Danny Green has a problem. The man affectionately known as Icy Hot cannot find his rhythm. At this point, I'm not even sure he can find Pero Antic's rhythm. Green is currently mired in one of the worst shooting slumps of his career, a slump of such biblical proportions that only one stat can even begin to describe how bad it has been.
Of the players who have taken as many threes as Danny Green, there are only two that are shooting a worse percentage from deep : Nik Stauskas, and the one and only Kobe Bean Bryant (and if not for Stauskas shooting 0-8 from deep over his last two games, that list would include Kobe, and Kobe alone).
These are the depths to which Danny has begun to sink this season. In the hopes of better understanding what has gone so wrong, I have compiled a list of theories and researched each one individually. The results were... not pretty.
Theory #1: Danny Green does not get the same looks with LaMarcus Aldridge on the floor.
This is the most popular explanation for Danny's struggles, most likely because it is the easiest to point to. Fully extrapolated, the argument goes like this:
Danny Green was a knock-down three-point shooter last year. This year, the Spurs add LaMarcus Aldridge and Danny Green struggles. Ipso facto, LaMarcus Aldridge is the reason for Danny Green's struggles.
I sat down and subjected myself to watching every single shot that Danny has taken this year, both with LMA on the floor and off, and what I saw did not support this theory.
To be fair, Danny Green does shoot better when LaMarcus is on the bench (per Basketball-Reference.com), but even when they are not sharing the floor, Danny's three-point shooting is below league average. Also, he has a tendency to shoot a lot more twos with LMA off the floor, and we all know that this is not what the Spurs are paying him for. The thing is, the offense with Aldridge on the floor is still generating open (and sometimes wide open) shots for Danny, and he is flat-out missing them. So while the addition of Aldridge could have been a neat and tidy explanation, it is one that does not necessarily explain Green's struggles.
Theory #2: The Spurs are utilizing Danny Green differently this year, and he is taking shots in areas that he is unaccustomed to.
So maybe Danny is having to shift his positioning on the offensive end to accommodate Aldridge, and in turn is taking shots outside of his comfort zones? Not really. Thanks to the fantastic data available at NBAsavant.com, the following is a breakdown of Danny's three-point shot selection from last year as compared to this year (in a handy pie-chart format!):
* - For some reason, the 2-7 performance against the Raptors is not included in this data, but the next game against the Lakers is included.
While there are some minor differences, there is nothing so major that would lead us to believe that Green is having to significantly alter his shot selection from last year. I went through a number of plays from this year and last, specifically looking for instances that would go against this data - after all, the eye-test is sometimes more trustworthy than numbers on a sheet. (Did I just channel my inner-Byron Scott?) What I found was that Danny is actually being utilized quite similarly this year when compared to last.
This is Kawhi Leonard breaking down the Clippers defense in overtime of Game 2 of last year's playoffs:
And this is Kawhi Leonard breaking down the Hawks defense earlier this season:
From Game 7 last year against the Clippers - a simple pick and roll leading to a Danny 3:
And the mirror-image of this play against the Suns in November:
The Spurs' sets are not so different than they were last year, and neither are Danny's shots.
Theory #3: Sure, Danny might be getting similar shots this year, but maybe they are not quite as "open" as they were last year.
This is the theory that I was leaning towards before diving into this piece. For an NBA shooter, the difference between being open and having your shot contested could be a matter of inches. Again, using the data at NBAsavant.com, I took a look at what percentage of Green's threes were defined as "uncontested" (that is, the nearest defender being outside of four feet from the shooter) and "wide open" (a defender outside of six feet from the shooter), and how he shot in these situations.
Last year, 82.3% of Danny's three point attempts were taken with a defender outside of four feet. This year? 82.9%. Though we can quibble about whether or not the definition of "uncontested" qualifies as a shot not actually being contested, we cannot quibble about the results:
Shot Chart, Defender 4+ feet:
In terms of "wide open" three point attempts, Danny is seeing slightly less this year - 41.9% of his attempts as opposed to 44.2% last season. But again, the comparative shot chart is alarming:
Shot Chart, Defender 6+ feet:
The Spurs offensive machine is still generating open looks on a consistent basis for Green, and Pop is still calling plays for him. Take this instance from the Sixers game, when everyone and their mother was putting points on the scoreboard:
Theory #4: So if Danny Green is still getting a similar amount of open threes from similar spots on the floor, then he must be rushing these shots.
As I watched Danny Green three after Danny Green three, I thought to myself, "Man, he takes a lot of threes in early shot-clock situations. Maybe he's pressing." Nope. The percentage of three-point attempts he's taken with 16 or more seconds on the shot-clock this year as compared to last is also negligible:
So maybe this is all mental. Maybe this is like an NFL kicker who misses an early kick, then psychs himself out when the next opportunity arises. Whatever the reason, we better hope that Danny Green and the Spurs figure it out, because this leads me to the biggest issue that is not being addressed nearly enough when discussing Green's struggles...
Fact: This season the Spurs are significantly better on both ends of the court when Danny Green sits.
We know what Danny Green is capable of. He is a well-above average perimeter defender, and until this season, a lethal three-point shooter. The Spurs, however, have been much better this season when Danny Green is not on the floor. These are the per-48-minute +/- splits for this year and last, with Green on the floor and off:
Danny Green on the floor: 103.6-94.6 (+9.0)
Danny Green off the floor: 99.2-97.0 (+2.2)
Danny Green on the floor: 97.8-91.3 (+6.5)
Danny Green off the floor: 103.5-86.4 (+17.1)
That is pretty damning evidence that something, somewhere, is very wrong.
When taking the long view, Danny Green is still very important to what the Spurs are doing, both on offense and on defense. But to get to where the Spurs want to go, and become a legitimate challenger to the behemoth that is the Golden State Warriors, we all have to hope that this is just an extended stay for the "Icy" version of Danny Green, and that the "Hot" incarnation is waiting just around the corner.
* - Special thanks to Daren Willman at NBAsavant.com for allowing the use of his awesome data. Check out his site, post-haste!