Danny Green is the go-to feel good story for any D-League player trying to make it in the NBA. You probably know it by heart by now: he got cut twice before cracking the rotation with the Spurs; he received a multi-year contract and was close to getting finals MVP on 2012/13: last season, he won a championship as a starter, boasting a fantastic true shooting percentage in the playoffs. Yet it's this season he has finally been able to solidify his position as a young veteran who could command a big salary instead of a product of the Spurs' system by having a career year in almost every facet of the game.
Lost among all those times Pop chews him out is the fact that Green has been fantastic in a time the Spurs really needed him to be. He's averaging career highs in points, rebounds, steals and blocks. He's also playing a career-high 29 minutes but his numbers hold up when examined on a per minute basis and he's part of some very exclusive clubs. Only four other players who have been on the court for at least 1,000 minutes have shot over five three-pointers a game while hitting over 40 percent: Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Kyle Korver and J.J. Redick. Only eight players are averaging over a block and a steal per game. So Green is not only among the best shooters in the league but he's also one of the most well-rounded help defenders.
Other than his numbers, what has been surprising about Danny Green this year is his ability to create more of his own offense. He's not a playmaker and he won't take anyone off the dribble in an isolation but Green has found ways to get his shot off without help thanks to his improvement as an opportunistic pick and roll ball handler. When he has to think on his feet or when he faces an aggressive defense the result is often a turnover but when he can simply use the pick and pull up after one or two dribbles, he is very good, ranking in the 70th percentile in scoring among pick and roll ball handlers according to Synergy Sports. He's especially deadly in secondary transition when the defense isn't set.
The Spurs score over two points more per 100 possessions with Green on the court largely thanks to the spacing he provides but the fact that he's finding ways to score inside the arc highlights how far he's come as an offensive player.
On defense, the emergence of Kawhi Leonard has marginalized Green. Leonard is elite, one of the best of the best on that end, which is why he's drawing the tougher assignments. Compared to him, Green seems mediocre despite the fact that he would be the best perimeter defender on a dozen teams. Not long ago he was guarding top point guards so that Tony Parker could hide on a spot up shooter. It's not surprising then that when tasked with guarding inferior players this season Green ranks 11th in points per possession allowed in isolation situations among players who have defended at least 50 of those plays, thanks to his quick hands and ability to stay in from of his man.*
Granted, it's not unusual to see him make some mistakes here and there but Green still makes an impact at the team level, as the Spurs are almost five points worse when he sits, going from a defensive rating that would rank them only below the Warriors, to having the defense the Dallas Mavericks boast. Green's ability to be disruptive off the ball and contain his man even without help is not all that common and it gives the Spurs a boost on the defensive end, even if he's far from the team's most important player on that side of the court.
As both the numbers and the eye test show, Green is reliable and adaptable, which makes him a fit for any team. A cynical man would say that it's not coincidence that he's having his best year as a pro just when this offseason he will have the chance to secure likely the only big payday of his career. Since Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler are restricted free agents and Wesley Matthews tore his Achilles, Green will be one of the few good wings available in unrestricted free agency, next to Khris Middleton and DeMarre Carroll. He will get paid. The question is should the Spurs be the ones to offer that big contract? His age and playing style make him a perfect fit next to Leonard and Parker but if his price tag gets too high, PATFO might decide to look for someone else that can do what he can on the cheap.
As intriguing as Green's free agency process will be, it's in the distant future compared to the Spurs' more urgent matters of getting a good seed and get to the playoffs in the best shape possible. It's a good sign, then, that Green has scored in double digits in the past five games while shooting over 50 percent from outside. While Tony Parker and Kawhi Leonard are understandably getting most of the attention, Green has continued to do his job in obscurity, like he always has. He wouldn't have it any other way. At least until this offseason arrives, that is, and his credentials rightfully net him a big contract, either from the Spurs or another team.
*Cory Joseph ranks first. The offseason is going to be wild.