Jeff Green is as polarizing as they come.
At this point this is no longer surprising, in Memphis, at least. The Grizzlies' often scrutinized, sometimes appreciated forward continues to bring out only the stingiest of opinions and "hot takes". He continues to confound his detractors who saw him start in place of Courtney Lee against the Minnesota Timberwolves this past Sunday despite numbers like this before the game...
PER (131 players w/ 200+ MP) 1. Curry: 36.2 2. Griffin: 30.0 3. Westbrook: 29.8 129. M. Barnes: 7.2 130. Vasquez: 7.0 131. Jeff Green: 4.7— Peter Edmiston (@peteredmiston) November 12, 2015
...but he has played relatively well the past few contests and is very important to Memphis' success to the surprise/concern of many, as is shown in results like this...
Make that 5-0 after the 122-114 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder last night, a game in which he poured in 20 points and snagged 5 rebounds all while attacking the rim, shooting corner threes and defending multiple positions.
His impact on this roster is debatable and at the same time unquestioned. His talent is undeniable and still somehow devastatingly depressing. His role seems to rise and fall with the competition and arc of his jumper. His game is inefficient and yet incredible to watch at times. He means everything, and nothing, depending on who you ask. He is a mystery, wrapped in an enigma, wrapped in a riddle.
It begs the question: who in the hell is the real Jeff Green?
It must feel amazing to be able to do what Jeff Green can do.
The ability to run, to jump, to rise...literally rise multiple feet off of the ground. We're talking real air time here, the kind of lift and explosion reserved for the elite athletes of the National Basketball Association. There are plenty of NBA player who can dunk, but Jeff Green doesn't just dunk- he eviscerates.
Rarely do people describe the game of basketball as "violent." That is a distinction usually reserved for American Football, and the injury reports and concussion law suits back that up. Basketball is considered beautiful by nature; the flow of the best athlete's in the world as they run the court, their elongated strides driving home the point that men this large should not be able to move so gracefully. Not only that, many of them avoid contact so tactfully and with such poise, or in some cases know how to create it without taking on harm to themselves. It truly is living art, when executed at its highest level as it often is in the NBA. The only time the term "violent" is used to describe basketball usually is in terms of ability to perform athletic feats with such ferocity that it is the best way to describe it.
Violence can be beautiful, in unique circumstances when talented people are involved. Jeff Green would know.
It is so simple, in theory.
Follow a scheme. Do your job. Rotate here to this pass, drive off of this screen or pick, help off of this guy on this type of play, settle in this area of the floor and wait for the ball. Basketball is believed to be in constant reinvention, but the game itself is simple at its most core measurement of success: score the ball, stop the ball from being scored. Jeff can do the first part a good bit when it comes to dunking...
What is so damn hard about the rest of it?
Numbers suggest it is especially difficult for Jeff when it comes to defending three-point shooters. According to NBA.com/stats' defensive tracking numbers, players attempting a three-point shot are converting 12.9% more of their shots when being defended by Jeff Green. 12.9%. A very noticeable difference, larger than a run of bad luck.
It is indicative of a larger problem, one that did not rear its ugly head as much last season, where Jeff's opponents only shot threes 1.2% better while being defended by him. It can be confusing to think on why a man with the physical tools to dominate like Jeff can have so many issues doing his job on this end of the court. How can the body fail you in one area, yet raise you up both literally and figuratively in another?
When your mind does not place those physical tools where they need to be.
At no point in the last Wolves possession was Jeff Green closer than 8 feet to Tayshaun Prince on the weak side. pic.twitter.com/LbKelLR2Fl— Seth Partnow (@SethPartnow) November 15, 2015
Would be fine if this only occurred when defending a struggling offensive player like Tayshaun Prince. After all, turnabout is fair play. But this is not the case. Jeff often gets caught over-helping on not just threes, but twos.
That kind of sequence happens far too often. Whether it is from beyond the arc or at the rim, Jeff gets lost in the game, and not in a poetically appealing way.
