Since coming to the Nets in an under-the-radar signing this summer, Jeff Green has exceeded expectations in every measurable way.
But it’s the immeasurable ways that could help the Nets the most.
“He’s been outstanding,” Steve Nash said before Green had another strong game with 11 points, five rebounds and a game-high plus-26 rating in the Nets’ 147-125 win over the Thunder on Friday night. “He’s been great on the court, his versatility, his experience and his skill has been really important to us. [But] his maturity, his personality, his leadership, he’s really added a ton to our team in that respect.
“I’m grateful as a coach to have somebody like that, that commands respect because of his résumé and experience, but also his personality. He commands respect because of the type of person he is: Great human being and great teammate. The guys realize that innately, and therefore his voice matters in our locker room.”
Championship contenders have to have not only stars on the court, but grown-ups in the locker room. Unseen amongst the points and rebounds and other stats, there’s the leadership that goes unnoticed but determines whether teams struggle or succeed.
Think sports’ version of dark matter.
Increasingly, Green provides that.
“He’s a versatile player, and he’s a veteran that’s been in the league for a while, so he knows how to [handle] situations, been in the Final Four, so he understands the intensity you need to play with,” Kevin Durant said of Green. “Having a guy that can start for you, come off the bench, play a lot of minutes, play a little minutes, he’s just a pro’s pro, and we’re lucky to have him.”
That Green commands such respect from Durant as well as James Harden, who all played together in OKC, is key. For the Nets, it could prove vital.
When Green was signed to a one-year, $2.5 million deal this offseason, it largely went under the radar. But his leadership mantle is different from that of Jared Dudley, DeMarre Carroll and Ed Davis, who were mentoring young players. When somebody has to have a tough talk with the Big Three, it likely will be Green.
At 34, Green is old enough that he was a Sonic back when that meant a Seattle player, not a hamburger or a hedgehog. He played with Durant and Harden for years in OKC, and is respected by Kyrie Irving as well.
“He’s a mature human being. He’s calm and he’s able to perform for the team in a positive way,” Nash said. “He has experience; you can change coverages on the fly with him, and he can quarterback that. He might not be the first name that jumps out on our team, but he does fill a really important role for us in a lot of diverse ways.”
After having his most efficient campaign last season in Houston, Green is on pace to surpass that. Green came into Friday shooting 56.1 percent overall and a career-high 45.9 from deep.
“It helps when you have Kevin and Kyrie and James on your team. A lot of attention is going to be on those guys, so I want to do my part,” Green said. “I put in the work, and it’s just showing. I’ve always been able shoot. I know you guys are just seeing it this [season] personally, but I’m going to be prepared.”
Though Green was coming off an 11-point, seven-rebound effort in Wednesday’s win in Atlanta, the most important sight wasn’t what he did but what he said.
On the final play of the first quarter, Irving dribbled upcourt and the Hawks blitzed him to get the ball out of his hands. With the clock winding down and no Nets moving to make themselves available, Irving tried to split two defenders. The Nets turned the ball over and never even got a shot off at the buzzer.
It was Green that summoned Irving, Harden and his teammates over, and called an impromptu huddle like a coach on the floor.
“[He] really just steadies the ship,” Joe Harris said. “Whether it’s his voice, leadership.”