Javonte Green is a 26-year-old basketball nomad, and his winding journey appeared to crest when he earned the Celtics’ final roster spot last month.
Playing for a small high school in Brunswick, Va., he received just one Division 1 scholarship offer, to Radford. After shining there, he went undrafted in 2015 and spent four years overseas, gradually progressing from low-level divisions toward the top.
When he finally reached the NBA, it was time to exhale, right? Not quite.
“My job wasn’t done getting the 15th spot,” Green said Monday night. “That’s just the beginning. Even though you work hard to get to the NBA, that wasn’t my goal. My goal was to play and make a name for myself here at the highest level. I need to maintain the focus that I had working my tail off to get here.”
After being used sparingly at the start of this season, Green has once again shown that it is a mistake to overlook him. He has played 13 minutes in each of Boston’s last three games and could be emerging as an important part of coach Brad Stevens’s regular rotation.
And with Gordon Hayward expected to be sidelined for about six weeks with a broken left hand, there will be opportunities for Green to grab an even more important role.
After Green’s strong performance in the Celtics’ 116-106 win over the Mavericks on Monday night, forward Jaylen Brown was asked if he was surprised that Green had mostly gone unnoticed by NBA decision-makers for so long.
“Yeah, it is kind of crazy, because he’s nice,” Brown said, referring to Green’s skills. “First step, he’s a good player, he really is. He’s going to be big for us this year. I’m looking forward to seeing him on the court, because he brings an excitement to this team that we haven’t had. We have a lot of athleticism that we haven’t had in the years I’ve been here.”
Green’s powerful, soaring dunks generated plenty of who-is-this-guy attention at the Las Vegas summer league in July. He registered his first two NBA dunks against the Hornets last Thursday, and while that was fun for him, he mostly reacted with an internal shrug.
“I guess once I got that first one it’s like, ‘OK, it’s cool,’ ” Green said. “But I feel like it’s what I’ve been doing, so even though it’s the highest stage, I feel like this is what got me here, so I’ve got to continue doing the same thing.”
Even when plays do not end with slams, Green has shown bursts of speed to beat defenders off the dribble and get to the rim. In 49 total minutes this season, he has tallied 27 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, and no turnovers, and he has made 54.5 percent of his shots.
Most of those field goal attempts have come from close range. He had missed his first four 3-pointers before canning one from the left corner in the win over the Mavericks. He said he has been working diligently on his jump shot, and if he can make it consistently, there would be real dangers for opponents.
“His scoring is helpful, the way that he can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim,” Stevens said. “Obviously, making that three probably felt good for him, because he’s been shooting it really well in practice and it’s good to see the ball go through the net in the game. Overall, I thought he gave us a pretty good lift.”
Green is pleased with his offensive progress, but he believes he is most valuable as a defender. After he signed with the team last summer, Boston executives told him they envisioned him playing like former Celtic Tony Allen, a tough and gritty defensive-minded wing.
Allen is not here anymore, of course. But there is another All-NBA defender for Green to study.
“For me, I sit back and watch things,” Green said. “I watch Marcus Smart, how he approaches the game on the defensive end. I feel like that’s what they want from me, a guy like Marcus on the defensive end who puts pressure on the ball and is always doing the dirty work. I feel like that’s what they’re looking for in me as well, and I’m ready for it.”
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Celtics center Daniel Theis is listed as doubtful for Wednesday’s game against the Wizards because of a sprained pinkie. Theis suffered the injury in the first quarter against Dallas and left the game twice for treatment, but returned both times and finished the game. Green is probable with a sore right hip.