The fastest way to get drilled by 50 points by Golden State? Leave them open opportunities, and Jeff gave up his fair share in that contest and in others not only this season, but throughout his entire career.
Physical talents can only take you so far. If the mind cannot complete the journey, you are left looking dazed and confused, no matter how beautiful your above the rim game may be.
It must be humbling at times, being Jeff Green.
To be so hotly debated, so vehemently disregarded. Viewed as the scourge of this Grizzlies roster by many, the inefficient wing that not only did the Memphis Grizzlies not need, but the wing they gave up far too much to acquire. Is it indeed possible that Memphis had come full circle with Jeff during their recent struggles? That Green had reached that elite-in-the-worst-way-possible level of "better off without him, regardless of return"?
Has he entered the dreaded "Rudy Gay" zone?
No, it turns out... at least not fully, not yet. Jeff Green has seen a bit of a resurgence the past three games, having started in two of them (against Minnesota and Oklahoma City). Compare Jeff's numbers from the beginning of the season to this recent three-game winning streak-
|First Nine Games||Last Three Games|
|Field Goal %||34.9||45.7|
|Three Point %||25||60|
|Points Per Game||6.6||18.3|
|True Shooting %||42.7||62.8|
|Minutes Per Game||22.3||33.1|
Dramatic improvement across the board, outside of defensive rating (which is higher for every Grizzly after the 114 points given up to the Oklahoma City Thunder.) The three-point percentage is a bit misleading (3-5 from beyond the arc the last three games) but as these shot charts show, this is a positive development that so few of the attempts are from range.
Here is his first nine games of the season-
And here is his chart from the past three games-
The best possible development for Jeff Green is the fact that the percentage of his attempted shots in and around the rim the past three games is up to 60%. It was only at 31.7% of his attempts the previous nine games. Jeff is attacking, not settling for mid-range jumpers. He is running and taking rhythm threes, not taking two dribbles after standing around and trying to break the backboard through the force of his shot.
So much disdain, so many questions on value...some of them valid. But the past few games Jeff has shown what Grizzlies GM Chris Wallace and Head Coach Dave Joerger have always seen in him; his potential to be a game changer for the Grizzlies.
From the bottom of the heap to the top of the hill, the doghouse to the penthouse, from silent acceptance of poor play to boisterous balance for a lineup that desperately needs it.
All in the span of twelve games. Confusing, right?
So who is the real Jeff Green?
Is he the lackadaisical defender who seems like he is not aware of his surroundings? The lazy jump shooter who settles for what the defense gives him, neglecting his gifts and his ability to get to the rim?
Or, is he the monstrous dunker, the destroyer of worlds in and around the hoop? Is he the transition slasher, the player of passing lanes, the guy who will run down a lay-up and block it, and Paul Pierce, back in to the late 2000's?
Jeff Green with the incredible chase down block on Paul Pierce pic.twitter.com/qL3J1KYChw— Grizzlies Nation (@MemGrizNation) November 10, 2015
Is it possible, perhaps, that he is both? A flawed basketball player with tremendous talents? A neutral-at-best defender who, when put in positions to succeed by himself and his coaches, can impact games with defensive plays (not his defensive play overall) and his explosive rim runs? He is surely a man who has been through hell with regard to his health, who surely understands the value of his opportunity to play this game considering the fact that his heart issues almost cost him his career. He is a man who does his best to help those like him, youths who are in his situation, to show them that they can rise above their circumstances. To them, he is a role model. He is proof there can be a life- a great life-beyond doctor visits and surgeries.
In the specific case of Jeff Green, it can lead a life as a member of the Memphis Grizzlies who both unites and separates a fan base with his play in any given game. At times, he is a savior. At others, he is a struggle, his vaunted potential unrealized. Given his story and character, however, he can more than likely take the pressure and barbs that come with being a polarizing professional athlete. He has been through far worse
Amazing? Terrible? Exciting? Frustrating? Confounding? Inefficient? Inspiring?
He's all of the above and then some.
That is the real Jeff Green.