13-4 🙂 (light news day)
That he was the salary filler in the Leonard-DeMar DeRozan trade has been a massive steal for the Raptors. If the Spurs had driven a hard bargain, they could have insisted the Raptors take back Patty Mills instead of Green, who makes a similar salary to the new Raptor, but whose contract runs longer. Obviously, the Spurs did not have the leverage to do that, and the Raptors have to be thankful.
Perhaps the Spurs felt that they could afford to lose Green after he struggled through his third consecutive sub-40 percent season from the field. However, Green played through a groin injury that severely hampered him. The Raptors are shooting just 34 percent from deep, but Green is up at 46 percent, taking more 3-pointers per minute than he has ever taken before. Against the Bulls, he made all seven of his field-goal attempts, which included a trio of 3-pointers.
“It’s a big difference,” Green said of his health. “I move a lot better. I move a lot more efficiently. I feel like myself — not 100 percent as athletic as I used to be, obviously getting older. At the beginning of the season last year, I was actually making plays at the rim, which is rare. I’m trying to get back to that.”
Yet, he is still effectively defensively, particularly as a transition defender. And as with most good glue guys, Green’s use is reflecting itself with deeper statistical analysis. Per nba.com, the Raptors are outscoring opponents by 18.4 points per 100 possessions when Green is on the floor, and are leaking 7.0 points per 100 possessions when he is on the bench. Over the last three games, the Raptors have outscored opponents by 64 points when he has been on the floor, and have lost the remaining minutes by 30 points.
Obviously, not all the credit goes to Green. The Raptors’ bench has been largely ineffective this year, while the Raptors’ starters have been by and large stellar, and he is just one of five when he is on the floor. As well, it is unlikely that Green will continue to shoot this well from long range. It is clear, though, that he fills the cracks beyond adequately.
“He’s just one of those transcendent players who can play anywhere, any style, any system,” Raptors guard Fred VanVleet said. “Obviously the shooting — I don’t know if you can just eliminate that attribute. He’s a good defender, smart cuts, moves the ball well, and obviously adds the cherry on top with the 3-point shooting. It’s special.”
As it turns out, Nick Nurse was right, Danny Green is a pretty important player for the Toronto Raptors.
After the team lost the veteran shooting guard early twice during the week, Toronto’s head coach had referred to Green’s glue-guy tendencies and how useful he is late in the “guts” of a game. First Green had to exit due to an injury, leaving him only able to watch as Dwane Casey’s Detroit Pistons stormed back for a stunning win in Toronto. Then Green fouled out after a couple of dubious late calls, which took away one of the best options to try to slow down the lava rock hot Kyrie Irving in Friday’s loss in Boston.
Green was thoroughly unhappy with some of the calls and came back with a flourish for Saturday’s 122-83 obliteration of the wretched Chicago Bulls.
Green hit all seven of his shots, including a trio of three-pointers, was solid defensively and even handed out three assists in a plus-35 performance.
Green joked afterward that he’d never turned in a perfect game before, but he actually hit all seven shots once while with San Antonio, and all six another time.
Green’s on-court, off-court splits are the best on the team (Toronto is +11.5 when Green is on the court, -3.2 when he sits) and he has rejuvenated his career in a contract season while boosting the Raptors.
“He’s a champion. He’s got a ring, he played under one of the best coaches in NBA history, and probably the world in Gregg Popovich,” Kyle Lowry said when asked why Green has fit in so ideally.
“So, he kind of brought a lot of things with him to us.”
Green said being healthy has helped a lot. His undetected groin issue set him back quite a bit last year. The Spurs needed to throw him in contract-wise in order to make the Kawhi Leonard-DeMar DeRozan blockbuster work, but had they been able to pull out a crystal ball and predict he’d boost his outside shooting a full 10% and post the second-best field goal percentage of his career (yes, it’s early), it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t insist on getting back either Pascal Siakam or OG Anunoby.
Now it’s not all Green, but it’s a lot of Green. He’s just one of those guys that very good teams need: a steadying influence, a calming presence, a player who just plays and everyone benefits when he does.
