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One firmware upgrade can take Danny Green from great to deadly

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Danny Green saved the Lakers in free agency and has been exactly what the team needs to start the year. A simple tweak to his shot profile could make him even better.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Utah Jazz Russ Isabella-USA TODAY Sports

Danny Green can seem somewhat mechanical on the basketball court.

Nicknamed “Deadshot” by his teammates, he has one of the more consistent — if not outright machine-like — jump-shooting forms in the league. Green’s ball handling is far more calculated than artful. The 11th-year guard is also generally even-keeled when he’s on the court, never too high emotionally, or too low.

Green is essentially the perfect 3-and-D machine, like if Skynet designed a terminator just to defend wings and knock down triples.

That’s what made one of his statements this week stand out so much — it was a perfectly human response, but one wholly unexpected to hear from a player as measured as Danny Green.

Green had just submitted arguably his worst shooting performance as a Laker by hitting only 2-of-12 field goals, including 1-of-7 3-pointers, against the Nuggets. It wasn’t an overall bad game for Green, as he added 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 3 steals, and was plus-2 in the box score in the team’s win in Denver; but it wasn’t the type of offensive output befitting a perimeter marksman.

After the game, Mike Trudell reminded Green that he once said he didn’t care if his shots went in. Green wasn’t having it.

“Well my focus is always defense, but I do care. I would like to make shots. I did lie. I’m sorry I lied. I would like to make shots,” Green told Trudell. “That was early in the season. Now ... I care a little more. I would like to make shots.”

The Lakers would be so lucky if all of their shooters held themselves to the same standard as Green. Green is shooting 38.5% on 3-pointers in his 11th season. That is well above the league average of 35.7%, though it’s not even among his top five seasons.

The first-year Laker has also showed out in big moments for his new team. He set a franchise record for points scored in a team debut with 28, though it ended in an opening-night loss. Green also provided one of the moments of the season when he hit a game-tying 3-pointer in Dallas in regulation, capping a massive comeback en route to an overtime victory.

Los Angeles Lakers v Dallas Mavericks
Danny Green may want more of his shots to go in, but he has still made plenty with the team so far this season.
Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

So whether or not he’s hitting shots at a rate that he is happy with, Green has firmly been the third-best player on the Lakers behind the team’s two superstars. He has played the most minutes of anyone outside of LeBron James and Anthony Davis. Green has the second-best on-off differential on the team, behind only James, as the Lakers are 6.5 points better per 100 possessions with him on the court. He opens up the floor with his spacing for the Laker bigs to do work in the paint, and he lets James stay in help defense by guarding the opposing team’s best perimeter threat.

But every machine could use a little fine-tuning, and Green isn’t immune. As the Lakers figure out how to optimize their personnel on offense, it would behoove them to consider how to best utilize Green’s shooting. He’s a good enough shooter that he is always going to hit threes, but there are some situations he prefers more than others.

Thus far, Green is shooting 41.3% on 63 spot-up jumpers. NBA.com doesn’t distinguish between twos and threes, but since 23 of his 26 makes are 3-pointers, we can safely assume the majority of his spot-up attempts are threes as well. That number is a significantly higher percentage than his total 3-point field-goal percentage, and that’s been a consistent trend over the past five years.

Logically, that makes sense. The quintessential Danny Green image is one of his teammates driving into the lane, collapsing the defense, and kicking out to Green for the triple. Green is generally composed enough to wait out the initial closeout and take the shot after the defense flies by.

The first basket of Green’s Laker tenure came off of a LeBron James post-up; James drew the help and fired a laser to the wing for a Green three.

Where Green hasn’t been as good is coming off of screens. He’s made three of his 18 jumpers coming off of picks this year, and failed to draw any fouls in the process. Consider that one of those three makes was created by what the NBA admitted was a terrifically illegal screen from Dwight Howard, and it’s safe to say Green generally isn’t getting the type of space or rhythm he needs to generate clean looks off of this type of action.

The good news is that jumpers off screens only make up 12.2% of Green’s possessions this year, whereas spot ups account for 38.1%. That’s the right type of ratio given his effectiveness in both situations, as over the last five seasons, Green has averaged 1.07 points per possession on spot ups versus 0.88 coming off screens. It may not be possible to get Green so many spot up attempts given his now decade-long streak of being a plus shooter, but if the choice comes down to defending James or Davis in the paint or Green beyond the arc, the answer seems fairly clear.

Regardless, these are the shots the Lakers should be hunting for Green. If they can tilt the balance towards his favored looks, Green’s automation-level consistency will go from “Skynet is self aware” to “Skynet has the launch codes,” and opponents will be left with little else to do than run, hide and hope to regroup later.

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