Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE
Pacers forward Gerald Green has had a roller-coaster of a career in pro basketball thus far. Despite a two-year absence from the NBA, Green is set to use his experience to his advantage and make a real difference for the Pacers this season.
Gerald Green's NBA playing career, up until this point at least, has been characterized by both a great deal of excitement and disappointment.
Initially, Green entered the NBA on the back of some serious hype - drawing comparisons to former Toronto Raptor Tracy McGrady. Fresh out of high shool, the 6 foot 7 forward made a name for himself in Boston by throwing down gravity-defying dunks, despite seeing very few minutes of the floor during his rookie season.
In his second season, Green saw his minutes increase significantly - from 11.7 to 22 per game - and along with it, his production. He averaged 10.4 points per game and shot 37 percent from beyond the arc. He saw his overall shooting percentage dip to 41 percent, but that is too be expected out of a guy who had only started playing basketball during his sophomore year in high school and was still learning the game.
The unquestionable highlight of that season - and potentially his career to date - for Green was his dominance of the 2007 dunk contest.
Thanks to that performance, as well as an improving game on the court, Green looked poised to make a potential jump in his game heading into his third year in Boston. The Celtics, though, had other plans.
Following that season, Green was shipped to Minnesota as a part of the Kevin Garnett trade. In Minnesota, Green toiled on the end of the bench before being moved to Houston - where he played only one game - and then to Dallas for another forgettable stop - one which would prove to be his last in the NBA for two whole years.
Green spent the next two seasons overseas, honing his game, and more importantly, growing and maturing as an individual before making his return to the league with New Jersey last season.
In New Jersey, Green got a an opportunity to play consistently and he took advantage, showing off an improved feel for the game that allowed him to post career numbers almost across the board.
Thanks to that opportunity, Green was able to land in the best basketball situation of his career, as a member of the Indiana Pacers this season.
Joining this team is an opportunity years in the making, and the importance of this opportunity is not lost on the swingman.
"It feels good. All the hard work and dedication has paid off you know, and its a blessing - just a blessing to be in this situation." Green told me an hour before taking the court for the first time as a Pacer.
Granted, last season in New Jersey was huge for Green, but the differences between the two teams are pretty glaring.
"We didn't have the same mentality that they have here," Green told me about his former team. "I think the intentions were there, I just think that this is a totally better team than New Jersey was".
In Indiana, Green will bring his superior athleticism to a great mix of young, and veteran talent on the Pacers roster. But, according to 6'7 swingman, the biggest thing he will bring to the table this season is also the biggest area of improvement he has made in his game: his IQ.
"You know what man, I think my IQ," Green responded when asked about the biggest improvement in his game. "I think I am just a lot smarter of a player than I was when I first came into the league. I think that just goes off of experience too, just being experienced and getting a couple games under my belt. I was fresh out of high school, and that was really only my first couple years of kinda playing basketball at the time."
Even just speaking to Green, you get the sense that those two years overseas were absolutely huge for his development. His demeanor on and off the court has changed significantly. He now carries himself like a veteran, despite his somewhat limited NBA experience and it is this type of mindset that will ensure his longevity in the league going forward.
Pacers head coach Frank Vogel tends to agree with Green, and has been very pleased with the team's newest small forward and all of his improvements.
"Gerald Green has been a pleasant surprise. You know, he is going to step in at the starting small forward spot for Danny Granger and give us a scoring punch. And, he has been giving us great energy on the defensive end." Vogel told reporters prior to the Pacers' first game of the season against the Raptors.
Now, having reached a point in his career that he has worked years years to get to - it doesn't seem like it, but it has been seven years since he was selected with the 18th pick in the 2005 draft - Green takes a moment to reflect on how his approach to the game has changed since his time in Boston.
"It's night and day. I used to take a lot of bad shots and I would always try and make the home run play instead of the right play and that messed me up a lot. That's one of the things that I learned overseas is that sometimes the simple play is the right play."
The NBA is a tough place to grow up, and Gerald Green has proven that. But, instead of becoming another cautionary tale, he has put in the work and earned his way back into the NBA.
With the announcement that Pacers starting small forward Danny Granger will be out another three months, Green has moved into the starting small forward spot for the foreseeable future.
With that in mind, it will be Green's approach to the game that will help him succeed at this level. With the roster the Pacers have in place, all he has to do is make the simple play, and everything else will fall into place.