Player to Watch: Jeff Green
The English dictionary defines relentless as "Jeff freaking Green." I'm not kidding. Go look it up. And if it doesn't say that, then your dictionary has been scared into a lie.
Jeff Green is the other-other Thunder. If Russell Westbrook is The Edge to Kevin Durant's Bono, Jeff Green is one of the other U2 members that you don't actually know because they aren't The Edge or Bono. But if you haven't been paying attention to Green because you've been too busy calling your friends to tell them Kevin Durant is breaking your mindskull, take a second look at the power forward for the Thunder. Because if Oklahoma City is going to take the next step this season, it won't be on the back of Westbrook, but the man they call Predator.
Green's growth last year didn't indicate that he was destined to be an All-Star, but a 4-point jump in PER, a 4.4% improvement in True Shooting percentage, and an overall substantial increase in efficiency leads you to believe he's at least headed somewhere worth watching. At 23 he's not a spring chicken like some of the young pieces in the league, but he's definitely still young enough to get excited about his growth. Green's not at that dreaded point where he simply "is what he is." He still has that capacity to make a leap, even if it's not in the box score, and make an impact for his team. The trouble is figuring out what that impact should be.
If you look at it from a team functional standpoint, Green's got to be more battering ram, less missile. The team needs rebounding, especially with Chris Wilcox headed to Detroit. While Etan Thomas still has some legs beneath that politically-minded cerebrum, the Thunder need their starting power forward to produce more boards than 6.5 a game, plain and simple. That means playing tougher, stronger, bigger, and doing the dirty work which Green is certainly capable of, but not necessarily naturally adept at.
From a player standpoint, Green has natural scoring instincts. He gets out on the break well, hustles, shows energy, and can certainly deliver the boom stick when called upon. But when you look at his shooting statistics, the closer you move Green to the basket, the more he struggles. Green attempted 64% of his shots as jumpers, compared to only 36% as "inside" shots. While inside, he hit just below 60% of his shots. Not great, but not lacking a natural touch. As Green matures into a more traditional power forward, he's capable of using the savvy that comes with wisdom to make his athleticism even more dangerous.
He's already developed a rapport with Kevin Durant, which is of vital importance, as chemistry between the two will be one of the ingredients the Thunder will need to turn that potential into wins. Additionally, Green functioned well at times with Westbrook when Durant was off floor, and his ability to function at both forward levels gives Brooks some flexibility in lineups.
Still, Green's going to have to prove this season he can play, if not as a true power forward, then as a "I Can't Believe It's Not Power Forward!" power forward. If he can start to learn what it takes to be a big in this league and translate his athleticism to advantages, it could be a huge year for "Uncle Jeff."