After finishing the first half 0-2 from the field on Wednesday against the Grizzlies, Danny Green scored 19 points in 13 shots in the second half, going 5-9 from beyond the three-point line. In the three overtimes that followed Green took just two shots, which he converted, while Manu Ginobili went 1-5 from the field (0-3 on three-pointers) and Tim Duncan missed seven of his ten shots. Danny Green's dead-eye shooting helped the Spurs get back in the game and almost win it in regulation yet he barely touched the ball in the extra periods.
If you watched the game on Fox Sports Southwest you know that Sean Elliott hates it when that happens. He constantly repeats that the guy with the hot hand should touch the ball in every possession. A lot of fans seem to share that sentiment, judging by the reaction on Twitter and in the comments section. It's understandable. It seems like common sense. Why go away from a good weapon? The problem is getting a guy like Green looks is not easy.
The Spurs have certain pet sets they use to get a shooter like Danny an open look, the most famous of which is the "baseline hammer." In case you don't know how that looks like, here are some examples of it going well:
San Antonio tried to run that play for Green on Wednesday but Vince Carter sniffed it out and immediately shut down the three-point attempt. Only a great Spitter pass saved the play:
It's not surprising that the play didn't work, considering Wednesday's game was the fourteenth time the two squads had met in the past three seasons and the Grizzlies have one of the best defenses in the league. It's rather simple to catch Eastern teams the Spurs play twice a year off guard with a play the entire Internet knows by name. It's not so easy to get away with it against Memphis. So the Spurs stayed away from it the rest of the way.
Of course, that's not the only play the Spurs run for a shooter. In fact, most sets have a variation designed to free up a player coming off a screen. The Grizzlies are familiar with those as well, since the Spurs have ran them a million times. That leaves simple action, like this little flare screen that the Grizzlies defended well by switching:
There are obviously more complex plays designed exclusively to create a three-point shot but the Spurs often choose to run them out of timeouts, going with pick and rolls, horns sets or dribble hand-offs whenever possible simply because they offer the possibility to be flexible and take what the defense surrenders. Other than the hammer play from above I counted one other instance in which the Spurs actually ran a play for Green to shoot:
So Danny's three-point attempts didn't come from plays designed to get him open. They didn't come from Green creating them himself, either. Green's shots largely came from kick outs after high pick and rolls and from defensive breakdowns by the Grizzlies. All of Danny Green's makes from outside against Memphis were assisted. Most were open and created -- directly or indirectly -- by Manu Ginobili. Green attempted two threes on his own: One pull up in transition that hit the front of the rim and one that resulted in an airball after a hand-off with the shot clock winding down. Simply put, Green didn't create his own shot because Green can't create his own shot.
Danny shoots a sterling 46.1 percent on catch-and-shoot threes, one of the best marks for players that take a significant amount of those. He shoots 30.3 percent on pull ups, a decidedly below average mark for a three-point specialist. When he takes zero dribbles before shooting threes his percentage is a fantastic 45.4. As soon as he puts the ball on the floor before pulling the trigger his percentage plummets with every dribble. When a defender is four feet or closer to him, he barely shoots over 30 percent. Without the Spurs' shot creators Green wouldn't get shot ups or would miss most of them.
That's the part that Elliott and everyone who agrees with the hot hand theory as it pertains to Green never get into. How is Green supposed to get shots when he's hot if he can't create them himself and the other team is defending set plays well? Going even further than that it's possible to assert that the Spurs were in fact riding the hot hand on Wednesday: Ginobili's. Manu and Tim Duncan led the comeback, not Green. Danny's makes, while essential, were a result of action he was not involved with until the last second. He is strictly a finisher.
That is not a knock on Danny Green, who is undoubtedly one of the best shooters in the league. He can't create his own shot in the typical way but he moves well without the ball, showing an uncanny ability to read which spot will be open before immediately moving there to make himself available for the creators. He's just a finisher but an elite one. He's so good in fact that a case could be made that Pop needs to update the playbook, stealing some of coach Budenholzer's plays from an Atlanta team that has a varied arsenal of ways to get Kyle Korver looks even against good defenses.
Yet that approach is not without downsides. For one, running specific plays more often would run counter to the Spurs' read-and-react offensive identity that makes them impossible to scout, one of the biggest reasons for their recent success. With enough film sessions most great defensive teams will figure out how the Spurs are getting Green free and work to prevent them from doing so. If that happens, Green might find himself with the ball in his hands as the clock winds down with no option but to reset or attempt to break the defense down off the dribble, which is not a good option considering his skill set.
What happened late in the game on Wednesday will continue to happen because there simply is no easy way to get Green more involved when he catches fire. It happened before in the 2013 finals, where Green opportunistically picked apart the Heat's defense for four games by using their aggressive style against them and moving smartly from corner to corner. Then the Heat adjusted and he didn't get as many open looks but his presence opened up space for others. That what's important to remember: Those Green explosions are created by the same system that then tries to use the threat of his shooting to explore other options.
With Green playing at a very high level and potentially re-signing and getting a bigger role next season, an update to the playbook will be necessary. If Ginobili retires, the Spurs will be down one shot-creator and diagramming plays for Green could be a good way to make up for it. But as long as they have the personnel to maintain their identity as an unpredictable, read-and-react team they should do that, even if on the surface it seems like they are marginalizing role players with a hot hand.