Danny has written his fair share of basketball history throughout his collegiate and professional careers. He is the winningest player in UNC's existence. He is the only ACC player with more than 500 boards, 250 assists, 150 three pointers, and 150 steals. He shattered Ray Allen's record 22 made threes in NBA Final's history, and the man is only 26 years old. Despite all of the achievements in his monumental track record, what's most notable about Danny Green is his work on defense. Defensively off- and on-ball, Verde's more dangerous than ever.
In one-on-one situations, Green has the frame and mental toughness to stop the top 2-guards, with enough quickness to hang with them off the dribble, strength to direct them (without fouling) away from the paint, and the drive and determination to work to make a contested shot the Spurs' worst-case scenario.
Green has been the defensive man in an isolation scenario 48 times so far this season. While his numbers in these possessions are impressive (.67 PPP, 33.3% of possessions ended in a score), the low number of isolation defensive plays is even more indicative of his increasingly intimidating defensive presence. Green is on an 82-game pace for 51 fewer isolation opportunities than last year. Although Green usually guards the stars, teams aren't going straight at him. And for good reason -- Green has become an isolation monster.
No play better exemplifies his man-to-man defensive dexterity than his work against John Wall in the closing seconds of regulation a few weeks ago.
Tied at 99-99 with just over 40 seconds left, the Wizards are looking for a clutch bucket. As Wall hunts for the seam in the Spurs' defense, Green rushes over to shut down one of the league's fastest point guards. And he does it. Twice.
First, Gortat tries to get Wall some room by setting a pick. But Danny pesters him to the point that John doesn't give Gortat enough time to get contact with Green on the screen. Wall is forced to pick up his dribble, exchange the ball with Ariza, and give it another go.
Things aren't any better for the Wizards point guard the second time around. Wall calls off the screen, opting to go mano-a-mano with Green. He tries a few crossover feints, but Danny, with nimble precision, pokes the ball away and forces Wall into a tough half-court attempt to beat the shot clock.
As great as his man-to-man defense has been, his revamped off-ball defense is more of a revelation. Earlier this season, I called him out on it, and three months -- and one fractured metacarpal later -- Danny has completely silenced my grievances.
When I whined about Green's off-ball defense before, he truly was atrocious. Last season, Green freed up his man on spot-up jumpers to a pitiful 1.06 PPP, including a 39.9% three-point percentage allowed. And at the time I posted my last Verde article, he allowed a Harden-esque 1.77 PPP and 73.3% from deep during the 2013-14 season.
Since then, Danny has excelled in closing out. Opposing spot-up shooters now only score .93 PPP, along with a mere 31.5% from beyond the arc. But what is really special is the fact that he is chasing his man off the three point line better; Green is approaching a season with 65 fewer allowed three point attempts than just one year ago. That's a dramatic improvement.
This season has given us two versions of Danny Green on the defensive end -- good-close-out Green and no-close-out Green. The difference between the two is Green's understanding of defensive spacing and scouting reports. It appears that Danny now understands when he needs to stick to his man, and when he can get away with gambling on an off-ball steal attempt.
After a time out, Portland is looking for a quick three to close the gap. Matthews uses Batum's body to peel away from Danny for a few milliseconds, but Green sticks to Batum like a piece of gum in Robin Lopez's hair. Danny is aware of the score, and knows that he needs to force Wes off the three-point line. Green stays within range of Matthews and is able to get a crucial block in the final minute of a tight game.
Green has always been a great help defender, but he's had a tendency to lose his man while helping his teammates in the past. In this play, Danny does a great job of keeping track of the ball handler, Gerald Wallace, while remaining wary of Jeff Green from three. When Wallace is encouraged to kick it out to Jeff, Danny hustles back and solidly contests the shot.
Danny temporarily botches the Mo Williams-Wes Matthews pick-and-pop by overhelping on Williams after Matthews pops. Seeing his mistake, Green hustles back to Matthews to force a pump fake. Wes attempts to dribble away, but Danny recovers quickly after his first close-out attempt, and does an admirable job contesting Matthew's shot.
Overall, this is a fantastic defensive possession for the Spurs. The ball movement is stagnant for the Celtics and a lot of credit should be given to Danny. If you want to see just how much thought Green puts into his defense, watch him the entire play. Danny makes sure to continuously recalculate his optimal position on the floor to help cut off potential drives and interfere with the passing lanes. Near the end of the shot clock, Rondo, looking for a bailout, chucks a risky pass over to Jeff Green. This is child's play for Danny, and he forces Jeff into a difficult fadeaway three.
But every NBA player has his flaws. Even the great Michael Jordan was plagued with two-first-name syndrome, making Danny's occasional defensive brain farts seem miniscule in comparison. Green has cut down on these mistakes, but it's just about impossible to play a perfect game even on one end of the floor.
Danny Green is by no means a perfect basketball player. His passing is mediocre. He -- and just about every other Spurs fan -- is mortified whenever he's forced to dribble the ball, and he doesn't have the tools to create his own shot or be a consistent scorer. But the thing he does have is an ability to defend both off and on the ball. Well, that and the three-ball.
Danny, in my book, you are now a premier defender.