The knock on Jeff Green has long been that he's simply not consistent enough, which is why it's so surprising that, nearing the end of the first quarter of the 2014-15 season, a case can be made that Green has been the most consistent player on the Boston Celtics.
The 28-year-old Green is averaging a team- and career-best 19.8 points per game this season while adding 4.5 rebounds, 1.7 assists and 1.1 steals over a team-high 34.3 minutes per game. Even as his 3-point shot defied him early this season (31.3 percent overall), Green has thrived attacking the basket harder than in any season of his career. A career-best 56.2 true shooting percentage reflects his overall offensive efficiency.
But while Green ranks No. 19 among the league's leading scorers through 19 games, advanced metrics continue to suggest that the Celtics perform better with him off the court. Sticking with our format from reviewing Rajon Rondo's first month of the season, we look at the good, the bad and the ugly from Green's play thus far.
When evaluating Green's performance, Celtics coach Brad Stevens often suggests that the team needs him to "soar with his strengths." Green will never be a particularly strong rebounder and, despite the frequency with which he touches the ball, he has never been very good at generating offense for others. Green's main job on the court is to put the ball in the basket, and he does that as well as anyone on the Celtics.
Zoom in on the five games that the team has played to start the month of December: Green is averaging 25.8 points per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor. His 3-point percentage finally is climbing -- it's at a lofty 45.8 percent this month. What's more, Green is averaging 7.2 free throw attempts per game, illustrating the balance he has struck between taking advantage of open perimeter looks and attacking the rim.
Synergy Sports data has Green averaging 1.013 points per possession finished. Of players with at least 300 plays finished this season, he is 15th in the league, snugly tucked between Kevin Love and Kyle Lowry.
Synergy also has a metric called score percentage that calculates the percentage of possessions finished in which the player generates at least 1 point. Green ranks 24th overall at 46.1 percent in a category that tends to be skewed toward big men, but his score percentage placement is made more impressive when you consider that LeBron James sits two spots behind Green at 46 percent.
The Celtics have found success in an offense that doesn't rely on a single focal point, but make no mistake, Green is their go-to presence. That much was obvious on Monday night when the team routinely put the ball in his hands in crunch-time situations and allowed him to drive toward the basket.
Give credit to Stevens here too. It goes back to the whole notion of soaring with strengths. Stevens has identified what Green does well and has attempted to put him in situations that play to those strengths more than at any time of his career.
An honorable mention here to Green's defense, which we spotlighted recently. Green never is going to be a shutdown defender, but his length and athleticism can bother opponents and his improvements this season are reflected in a downturn in shooting percentage for his opponents.
Green is never going to be a good rebounder, but his already anemic defensive rebound rate is at a career-low 11.9 percent this season (he's at 13.6 percent for his career). Green has grabbed only 7.3 percent of all available rebounds.
It's hard to fathom that a player with his length and leaping ability can't get more boards. The league's player tracking data suggests that Green averages 7.3 rebound chances per game (when the ball is within 3.5 feet of him at the time of a rebound) and grabs only 61.6 percent of them. As a positional comparison, James has grabbed 74.7 percent of his 7.7 rebound chances per game this season. The Celtics, with an undersized front line, could use more on the glass from Green, even as point guard Rajon Rondo is rebounding at a career-best rate.
It's hard to nitpick much with Green's individual production. His turnovers are way up in December, but his usage rate has skyrocketed and his turnover ratio for the season remains below his career average.
Let's preface this by saying that the good has far outweighed the bad when it comes to individual performance this season for Green. There's really only one eyesore -- the difference in the Celtics' team production when Green is on the floor and when he's off it. The Celtics have been remarkably better without Green this season, continuing a career-long trend in which his teams simply tend to perform better without him.
What's staggering about this season is the disparity in the numbers given the quality of his play. When Green is off the floor, the Celtics own an offensive rating of 106.5, which is 3.3 points better than the team's season average and 4.6 points better than when Green is on the court. What's more, Boston's defensive rating is 100.6 without Green, or 4.8 points below the team's season average and 6 points below when Green is on the court.
For the season, the Celtics own a net differential -- the difference between their offensive and defensive rating -- of plus-5.9 without Green. The next worst number on the team is Evan Turner at a mere plus-0.6. Green is one of only three players with a plus off-court differential. (Marcus Thornton is the other at plus-0.2.)
Switching to on-court marks, Green's ratings (101.9 offense; 106.6 defense) leave him with a net rating of minus-4.8 when he's on the floor. That's the second-worst mark on the team, behind only Thornton at minus-6.0 when you eliminate rookies James Young and Dwight Powell.
To put it another way, the numbers suggest that the Celtics are 10 points better per 100 possessions when Green is off the court than on it. It's hard to understand how exactly the team numbers can reflect so poorly when Green appears to be playing better from an individual perspective.
It's fair to wonder if Green's team numbers are simply some sort of statistical anomaly, but Boston's other starters, who play comparable floor time, do not own such poor numbers. For comparison, the Celtics own a plus-1.2 net differential when Jared Sullinger is on the court and minus-5.8 when he's off, meaning the Celtics are 7 points better overall with him.
Narrow it down to Boston's past five games, a stretch in which the Celtics posted a season-best three-game winning streak and two narrow losses, and the team is still plus-8.4 without Green on the court, and only plus-2.5 with him. For comparison, the Celtics are plus-12 with Rondo on the court in that same stretch and minus-8.2 without him.
A larger sample is needed to figure out if Green can turn those numbers around, but past history isn't encouraging. For his career, Green has a minus-6.9 differential in his on/off splits.
Green has made some strides individually and is playing more consistently. The Celtics' new challenge is figuring out how to harness that and translate it into team success.