I know all the headlines this off-season centered around the arrival of superstar Kawhi Leonard in Toronto. That’s fair, I get it. It’s not often a team that finished with the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference goes out and lands a consensus top-five player the following off-season, while retaining key prospects expected to play essential roles both this season and into the foreseeable future.
Well, reality has finally sunk in for most of us: Kawhi Leonard is officially a member of the Toronto Raptors. And yes, he will indeed don a red and white uniform when the Raptors open their regular season at Scotiabank Arena on October 17.
What has gone somewhat overlooked since the blockbuster deal, however, is the other former San Antonio Spur acquired this past July.
Entering his 10th NBA season, Danny Green continues embodying what it means to be a three-and-D player in today’s NBA. As his career 39 per cent mark from beyond the arc proves, Green’s floor spacing is his bread and butter. Although his three-point average dipped to a league-average 36 per cent over the past three seasons, Green still feasts on catch-and-shoot opportunities.
Despite a down year last season — partially the result of a lingering groin injury and playing in a Spurs system that preferred driving to the cup and operating out of the mid-range through LaMarcus Aldridge — Green still shot 37 per cent on 3.9 three-point attempts per game out of catch-and-shoot scenarios. When given ample space to get his shot off, the 31-year-old was even more lethal.
In the Raptors’ three-point heavy system, expect Green to get even more clean looks than he managed last season with the Spurs. If healthy, the former Tar Heel offers the Raptors yet another marksman to compliment the likes of Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and C.J. Miles. Consider that if Green was on the Raptors in 2017-18, he would have ranked third on the team in three-point makes per game at 1.7. Without Green, Toronto already attempted 33 three-pointers per game in 2017-18 which ranked third in the Association. That number should only increase with Green now on the roster.
One of the many positives of being a key cog in a well-run Gregg Popovich system in San Antonio for nearly a decade is learning to move off the ball and operate on offence without having plays run for you. During his nine-year stint in the Lone Star State, Green played alongside plenty of greats including future Hall of Famers Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili, potential future Hall of Famer Tony Parker, LaMarcus Aldridge, and of course Kawhi Leonard, meaning Green is all too familiar with filling his role to a tee alongside more prolific offensive options. The veteran ‘glue-guy’ will have his fair share of opportunities to get shots up but won’t ever try to force the issue, which is exactly why he figures to benefit from such a free-flowing system like the one first-year Raptors head coach Nick Nurse plans to deploy.
Green’s shot output on a game-by-game basis will likely differ quite a bit depending on the given matchup, as will his minutes. Green still figures to slot in as the starting shooting guard to begin his tenure in Toronto, but given the Raptors abundance of depth, may not have quite the same workload his career average of 25.1 minutes per game suggests.
Along with his unselfish demeanor on offence, Green figures to remain one of the NBA’s better defensive shooting guards in 2018-19. Among guards that averaged at least 20 minutes per game and appeared in at least 50 games last season, Green ranked 13th with a 102.3 defensive rating. Green also ranked fifth among shooting guards last season with a defensive real plus-minus of 1.16. To put that into context, the Raptors previous starting two-guard, DeMar DeRozan, who was often criticized during his time as a Raptor for at times subpar defensive efforts, ranked 78th in DRPM last season at -1.76. That’s not meant as a shot at DeRozan at all, just to clarify. Instead, it’s to shed light on how impressive a defender Green is, and how his presence with the Raptors only increases the team’s defensive ceiling. That, in itself, should terrify opponents, since Toronto already boasted a top-five defensive unit last season.
With the Raptors firmly entrenched in ‘win now’ mode, bringing on a player with a proven track record and championship pedigree of Green’s caliber can only stand to benefit an organization looking to reach its first ever NBA Finals. The 2013 NBA champion has featured in the biggest of moments, experiencing both heartbreak and triumph along the way. If there was one player to bring over from San Antonio along with Leonard in the blockbuster deal, Green was the man. The amount his wealth of experience will rub off on the Raptors’ younger, less seasoned players is difficult to quantify from the outside looking in. Rest assured, though, he will make an impact in the locker room as much as, if not more than he does on the hardwood. His mentorship will be essential, especially when the playoffs arrive and the pressure of a deep playoff run intensifies.