Whether or not Jeff Green has made fans of the team he plays for happy has traditionally been determined nearly 100% by the expectations they place on him.
For Seattle SuperSonics fans, Jeff Green wasn’t enough. They traded Ray Allen, perhaps their best ever player, for the chance to draft Green. While he scored some, in general, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook surpassed Green very quickly in their minds.
Then he was traded to the Celtics in exchange for Kendrick Perkins and Nate Robinson. From a Celtics fan perspective, Perkins was an integral part of their championship winning team in 2009, and many of their fans believed that the only reason they lost in 2010 was Perkins’ injury. Green came in during the 2011 season to try to add something different, but they haven’t made it back to the finals since.
Memphis, too, thought Green could push them over the top, so in 2015, they traded Tayshaun Prince, Quincy Pondexter and a first round pick that looks very likely to be a high lottery selection at this point to acquire Green. This will not shock you at this point, but Green did not lead them to great success; they lost in the second round to the Warriors that year, then got swept by the Spurs the year after.
One more team, in 2016, thought Jeff Green was worth a first round pick to acquire: the L.A. Clippers in the Chris Paul, Blake Griffin, DeAndre Jordan era. That pick turned out to be No. 20 in this year’s draft, which was used to draft Matisse Thybulle. The trade earned them a first round loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Magic spent $15 million on him in free agency the next year, 2016-17, and that team won 29 games.
But though it took six teams and 10 years to get to this point, we’ve arrived here: Jeff Green might be accurately rated, even underrated. The one-year, minimum-level deal he agreed to with the Jazz on Tuesday is his third consecutive minimum deal, and in that time, he’s honestly helped two flawed teams, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Washington Wizards. It’s gotten to the point where Dwyane Wade even tweeted about it:
Wade’s scouting report is essentially accurate. Beyond the 2011-12 year, which he missed the entirety of due to a heart condition, Green’s been able to stay on the floor. He is still athletic. Even at 32 years old, he still dunks the ball frequently. Green had 39 dunks last year, in comparison, Donovan Mitchell had 31. He’s 6-foot-9 with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, which helps immensely in his ability to stay on the court and perform.
He can certainly shoot the three, but he’s not especially good at it. For his career, he’s a 33% 3-point shooter. Last year, he shot 34.7% from deep on 4.2 attempts per game. Again, for a Jazz comparison, think Jae Crowder in terms of accuracy.
Defensive versatility is definitely a strength of Green’s. This FearTheSword blog post about Green’s defense from a year ago sums it up: “Since the All-Star Break ... he has guarded everyone from post-behemoth Jusuf Nurkic to defending MVP Russell Westbrook and all sizes in between.” Last year for the Wizards, Green played mostly power forward, but he played a surprising number of minutes at center due to Wizards injuries, and those lineups were actually very effective. I don’t know if we’ll see that for the Jazz, but it’s an option.
Is he actually good defensively? I think there’s scant evidence of that. His teams have traditionally been better with him off the floor on defense, though his time with the Cavs was an exception. He’s always had below-average block and steal rates. He doesn’t commit fouls very often, so that’s good, but overall, it seems like he can do the right things, but doesn’t always do them.
Whether 32 is old in the NBA deserves some discussion. He’ll be 33 by the time the season starts. That is traditionally when we start to see downturns in players’ careers, but Green’s athleticism probably will allow him to hang on for longer than the average player. There was a downturn in the number of times he shot at the hoop last year, which might reflect some aging in his game, but he still attacks the rim frequently enough that he’s capable of it. And he was actually really efficient when he got to the rim, making 74% of his shots there, so that’s a good sign he still has it.
There are some things that Wade’s tweet didn’t mention. Green, despite the fact that he’s occasionally played center, is an awful rebounder for a wing or a big man. Crowder’s rebounding was often criticized last year when he picked up 9.6% of available rebounds, Green is at 8%. The Jazz will need to count on other players for boards when Green is in the game. Green isn’t an assist man, and often doesn’t keep the ball moving. He’s not a creator for others.
But he can score in various ways. The Wizards actually used him fairly frequently to set screens last year, and he performed well as a wing roll man. He posted up on occasion, and scored 1.01 points per play on those postups. He can use his physicality to cut to the rim and score well, and his athleticism is a real boon in transition. He scored 12 points per game last year, and it wasn’t for nothing.
All in all, Crowder is actually a pretty reasonable comparison for Green: both aren’t good shooters, passers, or rebounders. But both use their physical traits — for Green his length, for Crowder his strength — to give their teams something on the defensive end. And both are wing fours who can open up some space for Rudy Gobert, Donovan Mitchell and the rest to do their things.
For the minimum, that’s enough, a nice contribution. But if we’ve learned anything from Green’s career, it’s this: if you set your expectations too high, he’ll fall short. If you don’t expect much, he’ll pleasantly surprise you.