boston forward gets caught (and beat) in unfortunate situations. That's the primary situation in which he must get better.
Once he can curtail the aggressiveness and overpursuit of off-ball help, he'll put together more plays like this one against arguably the league's best offensive player.
That type of defense, movement that requires great lateral quickness, instinct and fast recovery, is something that not too many players can utilize. Green is one of the few that can.
This two-way impact is what will eventually make the 27-year-old into a star player. I'd hesitate to ever call him a superstar, but at his peak, he'll compete for one of the last few spots on an All-Star squad's bench.
Considering he's the second-best player on the C's, that's a pretty solid building block to work with.
While Boston won't make the playoffs this year—seeing as the Eastern Conference has gotten stronger, leaving too many more legitimate contenders for the final postseason spots—it isn't all doom and gloom in Beantown. The forward's emergence as a stud on both ends of the court will continue to be a rather positive story throughout all 82 games.
And, more so than anything else, Green will leave opponents seeing red.