This is the second installment of the You Can Do Better series in which I'll take a look at the Spurs' players and give an opinion on what part of their game I'd love to see them improve. It doesn't mean these players don't already have a valuable skill set or that they absolutely need get better. The idea is to come up with realistic ways in which every one of the Spurs' players can evolve and help the team. Here's the first installment about Tony Parker.
This time we'll take a look at Danny Green.
Green was a second rounder out of North Carolina who was trying to make a place for himself in the league after being a glue guy in college. With prototypical shooting guard size and NBA athleticism, Green needed to develop an elite skill to complement his all-around game and get minutes over specialists or become one himself. After short stints with the Cavaliers and the Spurs that resulted in him getting waived, he carved out a place for himself with the Spurs thanks to his defense and 3-point shooting. One of the better corner men in the NBA, Green has become a great 3-and-D guy in the mold of Bruce Bowen.
The Spurs recently re-signed him to a multi-year contract, hoping Green keeps developing as a player.
How can he improve?
On defense, there's not much to complain about Green. He can guard both guard spots and plays good team defense that usually results in steals and, surprisingly for a guard, blocks. On offense, he is a smart player that takes most of his shots from beyond the arc. The Spurs have other guys that can create for themselves better than Danny and he knows it, so he does what the offense asks of him: hit assisted open 3s, ideally from the corner. Mid-range jumpers are less valuable so Danny avoids them, for the most part, and hits a decent percentage of the ones he does take. That leaves only one area in which Green can improve to become a better offensive player: finishing at the rim.
Green has increased the amount of shots he takes at the rim since his rookie season from 0.5 a game to 1.8. Of his 7.2 field goal attempts per game, 5.3 come either from 3 or at the rim, which is the perfect shot distribution for him. While his 3 point shooting is excellent at an eFG% of 65.4, he only hits a below average 58% at the rim. He's not a terrible finisher by any means, but he would be the perfect 3-and-D guy if he could become above average on penetrations, as the defense would have to choose between closing out aggressively, risking he blows by or giving him space to shoot.
The Spurs have two of the best guards finishers at the rim in the league in Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker. Those guys use an array of moves on penetrations and have the ball handling dexterity and body control required to convert even when heavily contested . At this point, Danny Green can't say the same. Green can slash on a straight line, but will usually struggle to use a counter move once that lane has been closed. We've seen Danny get called for charges a lot when he tries to shoot a tear drop over the helping big.
While working on his ball-handling is a must, there are ways for Danny to overcome his limitations in the meantime. The first option is to try to develop as close a replication of Manu's Euro step as possible. Green will often penetrate after pump faking on aggressive close outs, which leaves only the help defender between him and the rim, simplifying the moves he needs to make to convert. Instead of going at the defender after a couple of dribbles, Danny could try going around him using Manu's signature move. Now, I'm not saying the Euro step is easy to learn and I doubt Danny could be as good as Manu at it even if he tried, but considering he will only attack when the defense is out of position after rotating, he could get by with a reasonable facsimile. By keeping defenders guessing on a few possessions, the big men would not have as easy a decision between actively trying to defend the play or trying to draw a charge, which can result in more trips to the line for Green.
The other, simpler option is to become a better cutter. Kawhi Leonard's ball handling was not particularly good last season and he's not an über athlete, yet he managed to convert at a 68% rate at the rim. As a college power forward, Kawhi learned to play close to the basket better than Green and also knew when to cut at the right times. While the difference in assisted field goals between the two favors Kawhi by only a percentage point, Leonard did a better job of making himself available on cuts throughout the season. Last season, cuts represented only 6% of Green's offense, while Kawhi almost doubled that number at 11%. Danny converted 1.07 points per possession in those situations, which ranked him 165 on the league to Kawhi's 1.35 PPP, good for 27th in the league. Asking Green to replicate what Kawhi did is unfair, but he should look at it as a blueprint on how a spot up guy can get in the paint for easy points. Since he shoots a fantastic 42% from 3, Green's man is not going to play off him as much as Leonard's defenders did earlier in the year, but with dribble-drivers like Manu and Parker and good passing bigs some lanes will be open; it is up to Danny to attack those lanes. If he improves as a cutter, Green would take a huge step forward offensively.
Danny Green does a lot of things well and none poorly enough as to negate his strengths. Like I said, he's not that bad at finishing at the rim and if his 3-point shooting holds, he will be a good enough offensive player to stay on the floor and contribute with his versatile defense. But if he can improve his finishing ability close to the hoop, he could become a fantastic asset for a Spurs team that doesn't excel at scoring inside.