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Jeff Green's shortcomings at power forward could hold Thunder back

Jeff Green's poor performance against Memphis' Zach Randolph last week highlighted a growing concern for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
by Darnell Mayberry Modified: January 9, 2011 at 10:27 pm •  Published: January 9, 2011

How much longer can the Oklahoma City Thunder keep Jeff Green at power forward?

The question is not a new one. But it's one that has suddenly gained much more relevancy as the Thunder attempts to blossom into an NBA power.

Shooters and centers have long been viewed as the Thunder's most glaring weaknesses. But Green's shortcomings at the four spot have emerged as a hefty handicap, standing out more this season than at any other point in his previous 3 1/2 years with the franchise.

Last Tuesday's loss at Memphis marked the moment the issue became unavoidable for the Thunder. Green was woefully outplayed in his matchup with Grizzlies power forward Zach Randolph, who out-rebounded Green 16-0 and outscored him 31-8. It was only the third time in Green's career that he failed to grab a rebound. It was the umpteenth time Green has been bullied on the block.

That's not an indictment of Green. At his natural small forward position, Green has plenty of value. But at power forward, Green walks into nearly each game out of position and over his head.

For a team seeking to establish a defensive identity, the Thunder has put itself behind the eight ball most nights by trotting out an undersized and, at times, overmatched player at power forward.

Yet there are two trains of thought on the matter. On one hand, the Thunder has proved to be a 50-win playoff team with Green starting 82 games at power forward. And the current nucleus continues to grow and get better. On the other hand, deep playoff runs could remain elusive as long as the Thunder maintains what's become its most unfavorable matchup.

Working in the Thunder's favor is Green's ability to apply pressure on bigger, slower big men. Green is at his best when forces forwards to defend him on the perimeter and uses his quickness to blow by them for easier buckets. But Green is shooting 42 percent from the field and 27.1 percent from the 3-point line, both career lows.

A slight shift in how the game is played also has allowed the Thunder, on occasion, to get away with playing Green at power forward. With a lack of bona fide big men, more teams are using natural small forwards at power forward throughout stretches of games.

Still, in the Western Conference alone, starting power forwards include Pau Gasol, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzki, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge, Randolph, Luis Scola, David Lee, Blake Griffin, Kevin Love and Paul Millsap.

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by Darnell Mayberry
OKC Thunder Senior Reporter
Darnell Mayberry grew up in Langston, Okla. and is now in his third stint in the Sooner state. After a year and a half at Bishop McGuinness High, he finished his prep years in Falls Church, Va., before graduating from Norfolk State University in...
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