There are some moments in this life that leave you speechless at the beauty of nature, like when you are outside on a perfect winter day and have a flawless snowflake into your glove. You stare and admire it’s form and realize there will never be a moment in time that is identical to this one. You’re afraid to move, trying to appreciate every detail of this fleeting moment. That’s Jeff Green’s first 21 games with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
The story of Green’s career has been flashes of potential, stripped away by the reality of his limitations. Whether it be shot selection, or fleeting energy and defensive awareness, Green simply hasn’t been able to string together a meaningful stretch of games where he plays to his potential.
When the Cavs signed Green to a one-year deal worth $2.3 million, the idea was that he would have an opportunity to rejuvenate his career. His last season in Orlando was nothing short of a disaster. He struggled individually, while also holding back Aaron Gordon’s growth by often forcing him to play out of position at small forward.
Like Derrick Rose, the Cavs offered him a chance at redemption if he could fit into the role the team had for him. Unlike Rose, Green has embraced this situation and proven to be a valuable contributor. Through 21 games, Green is averaging 10 points per game on 49 percent shooting from the field and 30 percent from three. His true shooting percentage of 58.3 is up from his previous career high of 56.1 percent set during the 2012-2013 season.
57.6 percent of Green’s attempts this year have come from within 10 feet of the basket. 12.7 percent of which are classified as a cut by NBA.com’s player tracking. Last year Green only took 39.1 percent of his attempts within 10 feet of the basket, 3.4 percent off them were classified as a cut. The quality of the looks he is receiving and mentality of attacking the rim has resulted in a rise in efficiency of those looks from 51.2 percent to 76.2 percent.
What has held Green back in the past is his deviations from doing what he does best. Whether it be lazy shot selection, or inconsistent defensive effort, his struggles are mostly a result of his decision making. For example, Green hasn’t converted a single three point attempt off the dribble this season. But when he doesn’t dribble, he has shot a passable 34.3 percent.
How the remainder of the season plays out for Green is largely in his hands. If he continues to play smart basketball and bring energy, it’ll be impossible to keep him off the court.
When Tristan Thompson returns from his calf injury, it seems likely that Jae Crowder will once again be moved to a reserve role. With Crowder off the bench and Channing Frye working his way back into the rotation, frontcourt minutes will be hotly contested. How many minutes each player receives will likely correlate with how well they are playing on that night.
It’s a good problem to have, and provides the team with some insurance. While the early returns on Green are positive, a look at his history would lead most to some degree of trepidation. The hope would be that the internal competition, combined with the opportunity to earn another payday this summer, helps keep his focus sharp and his effort consistent.
Green’s story has always been compelling, as has his talent. As January approaches, so does the six year anniversary of the open heart surgery at the Cleveland Clinic that gave him a new lease on life. Back in Cleveland, Green is making the most of his chance to breathe new life into his NBA career. The joy is back in Green’s game. When you see the energy he provides on the court, cheering on the bench, and the way he has connected with his teammates, it’s hard not to pull for him. While nothing is forever, maybe this experience will last long enough to be something special for the Cavs.