Harnessing Gerald Green’s unlimited potential

There’s really no question that Gerald Green is the best leaper in the NBA. A few weeks ago he put his neck on the rim during a Suns practice. In the 2008 NBA Dunk Contest, he blew out a candle on a cupcake on the rim. The man has serious hops. But in the eight years since he was drafted out of high school, Gerald Green has played for seven different NBA teams. He disappeared from the NBA for two seasons before catching on with the Nets after the NBA lockout. He played well enough in New Jersey’s final season to earn himself a multi-year contract from the Pacers, but things didn’t really work out in Indianapolis last year, and now the Gerald Green saga continues in the valley of the sun.

Why Green has failed to find himself as a player is a difficult questions to answer. Teams see his unlimited athleticism and rightly believe he could be a huge asset. But no team or coach has really been able to harness his incredible athletic ability and put it to consistent use. Whether his limitation has been physical or mental is anyone’s guess. Seeing as how he was out of the league for two years in his early twenties, the answer is probably a bit of both. The truth is that Green has rarely produced at a high level. Despite his incredible leaping ability, he isn’t a great shot blocker or defender. He’s never averaged more than a single assist per game, and his rebound rate is poor even among shooting guards. During his comeback year in New Jersey, Green was actually a very efficient shooter. According to HoopData, he shot 70% at the rim and 60% from 3-9 feet. His overall FG% of 48% was the highest of his career as was his 39% from downtown. But that efficiency went out the window last season. In Indiana, he shot only 36.6% from the field, and his 3-point accuracy dropped to just 31%. Though the Pacers had an incredibly successful season, Green, it seems, was no longer a vital part of their future.

In his short tenure in the Phoenix Suns’ front office, Ryan McDonough has pulled off a series of incredibly savvy moves. He brought in Eric Bledsoe. He cut ties with Michael Beasley. And he traded Luis Scola to the Pacers. At first glance, the jewel of that trade is the Pacers 2014 pick, with Mason Plumlee and Gerald Green thrown in as after thoughts. But after five preseason games, Plumlee looks like the Suns’ second best center behind Marcin Gortat, but ahead of rookie Alex Len. Ryan McDonough clearly saw great potential in Plumlee. Could it be that he saw equal or greater potential in Gerald Green?

Green was drafted by the Celtics in 2005, right in the middle McDonough’s tenure in Boston. Now we don’t know what role McDonough played in picking Green, but the fact that he brought him to Phoenix nearly eight years later must mean something. Maybe the Suns know something about Green that the league doesn’t.

Green showed what he could do with opportunity last week against the Spurs. Green started the game at small forward and scored 19 points in only 20 minutes on the floor. He went 8-of-15 from the field and 2-of-6 from downtown. Though it was just a preseason game, the performance was proof that Green could be a serious asset for the Suns this year.

But what kind of role could he actually play if given the opportunity? On the defensive side, I could see Green being a great backside help defender, especially if the other team has an offensively weak player the Suns can hide Green on. Though he’s never been a shot blocker per se, having Green’s leaping ability in the paint could certainly be an asset to the Suns interior defense. Offensively, it’s pretty clear the Suns want to run. I for one am giddy over the prospect of Green filling a lane on the break and finishing highlight-quality dunks. In the half court, his quickness and ability to finish at the rim will cause defenders to play a step off of him. If he can find his shooting stroke from two years ago, there’s a chance he could earn minutes as a floor spacer, something the Suns are in desperate need of after their poor performance from downtown last year.

It seems like Gerald Green is a player who thrives when teams commit to him. Last season, the Pacers went with Lance Stephenson and Green’s minutes fell by the wayside. There’s no guarantee this year with the Suns will be any different. He may play sparingly behind Marcus Morris and P.J. Tucker at the three, or he may not play at all. But no one should be surprised if Green is playing 20-25 minutes a night by Christmas and showing his worth as an NBA player once again. The Suns aren’t trying to win a ton of games this year; they’re just trying to see how good their assets really are. It’s probably time that we found out how good Gerald Green can be once and for all.

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