Gerald Green is no doubt an impact player for the Phoenix Suns this season, but it’s a phenomenon that cuts both ways. When Green plays at his best, the Suns can defeat any team in the NBA on any given night. On the flip side, when Green has an off night, the Suns are vulnerable to pretty much anyone. When Green scored a career-high 41 points against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Mar. 6, the Suns grabbed a big win over the Western Conference’s top team. On Tuesday night, however, Green struggled to find the basket and failed to catch fire offensively. He scored only eight points, shooting just 4-for-14 including 0-for-6 from three-point range, and the Suns suffered an embarrassing 110-101 home loss to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers.
Several other especially difficult losses for the Suns have come on rare nights when Green isn’t lighting up the scoreboard. In a January overtime road loss to the New York Knicks, Green only turned in four points on a dreadful 2-for-16 shooting, including 0-for-7 from three point range. When the Washington Wizards came to town later that month and steamrolled over the Suns, Green was held to only eight points and wasn’t afforded many shot attempts. In another painful home loss in early February to the Chicago Bulls, Green chipped in only five points. These were definite off nights for the seventh-year pro currently averaging 15.7 points per game for the season who, in the opinion of many top NBA analysts, is the league’s most improved player this season.
One cannot chalk up to coincidence the consistent correlation between Green’s performance on a given night and the Suns’ overall fortunes the same said night. In 22 of the team’s 28 losses this season, Green has turned in under 20 points. Green has scored 30 or more points on four separate occasions this season, and the Suns won all four times. When he plays well, the Suns usually win, often easily, yet if he has a bad night and is off of his usual form, the Suns struggle to defeat opposing teams, even the ones barely slogging along at the bottom of the standings.
The simplistic conclusion one could draw is that Green simply needs a stellar outing every time he hits the hardwood. However, this isn’t feasible. Even your textbook All-Star has bad nights because either his jump shot is off, his body aches, the opposing defense finds a way to shut him down, etc. The Suns must instead examine what else is going on when Green doesn’t play his best. Which teammates need to pick up the slack, and why aren’t they doing so? Championship caliber NBA teams always develop contingency plans just in case a usually high-scoring impact player isn’t putting up his usual numbers, or even worse, suffers an injury that sidelines him from the lineup.
The Suns are exciting to watch right now for a myriad of reasons, and Green’s breakout season is no doubt one of them. However, perhaps the team has at times become too dependent on him, assuming it a given that he will pour in big points every game. This assumption could doom the Suns and could very well thwart their postseason aspirations. Perhaps Wednesday night’s loss, as tough as it was to swallow, will sound the alarm that they can’t expect Green, or any single player for that matter, to carry the entire team on his shoulders.