Somewhere along the line, surrounding your team's stars with role-playing sharpshooters became less of a flashy trend and more the accepted norm.
Since catching on with the Spurs late in the 2011 season, Danny Green's flourishing game and his synergy with the Spurs' best players illustrates this stylistic shift. Following a transcendent performance in the 2013 NBA Finals — where he made 25 threes in the series' first five games — Green's role was reduced for the first two months of this year due to the emergence of Marco Belinelli's game.
After increasing his playing time to 31.9 minutes in 21 playoff games last season, Green battled a bout of recency bias in the opening of his 2013-14, with many observers focusing on his 2-19 shooting effort in the last two Finals games. Among certain sectors, this contributed to the (albeit unfair and inaccurate) impression that the Tar Heel went ice cold when it mattered most, and this fed doubts that many still feel about him.
For Green, the lowest point of this season was when he was relegated to the bench for eight games in late December, and then. in January, he was sidelined with a fractured hand. His minutes dipped to 21.4 per game in the two-month span, as he connected on just 32.9% of his 76 long range attempts. This statistical slump and improved play from both Patty Mills and Marco Belinelli may have prompted Green's reduction in playing time.
It's a luxury to have as many lethal perimeter weapons as the Spurs do. Green's below-average 20-game stretch around New Year's should not make you think that his playoff hot streak was a flash in the pan, but rather, to form more realistic expectations, and to understand a regression to the mean. How has he responded since his return from a ten game absence in February?
Well, over the past 25 games — for example — of which Green has played in 21, he has hit 49.5% of his three-point attempts, with San Antonio outscoring opponents by 18.1 points per 100 possessions (with Green on the floor). He is a known commodity; a spot-up shooter with a silky, elite touch whose offense can, at times, appear one-dimensional. According to 82games.com, 88% of his attempts this season have been jumpshots, while 86% of his shots have come directly assisted. It doesn't end there.
The differentials on defense tell another story. Consider the figures in the following chart:
This chart illustrates how much worse the defense is when Green is not in the lineup. In nearly 2,000 total minutes, San Antonio's opponents have scored 8 more points per 100 possessions with Green on the bench than when he was on the court. That's a huge gap, and one that is nearly impossible to hide.
Amid being benched, having a cold shooting spell, and breaking his non-shooting hand, there have been a few unusual developments for the swingman during the season. He also spent some limited time at the power forward position. The Spurs rarely (if ever) hesitate to experiment in the Popovich laboratory, yet Green at the four is a relatively new development. Here are his positional splits for the season, adjusted for the opponents' production at each spot:
This table shows the net production of Green relative to the player matched against him. For example, the highlighted PER column indicates that, with Danny Green playing as the three, San Antonio carries a 5.4 efficiency rating advantage over the opponent's small forward. To provide further context, Green has played 29% of all of San Antonio's available small forward minutes, and just 3% of floor time as the four, playing the power forward position. The variance of stats versus position is clear (and far from a surprise): as Green slides further up in the lineup, the Spurs' offense gets better, but the defense gets worse.
The University of North Carolina product continues to improve as a scorer. Since March 1 his field goal percentage has improved to 6.5% above the league average, while 24.0% of his points have come from fast break opportunities, which is a significant increase from his season average. The relentlessness of the Spurs perimeter defense during the win streak allowed Green to flourish in transition — especially with pull-up threes. In that time, the Spurs shot an astounding 29-54 on above-the-break threes from Green, with 9 of the attempts being pull-up shots.
Danny Green is no longer the Spurs' sexiest story. He's yesterday's news, a tired tale of a 2011 pickup who latched onto the opportunity and homed in a role within (allegedly) the NBA's most monotonous, vanilla-flavored successful organization. He has become a gear in the machine that is the Spurs, and his assets (and limits) are known, and thus, it's far more exciting to follow the newer additions to the Silver and Black. Green is a model of versatility in the ever-evolving climate of the league, and this is demonstrated by several well-known metrics.
As the regular season grind winds to a close, promise yourself that you won't overlook the value of Danny Green to the upcoming postseason run.
Statistics are courtesy of NBA.com/stats, unless otherwise noted.