For whatever reason, several of the league's more entertaining players have fallen off in recent years. Be it due to injury, confidence issues, rotation frustrations, a poor fit, or general ennui in a profession that can get tiresome, these players have disappointed of late. For the next few weeks, we're going to take a look at a list of familiar names that haven't produced familiar games over the last few years. Or, at least players that have produced games that we don't want to be in the habit of familiarizing ourselves with.
Today, we're looking at Indiana Pacers shooting guard Gerald Green.
We've done this before, you know. Gerald Green, the 2007 NBA Slam Dunk contest winner, is set for his latest and greatest chance at making the impact that his potential demands at the NBA level. After a promising stint with the then-New Jersey Nets during 2011-12, Green signed a three-year deal with the Indiana Pacers earlier this summer, and he's saying all the right things during the team's offseason. Actually, he's doing all the right things — working with newly maxed-out All-Star center Roy Hibbert and other Pacers well before the team's training camp starts in October. It's just fine to be equally cynical and chuffed by the whole ordeal.
The first part comes from the fact that we're four years removed from wondering if this was Green's last chance in the NBA, after bouncing around and ending up with a sound organization in the form of the Dallas Mavericks (sound org despite some, eh, recent goofiness). The Mavs and Green didn't exactly work out, but while it might not have been ideal, a few years spent playing pro ball in Russia apparently did work out in Gerald's favor. In spite of the statement Green gave the Indianapolis Star's Zak Keefer in a recent interview, as published on Tuesday:
"I didn't grow up playing in my backyard dreaming of playing in Russia," Green said.
Some people have. Bob Knight, we're guessing. John Milius, probz. A guy that nearly won an NBA dunk competition by blowing out a candle on a cupcake while he dunked? Definitely not.
That's the fun behind all of this, though. It's not our money, that the Pacers signed Green to (at least until we buy our niece one of those Simon cards to go shop with next December), and the last four years of his career should have us enthused about his growth. He did well in Russia, worked hard in the D-League, and played above-average ball with the Nets last season.
The legs, apparently not weighted down by shooting a quite-nice 39 percent from behind the three-point arc last year, are still there.
Of course, the history is still dragging down our perception of the player. We present this not as to embarrass the great Britt Robson (one of the smartest and typically-accurate NBA scribes out there) when he wrote this as a Timberwolves beat writer four years ago, but we'd also like to remind you as well as us about Green's history:
"During a Wolves' timeout in the second quarter, Gerald Green spent the entire time well removed from the circular huddle, where, you know, he might glean some information that would improve on his reputation for not knowing where to go in the offensive and defensive sets. Instead Green was conversing with the injured Ratliff near the end of the bench. Twelve seconds after play resumed, Gomes picked up his third foul and with McCants also saddled with three, Sichting sent Green into the game. Thirty eight seconds after that, Green receives a pass just over center court from McCants for his first touch. Kobe and Lakers' rookie Jarvis Crittenton immediately sneak up behind Green and knock the ball from his grasp, resulting in a ruthlessly gorgeous, but rather embarrassing to Green, breakaway slam by Kobe. Two or three years from now, Gerald Green will be back in his old neighborhood, alternately bragging about his NBA career and complaining how he got screwed because nobody gave him a chance to play."
And though this may have been one pull quote from an extended conversation about Green's attributes with new Pacers GM Kevin Pritchard, the go-to line from Keefer's column is a bit worrying:
"He's one of the most dynamic athletes I've seen," Pritchard said.
"Dynamic athlete" shouldn't matter right now. What we're looking at, as Green hits age 27 midway through the season following a year that he nailed a very nice 39 percent of his three-pointers last year, is the potential for a well-rounded guard. The hope that the NBA's highest leaper could roam the baselines and destroy defenders on impact based solely on his legs has long gone — that part of Green's game didn't translate. What appears to be in the midst of carrying over from this time spent on the fringes, and we're giddy as we write this, is the idea that Gerald Green can turn into a well-rounded all-around player at shooting guard.
The Pacers just signed him through his prime. Green's mechanics on his jumper were never worth worrying about; you just got the idea that he was about 10,000 more practice tries away from turning it into a consistent threat. His legs and frame still look spindly; but at a position that has lost its relevance in recent years, this shouldn't be a problem. At half the league's average salary, Gerald Green's scoring could put a team over the top.
What a remarkable turnaround, for someone who was an afterthought until last winter.
Assuming things continue apace, of course. Green was decidedly below-average until his 31-game stint with the Nets last year, but players who jump directly to terrible NBA teams from high school that don't give a crap usually are usually decidedly below-average. We'd worry about the guy after he finally gets his big NBA deal; but he's also on a tough team with a series of strong leaders that is practicing balls out in the heat of August. Pardon our late-summer rosiness, but can't this work out?
It can. It really can, if the Pacers give it some time, and Green gives it a go.
Years after that candle blew out oh, shut up Kelly. This could be pretty sweet. Keep shooting, GG.