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System Upgrade: On Danny Green’s Fit in Toronto

It’s not easy being Green—unless you’re stepping into a basketball system that prioritizes your best attributes.

Lost amidst the whirlwind of emotions enkindled by the departure of DeMar DeRozan for Kawhi Leonard, another player has arrived in Toronto looking to prove his services worthy of a team now zeroed in on carving a pathway to The Finals.

It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Danny Green is a perfect fit for the Raptors’ system. He just came from San Antonio, after all, a place where passing, off-ball movement, and shot selection are prioritized—all things that new Raps head coach Nick Nurse demanded more of when the team overturned their offensive play-style last season.

There is concern, however, over what Green can provide on that end of the floor. Certainly, scoring is not his most appealing attribute (we’ll get to the defense later), emphasized by the fact that last season he shot just 38.7 per cent from the field and is a career 41.8 per cent shooter, but the part of his offensive game that is still lethal is bolstered by the system he’s walking into.

Green is a great three-point shooter (36.3 per cent in 2017–18), and while the Spurs offense does contain a lot of movement and passing (an NBA marksman’s best friends), the personnel on the roster last season dictated that they spend more time looking to get shots at the rim or shots in the midrange, especially with LaMarcus Aldridge being their go-to player.

In fact, San Antonio ranked 27th in the league in three-point attempts per game and 26th in three-point percentage last season, while they were fifth in the league in two-point attempts (although just 20th in two-point percentage).

Toronto, on the other hand, worried less about their personnel as they shifted their offensive system and wound up ranking third in three-point attempts and 18th in three-point percentage. They shied away from taking two-point shots that weren’t right at the hoop (save for DeRozan, whose game denoted he still take midrange looks), and chose to ride or die via the ability of many unproven shooters to make triples, generating open look after open look and hoping that they would fall.

For a shooter like Green, he would be hard pressed to find himself a better situation. Despite his general offensive woes last season and opponents knowing to stick to him on the perimeter as one of the Spurs’ only viable shooting threats, his three-point shooting was actually still very good.

Out of the 4.6 threes Green shot in 2017–18, 3.9 of them came from catch-and-shoot scenarios. On those looks, he made 37.6 per cent of his attempts, skirting around the perimeter until someone would find him or making himself known by diving into the paint and then retreating back out in order to give himself separation.

It is a testament to the constant movement of Green and the Spurs’ system that even with teams recognizing his three-point prowess, Green still managed to take the majority of his triples either open (1.5 attempts per game) or wide-open (2.4 attempts per game), shooting 34.3 per cent and a red-hot 39.8 per cent on those looks, respectively—looks he will find even easier to come by in Toronto.

Green is also absolutely cash from the corners, having shot 39 per cent from the left and a blistering 49.1 per cent from the right last season. He will often begin possessions by slipping to the strong side corner, where he’s evidently comfortable, and figure things out from there as the play develops, sometimes making like he’s about to leave his spot just to get his defender moving before then back-pedalling to the corner for an open look.

Most of Green’s threes, however, came above the break, where he shot 32.3 per cent. Similar to the Raptors’ own C.J. Miles, he will rise up in transition and semi-transition if he has the opportunity, or he will float about the arc to keep himself moving and in position for any kick-out passes.

While the three-point marksmanship is certain to be a boon for Toronto, it’s the other areas of Green’s offensive repertoire that are lacking. He’s not a particularly strong finisher when driving to the basket (54.6 per cent from 0–3 feet in 2017–18)—in fact, he shot a mere 36.8 per cent off of any shots that came out of drives last season.

The Raptors will simply have to grin and bear that aspect of Green’s game, since getting to the rim, if not finding an open three, is an inherent part of the game plan. But what they can change is what the wing does between the iron and the arc.

Green isn’t exactly a ball-stopper (he won’t elect to take poor shots when covered), but if he’s open he will fire away from no matter where he is on the floor. This includes anything from 3–16 feet and, even if he’s unguarded (39.2 per cent on overall open looks; 40 per cent on overall wide-open looks), unfortunately results in very few makes simply because they are shots he’s never been adept at making.

Thankfully, these are also the kinds of shots that the Raptors attempted to wean out of the team last season to resounding success. At the moment, Green takes 57 per cent of his shot attempts from deep. Compare that to Miles, whose three-pointers accounted for 75.8 per cent of his looks last season. If Toronto can manage to elicit a similar result from Green, they will essentially have a more potent version of what Miles is able to provide thanks to the former’s stalwart defense.

Ah yes, the defense.

A prototypical “3&D” wing, Green is perhaps best known for the latter part of that moniker. He’s gritty and a hustler, not afraid to mix things up or take on a challenge. Last season, he ranked fifth (1.16) in the league amongst shooting guards in defensive real plus-minus, and he accumulated an impressive defensive player impact plus-minus of 1.19. He was also a key part of the Spurs’ most used lineup (Dejounte Murray-Patty Mills-Green-Kyle Anderson-Aldridge) that boasted a defensive rating of 94.3.

On the ball, Green has great size and, although the 30-year-old is not particularly speedy, excellent lateral footwork that allows him to stay with some of the NBA’s best penetrators. It also doesn’t hurt that he has lightning-fast hands to poke the ball away even when it looks like his man might get the best of him.

As a help defender, the former Tar Heel has expert timing and the innate ability to defend well on the interior without fouling. Last season he was able to tie his career-high in blocks per game (1.1), and managed to receive two All-Defensive First Team votes despite not actually making either of the teams. 

Even when Green appears to be out of a play, he never truly is. His hustle and effort is always on display in close-out opportunities, and he’s one of the best in the league at gearing up and charging at a player about to launch a shot from the perimeter. More often than not he manages to alter the shot in some way, and occasionally even gets a finger or two on the ball.

In acquiring Leonard, the Raptors now have something they’ve never had before—a true superstar. They’ll find a way to make him fit into the fold, which admittedly might take some getting used to and cause a few early bumps, as suddenly adding such a high-level player to a roster can sometimes do.

But for Danny Green, slipping seamlessly into the flow of things under the radar seems fairly likely and even proper. Just look at the kerfuffle around the Leonard deal—he’s already done it once.

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