It has come to my attention over the past few weeks that the most controversial player on the Thunder roster is the one least likely to stir up controversy.
Drafted in 2007 with the 5th overall pick acquired from Boston in the Ray Allen trade, Jeff Green was an afterthought to Sonics fans excited by the selection of Kevin Durant about fifteen minutes prior. Of course, much of the reason Sam Presti tabbed “Uncle Jeff” (as his teammates have been known to refer to him) with the second draft choice of his general managing career had everything to do with Green being satisfied with playing second fiddle. The draft was just a warm-up for him.
Every successful superstar in the NBA seems to need a less heralded companion who does all the dirty work while they make the headlines. Bill Russell had Bob Cousy. Tim Duncan has had Manu Ginobili. Kareem had Magic (then vice versa). Oh, and some guy named Michael Jordan used to play with this Scottie Pippen person.
Scottie Pippen is the gold standard for side kicks. When the 1990′s Bulls won six championships in eight years, Pippen did such an amazing job of being unassuming that everyone assumed he was unambitious. While Michael Jordan won scoring title after scoring title and built a multi billion dollar persona, Pippen simply reduced the pressure from Jordan on the floor and shouldered the fan’s blame when the team failed.
The Thunder hope that Jeff Green develops into a Scottie Pippen type of player. Not just in his approach to professionalism, which I would argue he already does perfectly, but also his production on the floor. For his career he averaged 16 points per game, but during Chicago’s glory days, he always hovered near twenty as the second option in their offense.
Looking at the two players’ third year stats, they are actually pretty close. Green is averaging 14.7 to Pippen’s 16.5 points, and in rebounds Pippen led 6.5 to 6.1. So, while Green could still improve upon or drop some in the last three-quarters of this season, he is not completely off pace.
You would not get that if you listen to the vocal detractors that are spawning. As the Thunder have enjoyed more and more success, some of the fans have been willing to give less and less of the credit to the team’s co-captain. Listening to the litany of complaints about Green–he’s inconsitent, too small, unworthy of starting, and a defensive liability–it’s sometimes forgotten that he’s the second best player on a team with playoff aspirations.