Editor’s Note: As the season gets closer, our Silver Screen and Roll staff is going to be taking a closer look back at every player on the Lakers for a refresher on stuff we may have forgotten during quarantine. Think of this as like the 30 second clip reminding you of what happened during the current season of your favorite TV show that rolls right before the latest episode starts. Today, let’s recall what was up with Danny Green.
The NBA may have been off the last few months, but Danny Green has been keeping busy. From starting the quarantine by seemingly doing a new media interview or podcast every day, to later dropping an ad telling his fans to shave their balls, to getting engaged, Green has kept everyone plenty aware of what he’s been up to.
What more people may have forgotten at this point — and no, this isn’t a setup to tell you that Green was a BUCKET — or just never noticed in the first place is the value that Green has brought to the Lakers on the floor this season, even when his shooting was in a cold streak.
Green’s box score stats this year are solid, albeit a bit pedestrian. The 8.2 points he scores per game is his lowest average in that department in three seasons. His 1.2 steals are good, and tied for the second-highest average on the team with LeBron James, but unlike James, Green doesn’t contribute much else in the box score beyond that, with just 3.4 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game.
His 37.8% shooting is similarly nice, but only fourth on the team among guys to take more than six threes this season, and a significant drop from the 45.5% of his triples he knocked down last year. Overall, if one just looks at the surface-level numbers, Green hardly seems to warrant the nearly $15 million he’ll make this year and next, which has drawn him plenty of criticism from fans during his cold shooting nights this season.
One thing such analysis ignores is context. Green was offered a three-year, $36 million contract by the Dallas Mavericks, and only agreed to wait for the Lakers to figure out if they were going to sign Kawhi Leonard or not because they were offering almost as much over two years as the Mavericks were in three. That was the tax for getting him to wait in free agency, and given how barren the market was at that point, the Lakers are lucky he did. If you have an issue with it, take it up with the team, not Green.
The other thing some have ignored this season is how clear a picture both the eye test and the advanced metrics paint of how valuable Green is for the Lakers. Other than LeBron James, there is no player who the Lakers are worse with by net rating when they sit than they are when Green takes a rest, according to NBA.com. That is in large part due to how much better the threat of Green’s spacing — even on one of his cold nights — makes the team’s offense.
The Lakers never score more points per 100 possessions than they do when Green plays (113.6). He has the highest effect on the team’s true-shooting percentage (which factors in the value of threes and is 58.% when Green plays, and drops to 56.6% — second-worst on the team — when he sits). There is a reason LeBron James ends his time in the locker room after every game by calling Green “Deadshot” — after the DC Comics assassin — and why Green has tattoos of his namesake and multiple comic-book marksmen all over his body.
But is some of Green’s effect on the offense amped up by playing so many minutes with LeBron, Anthony Davis and the rest of the starting lineup? Certainly, but Green’s presence in that lineup is another testament to his value for the team, and how he is the perfect three-and-D complementary player for a contender built around James and Davis that doesn’t have a ton of other possessions to go around.
On the other side of the ball, the Lakers are actually a bit worse statistically on defense when Green plays than they are when he sits, but some of that has to do with how good their bench has been defensively against opposing reserves. He’s also been self critical about how often he gets himself in foul trouble this season on multiple occasions — his 2.1 per game are tied for the highest average of his career in that department — but it’s clear that despite all that, he still holds value on the defensive end, even if he’s not a lockdown stopper on his own.
Kevin Arnovitz of ESPN recently called Green “the best transition defender in the league not named Giannis,” and said he’s not sure if there is a player in the entire league more aware of opposing personnel, just barely leaving Green short of one of his all-defense votes at guard. And watching closely in Lakers games, it’s clear that Green is a valuable part of the starters’ defensive efforts, chasing players around screens, taking tougher wing assignments away from LeBron, and boasting a borderline-algorithmic ability to always be in the right spot for his help responsibilities.
So while Green’s sometimes streaky shooting and good qualities that are often easy to miss have made him an easy punching bag after some losses this year, it’s clear he’s still been really good in his first season in L.A., and possibly even under-appreciated. And while the caveat is that it’s impossible to know what kind of shape anyone is going to show up to Orlando in, or how this long layoff will affect players, but there are indicators that Green has another level left to reach.
For one thing, Lakers head coach Frank Vogel has clearly been saving Green’s legs for when games mattered more. After a long run to the 2019 NBA Finals with the Toronto Raptors that took a clear toll on his body by the end of it, Green has played his fewest minutes per game (25.1) since the 2011-12 season, allowing him to sort of load manage without sitting out.
There is also the reality that Green wasn’t even taking his most optimal shots so far this season, as our own Sabreena Merchant detailed well earlier in the campaign. Vogel has access to those same analytics and more, so it’s possible he starts to tilt Green towards more spot-up threes and less threes off of screens as a postseason adjustment, making him more efficient as a spacing threat.
Green additionally has a history of raising his game when it matters most. On that same podcast, Arnovitz and Zach Lowe remembered back to how Green nearly won MVP of the 2013 NBA Finals, exploding for 14 points per game while shooting an earth-scorching 55.1% from 3-point range in what was ultimately a seven-game loss for the Spurs. That’s a while ago, but it’s been a trend for Green. With the exception of last year (accumulating injuries) and his first playoff appearance (he only played seven minutes), Green has shot better from 3-point range (41.6%) than the regular season (39.6%) during every other year of his career.
Again, it’s hard to predict what will happen in Orlando, but we do have decent sample-size of Green stepping up when it matters most. If he does it again, there will be no more questions about his contract, or about his impact. He’ll have just won a third title with a third different team, and his reputation as a guy that makes every team he’s on better will be irrefutable.