Four years ago, Danny Green sat on airplanes, shared locker rooms and pulled off ridiculous dance moves with LeBron James. He rode pine while LeBron carried the Cavaliers to the league’s best record. As Cleveland’s second-round pick, not much was expected of the rookie. He played sparingly, just 20 games in all, and didn’t see the floor once in the Cavs’ two-round playoff run. After the season, Green was waived.
Fast forward to this year’s Finals. Green has suddenly launched himself into the spotlight with one of the greatest shooting runs in NBA history. In Game 5, he broke Ray Allen‘s record for three-pointers in a single Finals series. He and Gary Neal, complete afterthoughts heading into the postseason, combined to go 13-for-19 from deep in Game 3, carrying the Spurs to a blowout win and a 2-1 series lead. Discounting his rough Game 6 last night (1-for-5, three points), he’s averaged over 19 points a game on the biggest stage.
So, is this recent career renaissance a fluke, or a sign of things to come for the 25-year old? Let’s take a closer look.
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Green spent four years at UNC, logging the most games ever played in a Tar Heel uniform in the process. He wasn’t always known as the lights-out shooter he is heralded as now, hitting an unspectacular 35 percent of his threes through his first three seasons. He spent the next summer retooling his form, and showed enormous improvement in his senior campaign, shooting at a clip of 41.2 percent from downtown. He proved that he can work past weaknesses and turn them into strengths.
His defense, on the other hand, has always been terrific. Green understood early on that he wouldn’t always be more athletic than the guy he was taking on, but his solid length and fundamentals made him one of the best perimeter defenders in the country. His efforts earned him an ACC All-Defense nod.
His play on the defensive end has certainly not gone unnoticed in this postseason. Green has been assigned to guard the guy he watched tear up the league during his rookie season and has done admirably. His impact can be seen specifically on transition plays, where he has been able to singlehandedly stop fast breaks without fouling. (It happened at a critical moment again last night, too.)
After he was waived by the Cavaliers, his next stop was the D-League, even though he didn’t stay long. The Spurs brought him aboard, but after just six days they cut him. Gregg Popovich didn’t think that he fit in with the team culture that led San Antonio to four titles. So Green went back to the D-League and later decided to give Pop a call, to let him know he would do whatever it took to get a shot.
Green swallowed his pride and committed himself to his role, a spark off the bench who could stretch the floor and take on the other team’s best wing on the other side of the ball. He’s now a starter and a vital cog to the Spurs’ machine.
It’s no secret that Green doesn’t have the explosiveness or driving skills to round out his offensive game. While he moves well without the ball and can free himself up from opponents to get open opportunities, he can’t do much when a defender sticks to him. As evidenced by his struggles in Game 6 (1-for-7 shooting, three points), when Green is keyed in on, he is a non-factor. Chris Bosh said Green wouldn’t be open, and they proved he’s very stoppable. When his shot is taken away, he doesn’t have much to fall back on.
Product of a Good System?
Everywhere that Green has succeeded, he’s had great teammates and coaches surrounding him. At UNC, he had future NBAers Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough and Wayne Ellington, with Roy Williams at the helm. He was never their first scoring option and rarely garnered excessive attention.
The same goes for his time in San Antonio. When you have Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard sharing the floor with you, a team cannot commit multiple guys to stop you without paying for it from someone else.
Beyond that, Popovich and the Spurs run a well-oiled offense that is predicated on moving the ball around. That’s where Green’s strength plays in so well. He works off of screens and runs misdirections until the ball finds him. Who knows if he could do the same on a team that sputters in the half-court.
We don’t know yet whether Green can continue his meteoric rise to the NBA forefront next season. He has two traits that are invaluable in today’s league, but he’s only been able to utilize them when he has stars around him and a good system in place. The Heat found an effective way to limit him in Game 6, so it will be interesting to see if he can work around their efforts and produce like he was earlier in the series.
In the future, I believe that Green can remain a very serviceable wing player. While he’s limited offensively, he’s shown he can learn other skills as time goes on. I don’t think he will ever be a star by any means, but he can have his fair share of huge nights. If the situation is right, he will thrive. If it’s not, I still think that he has the skill and confidence to be a consistent contributor. I hate comparing him to a Duke guy, but Green may follow a similar career trajectory as Shane Battier, with a bit more offensive pop.
For now, the Spurs should consider themselves lucky they re-signed him to a three-year, $11.3 million contract last July. If he was a free agent this summer, we’d have probably 10 GMs lining up to overpay him. Instead, he’ll be back in San Antonio next year getting more curtain calls from Tim Duncan.
How good is Danny Green?
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