Jeff Green Flashes Potential as Rockets' Backup Center

Michael Shapiro

Mike D'Antoni will likely have to step out of his comfort zone over the next few weeks. The Rockets head coach got his wish of a small-ball bonanza when Houston swapped Clint Capela for Robert Covington on Feb. 4, but Daryl Morey's roster reconfiguration has created something anathema to D'Antoni's style: a deep rotation. 

D'Antoni has traditionally trimmed his rotation to fit just eight or nine players in recent seasons, and the number can shrink down to seven in a given playoff game. Morey's recent maneuvers have flipped the script. D'Antoni played 12 players in Thursday's blowout win over the Warriors, and 10 players factored into his non-garbage time rotation. We may not see D'Antoni's lineups winnowed down anytime soon. 

Jeff Green and DeMarre Carroll will both earn significant minutes through February, and Bruno Caboclo may even see limited time as an athletic backup five. Austin Rivers, Ben McLemore and Eric Gordon will continue to see sizable minutes. Thabo Sefolosha's production remains solid in limited spurts. D'Antoni has plenty of players to sift through as we enter the season's final stretch, but one newcomer made the strongest impression on Thursday. 

Jeff Green shined in his first game as a Rocket as Houston blitzed Golden State. He was a plus-19 in 24 minutes, and he banged home four threes en route to 17 points. Green joined Houston on a 10-day contract after being out of the NBA for the last two months. His stint with the Rockets should last far longer than his original contract. 

Thursday night provided a brief window into Green's potential fit with the Rockets. The Georgetown product has spent much of his career as an oversized wing, but with the Rockets, the 6'8" forward slid comfortably into a small-ball center role behind P.J. Tucker. Green isn't as stout as Tucker defending the low block (who is?) but he's a mobile switcher with veteran instincts. Pairing Green with Robert Covington is a prudent idea for D'Antoni. Neither are centers, but combined, they create a formidable duo.

Green will make his money in Houston on the offensive end, and in many ways, he's a more effective small-ball five than Tucker. Green is an active cutter and a valuable creator in 4-on-3 situations. Tucker is primarily a corner shooter, with a shaky jumper from the wing or top of the key. Green looks natural screening and popping to the three-point line. Imagine Capela (or even Sefolosha) trying to pull off the play below. The results would be ugly. 

The former No. 5 pick is not exactly shy. He's been known for a quick trigger in recent seasons, and he'll certainly throw in his fair share of clunkers from the field. But an error of commission is far better than an error of omission in Houston. D'Antoni occasionally has to plead with Tucker to pull the trigger from three. He'll have no such problem with Green.

"It’s team basketball," Green said following Thursday's victory, per The Athletic's Kelly Iko. “We know who our go-to guys are, we share the ball, and we love when everybody is aggressive and we take the shot that’s there and when we’re going it’s a beautiful thing.”

Green hasn't established a reputation as Mr. Dependable in his 12-year, nine-team career. His defensive effort has waned in spurts, and he could very well throw in an abysmal performance from the field in a playoff game. But despite the concerns, Green appears to be a valuable addition for D'Antoni and Co. Green has proven his playoff mettle in previous seasons. He can log minutes at the five and bang down a three when called upon. Green won't be spooked on a big stage. 

Perhaps Green isn't the player to take Houston over the hump, but every playable body helps as Houston looks to seize the conference crown. While Carroll and Caboclo's roles are tenuous, Green appears to be worthy of a stable rotation spot. Houston could be an ideal stop in Green's winding, confounding career. 

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