When the Phoenix Suns traded Luis Scola to the Indiana Pacers last July for Gerald Green, Miles Plumlee and a protected first round pick, one of the things I wrote was the following:
"Green was a cost the Suns had to incur to get that 1st round pick (and Plumlee, I guess)."
I also had the following brilliant insight:
Could there be any two players more opposite than Luis Scola and Gerald Green?
One's a slow, unathletic veteran who relies on his IQ, craftiness and hustle while the other is pure athleticism and nothing more.
"Pure athleticism and nothing more." Thankfully, I was wrong yet again.
Gerald Green entered the NBA in 2005 straight out of high school as a hyper-athletic prospect that had all of the physical tools one could ever want in a swingman, but barely any of the skills. Between his rookie year and the 2013-14 season, Green has been a member of 10 different professional basketball teams. For those keeping track, that's literally more teams than he can count on his fingers--and that's not including the three D-League squads he's been a part of.
After he struggled to carve a role for himself in the NBA, Gerald spent most of 2009 through 2012 playing in Russia, China and the Lakers' D-League affiliate as he worked on developing his game and climbing the ladder back to the league. In 2012, he earned a spot on the New Jersey Nets roster, where he surprised many by averaging 12.9 points on 48.1% shooting from the field and 39.1% from three in 31 games.
His performance on a 22-44 Nets team earned him a three-year deal from the Indiana Pacers the following offseason, and things finally began to be look brighter for Gerald. However, he struggled to fit into Frank Vogel's scheme and saw his role diminish more and more as the season progressed. With averages of just 7.0 points on 36.6 FG% and 31.4 3PT%, it once again looked like Gerald Green was well on his way to playing himself out of the NBA.
Everything changed, however, when Gerald Green arrived in Phoenix and came under the tutelage of rookie head coach Jeff Hornacek.
When Gerald Green arrived in the desert, most fans assumed he wouldn't be a major contributor for the Suns, and certainly not one that factored into the team's long-term vision. With as rocky of a career as Green had experienced, it was tough to foresee how productive he would ultimately be as a Sun.
One of the greatest knocks on Green was his questionable shot selection. Fortunately, Jeff Hornacek turned this exact weakness into an advantage for Green and the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns. Hornacek gave Gerald a green light from the get-go, but made sure to optimize his shot attempts as much as he could for efficiency. That, along with Green's quick trigger and the unbelievable lift he gets on his jump shot, made for some prolific and efficient scoring.
Gerald Green 2013-14 Per Game Averages:
In 82 games this season, Green attempted 12.3 shots per outing, over 50% of which were three-pointers. Jeff Hornacek deserves a lot of credit for optimizing Gerald Green's offensive game and putting him in the perfect spots on the floor to succeed. Of course, Gerald himself deserves a ton of acclaim for developing a consistent game and doing whatever he was asked to do all year long, whether off the bench or as a starter while Eric Bledsoe was injured.
Gerald Green 2013-14 Per Game Averages as a Starter vs. Reserve:
Green averaged about 7.5 minutes less per game whenever he came off the bench and therefore scored fewer points than he did as a starter, but he actually shot the ball better from the field and from the three point arc as a reserve. This is a great sign for a team that appears to have its starting back-court of the future in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe and will definitely need Green's scoring punch off the bench next season.
Another remarkable facet of Gerald Green's play this season was the fact that he improved his performances as the season progressed.
Gerald Green 2013-14 Per Game Averages by Month:
Save for a dip in December, that's a pretty steady increase in scoring throughout the course of the season. Perhaps the best sign is the scoring mark in March and April, when Green averaged his best monthly averages even after Eric Bledsoe returned from injury to demote Green back to the bench.
Here are some notable statistical accomplishments by Gerald Green in the 2013-14 season:
- He was fourth on the Suns in win shares per 48 minutes and tied with PJ Tucker for third in overall win shares (yes, including defensive win shares) behind Goran Dragic and Markieff Morris.
- He finished fourth in the entire league with 204 total made three point field goals, behind Steph Curry, Klay Thompson and Damian Lillard. Of the top ten total three point field goals made leaders, Gerald Green averaged the lowest number of minutes per game.
- He averaged career highs in minutes, points, assists, steals and blocks per game, as well as 3PT% and FT%.
- His 15.8 points per game would have been the second-highest scoring average on a Pacers team that has been starving for some offense lately (and is on the verge of being shocked by the Atlanta Hawks in the first round of the playoffs). Cool trade, Pacers.
- He finished fourth in the voting for the 2013-14 NBA Most Improved Player award, which went to his teammate Goran Dragic.
- A recent analysis by Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland showed that Gerald Green was the best shooter in the league from the left corner three-point line:
Top 5 Gerald Green Moments of the Season
5. Gerald is good at dunking
4. Gerald is also good at passing...to himself...and then dunking.
3. Gerald does not like Miles Plumlee's brother
2. Gerald makes Kevin Durant jealous
1. Gerald jumps through the Target Center and happens to hit a game-winner on the way down
The Future Looks Green
Gerald Green is under contract for $3.5 million through the 2014-15 season. When the Suns first acquired him in the Scola deal last July, many people (such as me) saw Green's contract as nothing more than a minor impediment to the Suns' future flexibility. Now, I'm extremely glad he's signed for another season. It will be interesting to see how Gerald will build on his career year--if he can put together two straight seasons of prductivity for a good team, he will definitely earn himself a nice contract in 2015 as a 29 year old, perhaps in the form of an extension from the Suns.
When asked during his exit interview of what he hopes to work on during the offseason to improve his game, Green said, "I think that if I can become a better ball-handler, a better playmaker at the pick-and-roll position or off the dribble, I really think I can take my game to another level.
I'm not afraid to take certain shots, I'm not afraid to do certain things. I actually like the pressure of doing stuff like that but I haven't really earned that right yet to say that but this summer, I'm just going to work as much as I can on my ball-handling. I think that right there can help my game, help me be a better player and help me help this team."
That quote brings about another quality about Gerald Green that makes him so endearing to fans--his attitude and demeanor. Gerald is a vocal player and he's not afraid to be candid with his emotions on or off the floor, but he's also very hard on himself and always plays with a chip on his shoulder. He has said on several occasions throughout this year that he hasn't "earned" anything yet as a player and it's easy to see that he truly believes that. As hard as he has worked to find his way back to the NBA, Gerald Green is not going to be satisfied until he keep proving his detractors wrong.
Never stop being you, Gerald.
In some ways, Gerald Green was the embodiment of the 2013-14 Phoenix Suns as a whole. Just like the rest of the team, he surprised almost everyone with an unpredictably exciting season. Just as the team quickly became the darling of the NBA season, Gerald himself became a fan favorite with his mix of how-does-he-float-like-that highlight reel dunks, no-no-no-please-no-YES shots and we're-not-supposed-to-be-here-anyway swagger. And just like the team was left disappointed but hopeful at the end of a season that saw them barely edged out for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference, Gerald Green is already talking about coming back stronger and better next year and continuing to prove people wrong.
Gerald Green became a vital cog in the Suns machine and helped lift this team to unforeseeable heights with his 35252525 inch vertical. For proving me (and countless others) wrong, becoming one of the most exciting players in the NBA and enjoying a career year as an integral part of one of the most unexpectedly fun Suns teams I've ever had the pleasure of witnessing, I give Gerald Green an "A."