Last summer, former first-round draft pick Gerald Green was coming off a successful stint with the D-League's Los Angeles D-Fenders and hoping to get another shot to sign on with a fifth NBA team. This year, the 26-year-old swingman has a fresh new three-year, $10.5 million contract with the Indiana Pacers, a playoff squad on the rise that might be the second-best team in the Eastern Conference, and he's one of a handful of revived veterans with something to prove whom we're very eager to see take the floor. What a difference a year makes.
Green got back in the NBA's good graces thanks to a strong late-season showing with the going-nowhere New Jersey Nets, and the Pacers picked him up to bolster their bench depth by adding length, explosiveness and athleticism to an improving backcourt rotation. Training camp doesn't start until next week, but according to Mike Wells of the Indianapolis Star, Pacers coach Frank Vogel has been floored by what he's seen from Green in preseason workouts:
Vogel on Gerald Green and D.J. Augustin:
"Gerald Green is doing things everyday I didn't think was possible for human beings to do."
That sure sounds pretty impressive. The mere thought of Green coming into workouts, day in and day out, and continuing to rotate his right foot clockwise while drawing the number 6 in the air with his right hand, sneezing with his eyes open, effectively tickling himself and solving the six remaining unsolved Millennium Prize problems must have Pacers fans bursting at the seams to get to see him in live action.
Seriously, though, if Green is doing stuff in practice that goes beyond the kinds of things he pulled off for the Nets last year — which, if you'll recall, included this:
... then he must be pulling out some serious nonsense in workouts. Vogel's assessment backs up comments made during a recent radio interview by incumbent Pacers two-guard Paul George — according to Pacer blog Indy Cornrows, when asked about Green, George said, "I can fly, but man, watching him take off is something, something to see." (Keep in mind that we're one month removed from George hammering down a through-the-legs 360 windmill without any warmup.)
The issue, of course, is that there's never been any question about Green's ability to perform ridiculous feats of athleticism on a basketball court — we've known about his explosiveness, his vertical leap, his speed and agility ever since the Boston Celtics selected him with the 18th overall pick in the 2005 NBA draft. What we've been waiting to see for the past seven-plus years is evidence that Green can take those superhuman talents and deploy them in the service of tasks that are very possible for a human being to do — like moving your feet on the perimeter, helping your bigs out on the boards and making determined cuts without the ball to help an offense flow better in half-court sets. Even his career-saving 31-game turn with the Nets last season didn't necessarily show a ton of that; that was predicated largely on stroking the 3-pointer (39.1 percent from deep, although taking more than five long balls per 36 minutes of floor time seems a bit high for an ancillary offensive option), career-high conversion rates on opportunities close to the basket (70.7 percent at the rim and 64.3 percent from between three and nine-feet out, according to Hoopdata's shot location statistics) and the occasional highlight-reel play that got our attention.
On an Indy team that, as Indy Cornrows' Tom Lewis recently noted, tends to grind it out (they played at the 19th slowest pace among the 30 NBA teams last season) and use the 3-ball sparingly (they took the ninth-fewest 3-pointers in the NBA last season), might already have a backup shooting guard in place (elsewhere in Wells' practice update, Vogel notes that third-year player Lance Stephenson is the current leader to spell George) and cares less about giving fans a brief ennui-dispelling thrill than improving upon last year's second-round playoff run, Green's going to have to show that he can funnel his gifts into tangible, reliable, team-improving skills. (UPDATE: Wells notes on Twitter that Green's now slotted at the three, backing up starter Danny Granger, and that he wouldn't be surprised if Green winds up being the primary backup at both small forward and shooting guard.)
If he can do that, then he should get plenty of chances to wow us as he has Vogel; if he can't, then he might find himself practicing that "rotate your foot and draw a 6" thing down at the end of the bench with the training staff.