Makowsky: Green gone — a blessing?

May 9, 2011, 1:45 a.m.

In what became an increasingly expected move, Jeremy Green decided Sunday to stay in the NBA Draft, thereby foregoing his final season of collegiate eligibility.

When a team loses its top scorer and three-point threat, the ramifications are normally dire. Certainly, when the Lopez twins left the Farm after their sophomore season, there was a tangible drop off in the Cardinal’s play, and the results spoke for themselves: Stanford went from a Sweet 16 squad to a CBI contestant.

But Green is no Brook or Robin, and the Cardinal is no powerhouse. In fact, his early departure may very well be a blessing in disguise for a program that has nowhere to go but up.

Green’s Stanford career began promisingly enough, as he established himself as the Cardinal’s top shooter off the bench in his freshman year. As a starter in his sophomore season, he provided a nice compliment to Landry Fields on a team that at times featured nearly as many walk-ons as scholarship athletes. He seemed to be poised to take over as the team’s primary leader as a junior.

But his improvements were marginal at best and only in one area — shooting — which simply wasn’t enough. He was never a passer or active on the boards, seldom showed a willingness to drive to the basket and was a constant liability on defense. His one great trait may have worked as a role-player, but as the featured star, his lack of an overall game and general inability to come through in the clutch did not make for a potent combination. Add in the fact that Green was suspended for spring quarter for academic reasons — and was thus unable to practice with his teammates — and the veracity of his alpha dog status comes even more into question.

It’s also worth noting the state of Stanford basketball. The beginning of the Johnny Dawkins era, while flashing occasional signs of promise — see 2009’s Kentucky game — has been underwhelming overall and is in need of a spark (and fast, lest Dawkins’s time on the Farm be cut short long before anyone would have hoped). With the 2010-11 season in mind, Green was almost certainly not going to be that catalyst, unless he had yet-to-be-seen potential in numerous areas. But he’d still likely be the Cardinal’s first option, which leads to an obvious conundrum and an evident conclusion: the team would have been stuck in neutral. The status quo means the bottom of the Pac-12, which, at this and any other point, is unacceptable.

Given that the risk is only that Stanford remains as forgettable as it has become over the past few years, the Cardinal can turn toward its younger players for the jumpstart the squad desperately needs. The immediate future of the program rests on the shoulders of the 2010 recruiting class, generally ranked in the top 15 in the country. Thrown into the fire almost immediately, there were solid early returns: Dwight Powell and Anthony Brown made the Pac-10 All-Freshman team, Aaron Bright improved steadily throughout the year and Josh Huestis demonstrated good tenacity in limited minutes. That doesn’t even account for John Gage, who showed a shooter’s touch at times, and Stefan Nastic, who missed nearly the entire year with a foot injury.

Green’s departure means significant opportunities for the group to fill the void — and then some — instead of having them play second fiddle for another season. Brown in particular showed skills — hustle, a nose for the ball and a solid offensive game — that could make him into a bona fide star, and Powell is probably the most naturally skilled big man the Cardinal has had since the Lopez twins. The growth of the duo and their classmates is critical to the success of Stanford basketball. The other veterans — a complementary set — are exactly what the younger players need, from the ever-consistent Josh Owens to seasoned role-players like Jarrett Mann, Jack Trotter and Andrew Zimmermann. And Stanford’s lone scholarship recruit — the highly touted Chasson Randle — only adds to this intriguing blend.

Ultimately, the 2011-12 Stanford men’s basketball team may be a case study of Bill Simmons’s Ewing Theory at work. The concept is simple: a star athlete leaves a team, and the squad becomes inexplicably better, perhaps as a result. The Cardinal is ripe for this. Green’s skill set meant that there were inherent tradeoffs with his game that didn’t always work to Stanford’s benefit, even though he was always looked to for buckets; the recruiting class of 2010 is tremendously skilled and now slightly experienced; the biggest strength gains at the collegiate level are generally seen between freshman and sophomore years, meaning that Brown, Powell and friends will likely not be string beans when they hit the court in November; Dawkins has to start winning, and soon, and he knows this; and the other veteran players have games that make them valuable in supporting roles.

This is not to say that Stanford won’t miss Green at all. Certainly, he could provide electrifying threes that few others could replicate. But if this year showed anything, it was that Green was not the player to lead Stanford’s resurgence, and with him on the team, it would be more difficult for others to step up. Brown, Powell and the rest of the current freshmen may not be saviors either, but with the program already bottomed out, it’s better to roll the dice on new talent than to stick with what the Cardinal has already come to know.

Wyndam Makowky will probably have a pronounced Ewing effect when he finally leaves The Daily’s staff. Discuss his options for an agent at makowsky “at”

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