Bulls’ Javonte Green thriving in largest role of NBA career

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Why Javonte Green is thriving in Bulls’ starting lineup originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Javonte Green has a signature move he likes to whip out at Chicago Bulls practices.

It starts, to hear Coby White tell it, at the free-throw line. Green steps to the stripe, swishes, then, as the ball falls through the net, moves forward. After one bounce, the springy 6-foot-4 power forward grabs, jumps and powerfully dunks in one fluid motion – sometimes between the legs, sometimes reverse, sometimes in a windmill fashion.

“Practice how you play,” Green cracked after notching 14 points, two steals and a block in Wednesday’s 131-117 win over the Atlanta Hawks.

How Green plays is, in a word, energetic. And frenetic. And, maybe, if we’re being honest, even a bit reckless.

But, whichever adjective you choose, there’s no denying he’s infectious. Green has already become notorious among fans and his teammates for attempting dunks on near every rim-run he takes. He compensates for being an undersized power forward by attacking the offensive glass with ferocity, barrelling through and around screens, and tirelessly hunting blocks and steals. In a starting lineup with plenty of scoring and playmaking talent, he’s perfectly cast filling gaps as an on-ball menace at the defensive end and lunch-pail layup hunter on offense – traits that have helped the Bulls weather losing Patrick Williams, who entered the season as the starting four, to injury.

Dispositionally, Green also adds an edge to a unit that features – in Lonzo Ball, Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan and Nikola Vučević – loads of skill and poise, but at times benefits from a layer of chaotic intensity.

“He’s a nice shot in the arm for that group,” acting head coach Chris Fleming said of Green. “They have a lot of calm guys who play at their own pace and Javonte kind of brings us up a little bit sometimes.”

“I just want to do everything that DeMar and Zach and Vooch don’t necessarily have to do,” Green said of his approach. “Guard the best player. Do all the little things. Just bring them energy. Because they’re gonna score the ball regardless. I just want to take more pressure off them.”

Through 28 appearances – he missed four with COVID-19 earlier in December – and 17 starts, Green is averaging 5.9 points, 4.3 rebounds (with a 97th percentile offensive rebound rate, per Cleaning the Glass) and 0.8 steals in 22 minutes per game. He’s even connecting on 50.8 percent of his field-goal attempts and 37.5 percent on a low volume of 3s – 48.4 percent on 31 corner attempts – despite entering the campaign 30.2 percent for his career from long range.

It’s by far the biggest role he’s had in his NBA career, which began with an end-of-bench spot on the Boston Celtics in 2019, then transitioned to Chicago when he was moved along with Daniel Theis at least season's trade deadline. And it’s a far cry from overseas stops in Spain, Italy and Germany after going unselected out of Radford in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Even entering his third NBA season, which began by reupping with the Bulls on a minimum contract in August, the 28-year-old Green couldn’t have envisioned his role unfolding the way it has.

“It’s nothing I imagined,” Green said. “Coming into this year, coming into training camp, this summer, I was around, just working on my game. Making sure they (the Bulls) know that I’m here working. And I just feel like that’s my mentality is just do whatever you gotta do just to get on the floor.”

The way he’s meshed is a testament to the Bulls front office’s team-building success, and coaching staff’s adaptability to try Green at power forward, despite him being undersized and, in the past, seldom-used.

He’s more than just an energy guy to this group, which sits 22-10 through 32 games.

“He brings a level of tenacity, especially on the defensive end,” said White. “But I feel like he doesn’t get enough credit on the offensive end.

“Everybody knows what he does defensively. He shuts guys down, he gets into him, he does what he needs to do. But offensively, he opens up so much by crashing the glass, being able to hit the 3, and also putting the ball on the floor and being able to get to the basket – especially his off-ball movement opens up a lot for us, and the pressure he puts on the rim. I don’t think his offense gets talked about enough and what he does for us on both ends of the court.”

But that’s on the outside. Green’s teammates and coaches know, and so does he.

“I know how much my teammates and coaching staff appreciate what I do, and they tell me,” he said. “Everything else is irrelevant.”

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