Better than a blockbuster: Danny Green’s offseason
Maybe no player on the Spurs speaks to the power of a good offseason like Danny Green. Caroming back and forth between the D-League and unguaranteed NBA contracts, Green had failed to find a home in his first two NBA seasons, spending time in Cleveland, San Antonio and the D-League. Then Danny Green went to Slovenia. When he came back, he was a new man.
Asked during the end of last season when he knew Danny Green was going to make it with the Spurs, Head Coach Gregg Popovich said it was right when he showed up to last year’s training camp.
“We’ve had him in several times and let him go,” Pop said. “He’s been other places and been let go. This training camp he came back with a different kind of aggressiveness and focus on wanting to show that he belonged and should stay [in the NBA].
“He had a very, very good training camp. And from there he’s progressed to the point that we see now.”
Green played so well, in fact, that the Spurs decided against picking up James Anderson’s option for the upcoming season. Eventually, Anderson’s agent reportedly requested a trade. After the season was over, Danny Green was rewarded with a shiny, new three-year contract.
After proving he fit in the Spurs system and making it known that he could produce over the course of a full season, Green’s task is to prove that the one season isn’t a fluke. And that he’s not going to relax now that he has some financial security.
Green has been working off and on this summer with Spurs Assistant Coach Chad Forcier, trying to solidify the progress and improvement Green made last offseason. Don’t expect to see much in the way of tangible improvement. I doubt there will be moments where you will seen Green pull off a feat that made you say, “He couldn’t do that last year.”
For Danny, the improvement should be subtle. Better footwork in these situations, more consistency in those. While that doesn’t sound sexy, well, it’s not, but the important stuff rarely is. Only so many guys can say they really improved by shooting 500 jumpers a day or adding the fabled 15 lbs. of muscle.
When you think of Green’s role last season, you’ll likely see him spotted up in the corner and knocking down a 3. That’s what he did on over 43% of possessions that ended with a shot or turnover last season, according to Synergy Sports. He didn’t always hit them, but 39% of the time he did. (Note: Here’s a little statistical quirk. Danny shot 39.4% from both 2-point range and 3-point range last season when spotting up. Maybe that’s because only 58 of his field goal attempts were 2s, but still.)
An area where Green struggled some was as the ball handler on the pick-and-roll. Danny was only the pick-and-roll ball handler on possessions that ended with a shot or turnover 9.3% of the time, so it’s not a huge part of his game, but any improvement here would help the Spurs offense as a whole.
As the starting 2-guard last season, Green spent the majority of his time off the ball, making cuts and spotting up. But we’ve said before that positions 1-3 are all interchangeable in the majority of the Spurs’ offense, it’s just a matter of getting the guys you want to finish plays in the right spots. We’re not talking about Green making the same strides as Kawhi Leonard is, just Green improving in areas that will both help the Spurs offense and supplement his own strengths.
The key area for Green in improving this areas are his ball handling and decision-making. Danny turned it over 32.8% of the time when he finished plays as the pick-and-roll ball handler. In the playoffs, he turned it over four out of five possessions. Several of those were because Green had trouble dribbling against pressure defense and others were because Green drove to the lane without a plan and ended up throwing the ball away or to the wrong colored jersey. Dedicated ball handling drills and film work should be enough to see improvement in this area.
The goal isn’t to make Green into Manu Ginobili, where he can come off a pick and attack the basket. Ideally, Green would simply be able to use a pick to either get some space for himself along the 3-point line to get off a shot, or come off the pick, take one step and knock down an 18-footer.
Defensively, Green was good. He became, along with Leonard, one of the Spurs’ better wing defenders last season. He spent time on Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook, among others. He gave up .93 points per possession when isolated on defense, which is okay considering how much hero ball as guys play.
Where Green could improve for the upcoming year is defending against spot-up shooters. In situations where Green was the defender against spot-up shooters, he gave up 1.03 PPP according to Synergy Sports. There is some squishiness in there, though. From the video that I watched, there were a few times when the Spurs defense got completely sucked into the lane and Green was the only Spur to run out on the shooter, even if it wasn’t his man. In those situations, Synergy Sports credited as the defender and thus, got hit with the PPP if the shooter knocked it down.
Even still, there’s some room for improvement when Danny Green closes out on shooters. When Danny runs out on a shooter he stops well short of the player. There are two reasons for this. First, it gives Green positioning to defend against the drive. If he gets too close, the shooter can put the ball on the floor and blow right by Green. But by giving himself a little more space, he’s got just a little bit less ground to recover on a drive. The second is it prevents the defender from getting too close and fouling the shooter. And with how often shooters flop these days (*cough*jamesharden*cough*), this is important. Shane Battier closes out in the same manner, and he’s a pretty good defensive player.
There is, however, a difference in how Battier defends a shot and how Green does. When Green closes out, a lot of times he jumps and makes an effort to block the shot. For the record, Green averaged .7 blocks per game in the regular season last year. Battier doesn’t try to block the shot, he doesn’t even leave his feet. He just puts his hand and arm directly in the shooter’s face. Hey, if it annoys Kevin Durant, it’s good enough for me.
Green’s other error when closing out on shooters involves his help defense. Danny likes to reach when sliding over to help on penetration. A lot of times, this leaves him off balance and makes him slower to close out on open shooters. Just like with his blocks, Green averaged less than a steal per game last season. It would be more beneficial to the Spurs if Green could improve his discipline in this regard, but I fully realize how much easier that is for me to say than for him to do so in the moment.
Regardless of what kind of strides Green makes this summer, a Spurs team where a confident Danny Green shows up for the Western Conference Finals is already a better squad than last season’s. But now Green is a known commodity. Teams will be prepared close out on him in the corner and offenses will put more pressure on him as a defender. Any work he does this summer to prepare for that and reinforce the gains he made last summer will help the Spurs fight off death and irrelevance for another year.