At no point in his career did anyone go out of their way to call Willie Green a “starter on a championship team.”
And while the term itself lacks clear definition — does it mean the best player at a certain position? Top 5? — people tend to know what it means because it so obviously applies to players like Willie Green.
In 2007-08, he started all 74 games in which he played for the Philadelphia 76ers, and was third-leading scorer on the team. That team went 40-42, good for the 6th seed in a pretty bad Eastern Conference. Sounds about right.
But that’s not to say that, in the right situation, he isn’t capable of filling in as a starter on a team with championship aspirations. In theory, there is a spot in a lineup with Chris Paul and Blake Griffin for a guy who can defend his position, make the extra pass and knock down shots. For all we know, he could be The Glue Guy.
Much like Ryan Gomes, for whom many of us advocated as such a player a few years ago, Green fits the profile. No one could reasonably argue that he is even a starter-worthy NBA player in a vacuum, but we have now passed the point of player acquisition. The roster is full, and of the options at his disposal, Green probably does fit the profile better than anyone else at Vinny Del Negro’s disposal.
For one, he’s improved drastically as a 3-point shooter since ’07-’08 in Philly (when he shot 28.5 percent). The Clippers’ offense thrived last year on punishing teams from the outside, and Green is coming off of a year in which he shot 44 percent. While he only took two 3’s a game, he should be in line for career year with the standard Chris Paul Bump.
Of the candidates to step in for Chauncey Billups, there may be better defenders — that is, if we are considering Eric Bledsoe, Matt Barnes and Grant Hill candidates — but none of them possess the combination of “3 and D” that Green, in theory, brings to the table.
As we saw with Gomes, perception can change quickly once the games get underway. If the shots don’t fall, we will look silly for overlooking the five seasons in which he shot less than 30 percent from 3. And if Green, like Gomes, proves to be a step slow on D, it will be plain to see because of the havoc it will wreak on a team that already struggles with its rotations.
These are things we can wonder about during the offseason that all go out the window once the ball is tipped. At this point, who cares to remember that Gomes was coming off consecutive seasons shooting 37.2 percent from deep, and was known as a “solid” defender before he came to L.A.?
But that doesn’t mean we were wrong to consider success as a possibility. The margin for error is not large for a player whose upside is Glue Guy, but the downside is not particularly low, either. If it doesn’t work out, there are others waiting to step in — that’s the benefit of depth. Billups will be back, eventually. In theory, you could do worse than giving Willie Green first crack at filling in.