WHEN you think of Tom Green, you probably think of Patrick Cripps. You don't think of a Slovenian superstar who plays for the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA. But that's who Green pictures.
The 21-year-old wants to play like Luka Doncic. Not literally. But just like the point guard who signed a US$207 million rookie extension last year, the young gun from Greater Western Sydney knows what he can and can't do.
And what he can do has been on display for all to see across the first three rounds.
Green has exploded out of the blocks to sit equal-fourth in the AFL Coaches Association's Champion Player of the Year Award with Collingwood's Jordan De Goey and Melbourne ball-magnet Clayton Oliver, polling votes in every game.
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The Canberra product is ranked No.4 in the AFL for contested possessions (16 per game) and No.8 for both clearances (seven per game) and disposals (31.3) after dazzling displays against Sydney, Richmond and Gold Coast that stamp him of a genuine star of the future.
Green has only played 27 games of League football, but aside from Christian Petracca, Lachie Neale, Cripps and Oliver, not many midfielders have started 2022 as well as the big-bodied on-baller, who sounds like NBA TV personality Stephen A. Smith when talking about Doncic.
"I think you can look for inspiration in so many different areas. A lot of our older guys look at someone like Tom Brady for inspiration because he's done it over such a long period of time and continues to improve and be so dangerous across the back end of his career," Green told AFL.com.au this week.
"As someone looking forward, my favourite NBA player is Luka Doncic. I absolutely love Luka and love the way he goes about it.
"I think he affects the game in so many different ways: his passing is unbelievable; he can shoot the ball; he can score. I don't mean to sound like an NBA analyst but the way he impacts the game is something I've really enjoyed.
"He isn't the most physically gifted point guard, you could say. He is not super athletic or super quick; he relies on his basketball nous and his IQ to be really impactful. I'm not the quickest or the most athletic guy out there, but I'm strong and I've got some other things I think really help me impact the game, so that's why I look up to Doncic."
Green was destined to wear orange from a long way out. He joined the Academy in the capital as a 12-year-old and progressed all the way through to the NEAFL team, before Greater Western Sydney matched a bid by Carlton to secure him with pick No.10 in the 2019 NAB AFL Draft. The Giants wanted Green and Lachie Ash and they got them both.
After getting a taste of senior football in 2020, Green featured 18 times last season where he announced himself as a player of the future, finishing runner-up behind Melbourne ruckman Luke Jackson in the 2021 NAB AFL Rising Star Award – 51 votes to 38 – despite attracting far less fanfare.
"I did take a lot of confidence from it. There were periods of that year where the race between myself and Luke was really, really tight in that award," he said.
"I guess towards the back end a hamstring injury certainly didn't help me, but last year I really played some games where I thought I'm not only good enough to play at this level, I can dominate this level.
"I think back to our West Coast game last year is one that I took great confidence out of. I know I can dominate this level and take that mindset into this year. It's been nice to put three weeks on the board of pretty good form, but it's a long year ahead, I'd like to continue this form as long as I can."
The word out of the Giants from the start of pre-season until the end of the AAMI Community Series was Green had dominated the summer. He went from a boy to a man over the course of a summer – a summer that provided little sun and plenty of rain – leaping up the depth chart to a point where the absence of Jacob Hopper has hardly attracted any attention externally just yet.
"I did have a really good pre-season and I was really happy with where I was at. I think going into my third season you should be improving your game each pre-season and each year until you physically start to deteriorate," he said.
"I'm covering the ground a whole lot better, I'm moving really, really well. I feel really strong out there and really fit. I think I did have a really good pre-season and set myself up to launch into this season.
"I've also thrived on greater opportunity in the midfield, I'm playing more midfield minutes than I have through the first two seasons of my career and more game time in general. I think that's allowed me to impact the game more. I'm really, really enjoying that extra responsibility and going forward and trying to impact the scoreboard if I can."
Green kicked eight goals across his first 24 games, but already has half as many again this season, kicking two against Sydney in round one and two more against Gold Coast on the weekend. At 192cm and 92kg, Green would have been a key forward in a different era, just like Cripps, who has kicked six goals across the first three rounds.
"It's definitely a focus. I think that's part of the reason and part of the way that I can help dominate the game by hitting the scoreboard," he said.
"The mids at the minute – Petracca, Bontempelli, Cripps – those guys are the best midfielders in the comp and they all hit the scoreboard. If you want to be among the best midfielders in the comp that's something you have to do. That's something that I'm always continually trying to hit that scoreboard and impact, either as a forward or as a midfielder pushing forward."
One thing that is clear with Green is he doesn't want to be good; he wants to be great. Speaking via Zoom from Giants HQ, he uses the word 'dominate' several times across our 15-minute conversation. He doesn't have an E on the end of his surname like his superstar teammate Toby, but he has a similar level of confidence that suggests he is going to have a big future in this game.
"I don't think you should be shy about that. Having said that, it is all part of playing your role and contributing to wins and that's the most important thing there is. But I think when you're playing your role, you can dominate the game. I think that's something I certainly can do," he said.
"I showed some glimpses last year of that. My first three weeks have been pretty good form. I don't want to be shy about having aspirations to dominate the game and dominate your position and being a really big factor in helping your team win games. I try and strive to do that as often as I can."
Green has famous Richmond blood, but his heart is set on western Sydney right now. He grew up a yellow and black fanatic and will always be linked to Punt Road, given his grandfather, Michael Green, played in four premierships and still has close connections to Tigerland.
But despite the trade buzz that will only grow louder next season – if he isn't re-signed beyond 2023 sooner rather than later – Green embraces the speculation, much like they do in the NBA where player movement is far more fluid and controversial.
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"The way I view it is if you're getting discussed like that it's only in a positive way because it means other teams want you, other fans want you because you're playing good football," he said.
"I think it sometimes gets forgotten that I am under contract all of this year and next year; people seem to think that I'm out of contract at the end of this year and I'm not sure why.
"There has been some stuff linked to Richmond, and I think that's always potentially going to be the case because of having my grandfather there and being such an avid Richmond supporter when I was growing up.
"I suppose the way I view it is it means you're playing good footy and other teams want you. I'm contracted for this year and next year and I absolutely love being here, which is something not encouraging for Richmond fans to hear, I guess."
Greater Western Sydney is focused on getting Tim Taranto to sign on the dotted line between now and October. But the attention will quickly turn to Green, if it hasn't already. He won't get the deal Doncic signed, but his value is definitely soaring like the Slovenian.