Many others had vital roles in the two losses and Saturday’s win, and the sample size of Green’s contribution is small with more three quarters of the regular season still to come. But there’s no denying his value, and it should only increase as the Raptors become more familiar with each other and the season grinds on.
“He’s just one of those transcendent players who can play anywhere, any style, any system,” VanVleet said in a post-game scrum in Chicago on Saturday. “He’s a good defender, smart cuts, moves the ball well, and obviously adds the cherry on top with the three-point shooting. It’s special.”
At 31 years old and in the 11th season of an NBA career that’s included championships with the San Antonio Spurs, Green is one of the most accomplished players on the roster. His leadership and guidance are helping the Raptors though the early, get-acquainted portion of the season. They will become doubly important when the playoffs roll around.
“He’s a locked-in defender as a team guy,” coach Nick Nurse said. “He’s trying to keep guys on the same page, talking through coverages and talking through the switches and things like that. He’s got a really good attitude, and that’s a contagious thing.”
The biggest thing for the Raptors will be keeping Green whole throughout the entire season. Whether that means giving him games off for rest — a logical assumption given the way the handling of other veterans is going now — or limiting his minutes when he does play, he has to be healthy in April, May and June. He said he struggled with nagging injuries all last season in San Antonio. The Raptors can’t have a repeat of that.
“I move a lot better. I move a lot more efficiently,” Green told reporters of his early-season health. “I feel like myself. Not 100 per cent as athletic as I used to be, obviously getting older. At the beginning of the season last year, I was actually making plays at the rim, which is rare. I’m trying to get back to that.”
Despite all that, Nurse gave VanVleet the start against the woebegone — emphasis on the first syllable — Bulls. Apparently, it worked. VanVleet said that playing with Siakam, both of whom were members of last year’s vaunted Bench Mob, was a nice change. The two shared 26 minutes on the court on Saturday after they had played only 105 through the first 11 games in which they both played — an average of fewer than 10 minutes per game. Last year, they averaged nearly 14 minutes of shared time per game and were the 10th-most common pairing the Raptors used. Similarly, VanVleet and Lowry shared the court for 25 minutes, 12 minutes more than their average for the season. The bump in minutes is entirely related to the Raptors’ depth eroding, but you could see how it helped VanVleet find his comfort zone.
“Obviously, getting out there and getting an extended run, it’s helpful to get a rhythm,” VanVleet said. “Knowing that you’re starting (the) game, I think I played the whole first or the whole third or whatever, being out there long enough and mess up, find a rhythm and feel the ball a little bit, it’s easier, so to speak.”
That was not as much a complaint so much as an acknowledgement of an undeniable truth for a basketball player: Familiarity breeds success, so long as it does not breed contempt. Regardless, VanVleet remains annoyed, but, ultimately, not all that worried. It is not as if this is the first time he has struggled to find his rhythm early in the year. Before he made himself indispensable, VanVleet was shooting just 31 percent from the field and 17 percent from 3 through 12 games last year. With an all-star point guard and a backup who was taken in the second round, it was easy to wonder why ex-head coach Dwane Casey was handing minutes to yet another undersized point guard who dominated the D-League but had done nothing of note in the NBA.
VanVleet finished the season third in sixth man of the year voting.
“That’s why I laugh now because people are acting like the world is burning down around me,” VanVleet said. “It’s funny, I’m probably shooting better now at this point than I was last year. How quickly people forget (when) you put together some runs together. I probably started, I don’t remember, like 3-for-25 from 3 last year.”
In Episode 419 of Locked on Raptors, Sean Woodley chats with Vivek Jacob about the Raptors’ loss to the Celtics on Friday as well as their win over the hapless Bulls on Saturday night. They touch on the the late-game decision making by Nick Nurse, Kyrie Irving’s unconscious night and the success Toronto’s starters with Serge Ibaka have had against Boston so far this year before pivoting to a discussion of which Bulls players make them the saddest, among other things from Saturday’s blowout.
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