It's foolish, perhaps even dangerous, to try to look for themes or patterns so early on, just four games through an 82-game regular season, but you can understand why the temptation to ignore small sample sizes is so overwhelming for Spurs fans. They're not just any vagabond collection of mercenaries so prevalent in the NBA. They're the Spurs, with 12 returning players, established offensive and defensive systems and an unquestioned hierarchy of players, with nearly the entire rotation consisting of guys who've spent years playing with one another. If there's any squad in the league where we should expect a reduced variance, both game-to-game and season-to-season, it's the same-as-it-ever-was "boring ol' Spurs."
So in that vein I've been fascinated early on with two distinct themes that have developed within the team, one that was clearly planned -- Boris Diaw shooting way more -- and the other most likely not -- Danny Green struggling to contribute offensively with teams jumping out on his threes.
Diaw's radical transformation has been covered elsewhere on this site, and quite well at that, so let's tackle Green, who came into Wednesday night's game against the Suns having made just six of his first 23 shots (26%) and just two of nine three-pointers. Now, we all know that Green is a notoriously streaky shooter, but there must be a great disturbance in the force for him to attempt just seven or fewer shots in four consecutive games, for him to attempt three or fewer from downtown in said games and, most alarmingly, for only nine of his first 23 attempts to come from inside the arc.
I was close to publicly contemplating a Freaky Friday scenario between him and Diaw and thought about asking my San Antonio spies whether Green had been spotted chowing down on a case of eclairs recently.
Seriously though, it was certainly predictable that opponents would be placing more of an emphasis on not leaving Green open this year. But I didn't think it'd be possible for them to erase his looks completely, not with so many gifted passers on the team and such a versatile, fluid offensive system in place. And not with Green so willing to run around tirelessly in search of those good looks. It was just inconceivable to me.
Green was so off his game, however, that Gregg Popovich saw fit to play him 24 or fewer minutes in each of the first four contests, which partly in itself explains why his shot attempts have been so down. You can't shoot from the bench. At least, you shouldn't.
The problem, as I saw it, was that a) Green wasn't being aggressive enough in looking for his shot and b) his teammates weren't going out of their way to get him shots. My hypothesis was that either Pop or one of the team's leaders was going to make it crystal clear that this could not go on, that Green was too critical to the team's defensive continuity to not play more, and he couldn't play more unless he started being an offensive weapon.
You can imagine my relief then, after the Spurs close -- too close -- 99-96 triumph over the Suns, during which Green played a major role with season-highs in minutes (36), points (19), field goals made (8), field goals attempted (11), three-pointers made (3), three-pointers attempted (6), rebounds (5), assists (2), steals (2) and even blocks (4!).
Let's take a closer look at some of the ways Green got shots to snap out of his doldrums.
Second quarter, half-time buzzer:
Here's something the Spurs don't usually do, a pass to the near corner off a drive, because it's far easier to contest than the opposite corner on the weak side. Parker had little choice, since the clock was about to run out, but even under normal circumstances it'd be something I'd encourage the Spurs to explore with Green a little more often because he has such a quick release that he can get his shot off even in constricted space.
Third quarter, 10:05 left:
Now this is more like what we're used to, Green firing from the opposite corner with all the time in the world. You'll notice though that the reason he got the look wasn't because of a Parker penetration but rather the work of another Frenchman, Diaw, who had drawn a double-team with his deep post positioning. By this point Diaw had already shot the ball several times in the game and I'm guessing that it's now getting noticed on scouting reports around the league that the Land Walrus is looking to score. Maybe last season the Suns would've assumed that even this close to the basket that Diaw wouldn't be looking at the rim and would've gambled sending just one defender at him. Here though, they sent two, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if future foes do likewise, which will generate open looks for Green and Kawhi Leonard.
Third quarter, 2:36 left:
Green had just missed a three earlier in the possession, but after Leonard came up with the offensive board and handed off to Parker, Green lost whodat Dionte Christmas and got his easiest two of the night via a simple back door cut. Just staying in the play after misses and having chemistry with willing teammates generates all kinds of opportunities because defenses are never so vulnerable as they are after giving up an offensive board (as Spurs fans no doubt know all too well). The Spurs don't get too many second-chance points because of their get-back-in-transition-or-else philosophy, but even in the half court Green should be able to take advantage of guys who are overplaying him while ball-watching.
Fourth quarter, 9:53 left:
Oh god. It's a cover-your-eyes Green double-clutch floater. Christmas contests the three in transition and then backs off once Green starts driving, almost like he's been coached to since few good things happen for San Antonio once Green puts the ball on the ground. Still, the larger point remains that Green can find windows of opportunity to score in those transition chances where it's harder to match up on the fly.
Fourth quarter, 9:00 to go:
Here's a bit of creativity and improvisation from both Green and Diaw. His initial three-point look is contested, but he's patient, waits for Diaw to screen out his man and then resets himself up for another three after a side-dribble. Maybe it's not as high percentage of a shot as one off a catch, but if Green is feeling it on a given night, then he owes it to himself and the team to generate as many open shots as possible.
Fourth quarter, 8:20 to go:
Finally we come to my favorite GIF of the bunch, a play that really shows some high-level basketball IQ and possibly even borrows from the one-two concept we see often in soccer. Green is closed down quickly in the corner, fakes the shot, jump-passes to Duncan at the elbow, then races past his lunging defender to receive the return pass from Duncan on the back cut. What I particularly love about this play is that it removes the riskiest part of any potential Green layup -- the dribbling. He simply has to catch the ball and lay it in. It also helps that very few bigs in the league can make such a quick, accurate pass in an instant, and the Spurs happen to employ three of them.
Plays like these are precisely why I was so high on Green coming into the season. The cynic might look at his limited skill set and think, "Yeah, he can hit open shots, but once they take that away from him, he's done." The way I look at it though is opponents being aware of Green's shooting prowess shouldn't take away from his game and remove a weapon from the Spurs' arsenal but rather enhance both. Smart play from Green and his teammates and smart coaching will provide ample opportunities to use an opponent's over-aggressiveness against them. Heck, at times they could even use Green as a decoy to open up things for other guys. The possibilities are endless.
More from Pounding The Rock:
- Game Preview: San Antonio Spurs vs. Golden State Warriors
- J.R. Wilco discusses Danny Green's play on the Phil Naessens Show
- Bruce Bowen on Richie Incognito and the culture of bullying
- Morning Rehash: Spurs defeat Suns 99-96 & Danny Green made all the layups
- Tony Parker & Danny Green lead Spurs past Suns