WILLIE GREEN IS READY FOR ANYTHING
ATLANTA – Staying ready is a challenge.
Even for Willie Green.
A humble, spiritual and kind man, Green, 32, has made his way through more than a decade of the NBA by priding himself on being prepared for any moment. And in Green’s case he’s seen just about everything.
He’s been a collegiate star, winning conference player of the year honors as a senior at Detroit Mercy. He’s been a second-round rookie working to make the 76ers final roster in 2003. He’s been a full-time starter, midway through his seven-year tenure in Philadelphia. He’s had to deal with being injured, being traded, being a free agent, and feeling wanted and unwanted by a franchise.
“I think above all things, having spiritual maturity and understanding that sometimes we go through different challenges throughout life,” Green said. “And the true test of your character is development when you come out of a difficult situation.”
In Green’s two seasons with the Clippers, he’s endured a situation perhaps even more unusual, or at least something a significant number of players would struggle with. After the Atlanta Hawks, Wednesday’s opponent in the onset of L.A.’s seven-game road trip, traded Green to the Clippers in the summer of 2012, he already knew that he may perhaps be a so-called spot starter for veteran Chauncey Billups.
Billups was still in the rehab process for his torn Achilles tendon and Green would fill the void at shooting guard until Billups was healthy enough to return. Behind Billups, or Green, former Sixth Man of the Year Jamal Crawford was entrenched as the team’s first guard off the bench. It was clear then, that Green would likely go from starter to DNP-CD.
But as Billups’ health became tenuous throughout the year, Green vacillated from 16-18 minutes some nights and not seeing the floor others… for the entire season. He started 60 games in all, including one continuous stretch of 34 games when Billups was down with a left foot injury. He rode a rotational seesaw of sorts. Billups was in and out of the lineup, while Green was the out and in.
When called upon, he was ready. He led the team in 3-point percentage and was one of the league’s deadliest threats from long range in March and April when Billups missed a dozen games with a groin problem.
As the saying goes, history has a way of repeating itself.
On Sunday, when the Clippers announced that J.J. Redick would miss 6-8 weeks with a fractured hand and torn ligament in his right wrist, Green was on the court hours before tipoff against the Indiana Pacers, again, making sure he’d be ready.
“First of all, it’s a challenge to not play a number of games in row and then have things changed,” Green said. “To stay ready, you’ve just got to put the time in practice and continue to stay confident in yourself and that comes with preparation. I think that’s the biggest thing, just continue to get your shots up, continue to work hard at it and eventually being in this league a long time, things will change.”
Green’s teammate for the last two season, Ryan Hollins, has a similar plight as a backup big man, but he admits his situation his far easier than Green’s.
“Willie goes from not playing at all to playing a few minutes to starting the next day,” Hollins said. “I’ve never seen any player in my eight years be able to do that.
“You try to simulate it as best as you can. There’s no way you can simulate it [exactly]. You just never want your cardio to be bad and you want your shot to be good. It’s a little bit easier for me as a big because I can just come out and play defense. I don’t have to worry about scoring. Willie comes in and he’s taking threes. That’s tough.”
On the court, Green’s role is somewhat different than a year ago. Associate Head Coach Alvin Gentry is running a different system and instead of filling in for a ball-handling, spot-up shooter, Green is replacing one of the best run and chase players in the league in Redick.
Green knows he doesn’t do the same things Redick does on the court. Where Redick is something of a turbine, turning defenders in circles with his constant movement, Green is something of a steady hand. That said, he still wants to incorporate some of Redick’s role in the offense into his own.
“J.J.’s great at coming off screens, watching him there are some things I’m going to take from his game and try to add it to mine,” Green said. “He’s one of the best at running people off screens. Then just try to continue to make plays, winning basketball plays that are going to help our team win more games.”
From a 3-point proficiency standpoint, Green could prove to be as viable of a threat as his ailing teammate. He followed up a career-best 44.2 percent 3-point shooting season in 2011-12 as a member of the Hawks with a 42.8 percent effort a season ago with the Clippers. Before their game in L.A. Sunday, Pacers head coach Frank Vogel considered Green a player his stout defense would remain concerned about from the perimeter even in the absence of Redick.
“I don’t think they lose that much in terms of shooting, just some of their guard depth,” Vogel said.
Hollins said stepping in off the bench is kind of like being “on call” for a job. “It’s one of the toughest things in basketball,” the Clippers center added.
Green is tough enough to do it. He’s comes from humble beginnings in inner-cty Detroit. He played months through a meniscus injury last year and barely uttered a word about it. When it comes to putting things in perspective, Green makes it easy.
“Even when you think it’s bad, it’s not as bad as you think,” he said. “There are so many people who are out here that are struggling, that are dealing with natural disasters and losing homes and things like that and I still get to play a game that I love for a living. That keeps everything in perspective. With that being said, it definitely makes it easy to cope with whatever you have to deal with in the NBA.”