Small Sample Size Theater: Danny Green moving without the ball
Let’s enjoy a little Small Sample Size Theater (© Rob Mahoney) today. We’re only four games into what is a very long 82-game slate. As much as we’d like to peg certain things as permanent, specifically the Spurs defensive efficiency numbers, it would be irresponsible to do so.
One thing we’ve seen an increase of during this early season, in addition to the Spurs’ improved defensive numbers, is an uptick in Danny Green getting baskets moving without the ball. Green is off to a fast start this season, averaging 13.3 points per game and shooting almost 57% from the floor and 53% from the 3-point line. Those numbers are all an increase over the 9.1-44%-43% Green put up last season and are sure to fall back to normal levels.
According to Synergy Sports, last season Green had 42 possessions defined as Cuts, where Green made a move without the ball, received a pass and finished the possession with a shot, foul or turnover. 42 times in 66 games. Green scored on 52.4% of those possessions, shooting 19-39 from the field and picking up 1.07 points per possession.
We’re only four games in to this season, but already Green has six possessions Synergy defines as cuts. At this pace, that would be 99 possessions over a 66 game schedule (math!). Green has scored on five of those six possessions, posting 1.67 PPP. The one time Green didn’t convert, his shot was erased from history by the Hornets’ Al-Farouq Aminu.
In this first clip from the Spurs’ opening night win at New Orleans, we see Green cut through the lane like he does several times each game. In this instance, he’s got the defender, Hornets rookie Austin Rivers, on his back hip. Green makes eye contact with Duncan and the pass from the Fundamental is on the money. As you watch the video, keep an eye on Green’s right arm, he uses it not unlike a big man shielding his defender in the low post. He sticks that forearm right in Rivers’ sternum, giving Green a way to keep Rivers at a distance.
I would’ve liked to see Green lay the ball in without taking the dribble, especially with Anthony Davis coming over (albeit late) on help defense, but two points is two points.
In the following play against the Pacers on Monday night, we see a similar situation. Paul George overplays Green on the wing, perhaps in an attempt to prevent Duncan from swinging the ball and slowing down the Spurs offense early in the shot clock. Green cuts backdoor and again uses that off-arm to shield the defender. Easy as pie, Duncan zips the pass to Green for a layup.
What’s interesting to note is that Danny Green doesn’t cut particularly hard through the lane on either of these plays. He makes his move and cuts backdoor at practically 3/4 speed, but maybe that’s what’s so effective about it. He’s obviously got the space thanks to effective use of his off-arm and Duncan is an excellent passer, if Green cut too hard it might’ve been obvious that he was looking for a pass and the defender would’ve reacted accordingly. In these to plays, the defender almost doesn’t expect a pass because Green seems to be going through the motions some.
In one last play to look at, also from the first quarter of Monday night’s game against the Pacers, Green’s movement off the ball results in an open 3-pointer. Synergy technically logged this play as a spot-up, but it wouldn’t have been possible without a cut from Green. The Spurs run through their offense and end up with an offensive rebound after a missed 3 from Tony Parker. He’s out of the frame while Kawhi Leonard grabs the loose ball and dribbles baseline, but Green is cutting from one side of the floor to the other to create a passing lane for Leonard.
The result is an open 3 and an important bucket. The Spurs offense was fairly stagnant at that point in the first quarter against Indiana, and Green’s 3 helped get things going.
Danny Green had plays tagged as cuts twice in each game with the exception of the Spurs’ win over Oklahoma City. He’s likely to fall off that pace as the season unfolds, but for now it’s adding a new wrinkle to the Spurs offense. In the past, Tony Parker was the only Spurs starter to make plays with backdoor cuts, but we’ve seen the off-ball movement of increase with Kawhi Leonard’s addition to the team. Now Danny Green seems to be getting in on the act.
The Spurs offense hasn’t quite been firing on all cylinders in this early season, but it is always diverse. Any way the Spurs can add scoring from unexpected places can help them get points from spots where every team expects them to score.