Entering the Western Conference Finals, Danny Green appeared to be a player on the rise. However, as Green hit iron on three-pointer after three-pointer against the Oklahoma City Thunder, it was easy to grow frustrated. Pop certainly did, sending the 25-year-old from the starting lineup to the end of the bench. While it'd be unfair to suggest Green was the main reason why the Spurs lost against the Thunder, his errant accuracy was definitely one of the culprits.
Despite the WCF disappointment, last week the Spurs decided to extend a qualifying offer to Green. That offer, worth a guaranteed $2,695,391, makes Green a restricted free agent. The Spurs are now able to match any contract Green accepts that starts at less than approximately $5,300,000 in the first season. The maximum contract the Spurs can give him is about $23,500,000 over four years. Conversely, if the Spurs donít negotiate further with Green and he fails to receive an outside offer, Green can simply play next season for $2,695,391 and then become an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2013.
How much is Green worth to the Spurs? Itíd be a mistake to simply judge him on his ill-timed collapse. Letís rewind time a bit and look at the bigger picture.
In the 47 games that preceded the Western Conference Finals (39 regular season games, eight playoff games), Green shot 47.8% from three-point territory -- knocking down a sizzling 88-of-184 attempts. While itís possible that Green ultimately faltered due to the pressure of deep postseason play, itís also quite possible that he suffered from regression to the mean. Green is a good shooter but heís not a 47.8% three-point shooter; he was long overdue for a slump. And even after his 4-for-23 shooting on threes against the Thunder, Green still ended up shooting 44.4% on three-pointers in his final 53 contests of the season -- a very, very healthy number.
The statistics tell us, at some point in time, Green was going to experience a dry spell. If we chalk up his Western Conference Finals struggles to inevitable regression, the positives on the rest of Greenís resume are difficult to ignore.
Letís stay on the offense side of the court. For the season, Green averaged 14.3 points per 36 minutes. That number alone suggests Green is much more than simply a spot-up shooter. Bruce Bowen, for example, never averaged more than 8.2 points per 36 minutes as a member of the Spurs. If you look at just the games following the Richard Jefferson trade, Green scoring soared to 17.4 points per 36 minutes. While that might not sound elite, the NBA is currently extraordinarily weak league-wide at the shooting guard position. Here are the only shooting guards in the NBA scored at least 17.4 points per 36 minutes this season (with a minimum of 500 minutes):
Kobe Bryant - 26.1
Dwyane Wade - 24.0
Louis Williams - 20.5
Monta Ellis - 20.1
Manu Ginobili - 20.0
Michael Redd - 19.5
Kevin Martin - 19.4
Jordan Crawford - 19.3
James Harden - 19.3
Marcus Thornton - 19.3
Joe Johnson - 19.1
Jamal Crawford - 18.7
Klay Thompson - 18.5
Leandro Barbosa - 18.4
Gerald Green - 18.4
Nick Young - 18.3
Thatís a total of only 16 shooting guards in the NBA who scored at a better rate than Green scored after Jefferson was traded away. While Green isnít regarded by pundits or fans as anything more than a complementary piece on the offensive end of the court, he flashed a scoring ability last season that was among the best at his position.
Though Green shows some offensive promise, defense is where he truly shines. He is the rare shooting guard who is capable of racking up blocked shot and steals. Just how rare is that? Last year, Green averaged 1.1 blocks and 1.4 steals per 36 minutes. The only other shooting guards in the last 20 seasons who have had a season that can match those numbers are Dwyane Wade (4 times), Eddie Jones (1 time) and Tony Allen (1 time). Greenís long, active arms and deceptive athleticism give him the ability to wreak havoc like few at his position in this generation.
Green is also an elite rebounder for a shooting guard. He averaged 5.4 rebounds per 36 minutes with a rebounding rate of 8.6. The only shooting guards who had a better rebounding rate this season were Evan Turner (12.2), Paul George (10.6), Mike Miller (10.2), Tony Allen (8.9) and Dwyane Wade (8.7). If focusing on just defensive rebounding, Green leapfrogs over Allen and Wade.
Speaking of defensive rebounding, his actual impact on the game was even better than those elite numbers suggest. When Green was on the court, the Spurs grabbed available defensive rebounds 78.1% of the time. That wasnít just the best mark on the team (Tim Duncan was second at 76.9%), it was the best mark in the entire NBA. That fact suggests not only does Green corral contested rebounds, he is also conscientious about keeping his man away from the offensive glass.
Early last season, Green had some issues on the defensive end, specifically in regards to giving his man too much space to shoot and failing to maneuver around screens in a timely manner. But as the season progressed, Green continued to improve. Following the Jefferson trade, Green really shined. In the final 25 games of the regular season without Jefferson, opponents scored only 97.6 points per 100 possessions against the Spurs when Green was in the game -- the best mark on the team.
In the playoffs, Green remained stout on the defensive end. Teams scored only 95.0 points per 100 possessions with Green on the court -- again the teamís best mark. As you can see in the Player Pairs from the playoffs, not only did Green make the starters better on defense, he also helped the bench players defend much better. Even if you look at just the games against the Thunder, Green was again the teamís best defender in terms of points allowed per 100 possessions.
Strategically, Greenís value on defense is immense. His ability to defend point guards, even elite point guards, is extremely useful. Since Tony Parker can defend many shooting guards, the versatility of that backcourt allows for the coaching staff to mix and match on the fly. Green is also quick enough to pressure the basketball and strong enough to survive on the low block.
Considering that Green was on the scrapheap not too long ago, itís not surprising that he has some flaws to his game. Offensively, heís just not a very smooth player. I wouldnít classify him as robotic but he certainly isnít a graceful athlete by NBA standards. When he drives with the basketball, if heís forced to do anything but a layup or a dunk, itís usually an adventure Ė and an unsightly one at that. While heís a willing passer who is usually accurate with his dishes, he has below average court vision for a guard. Ballhandling isnít a strength. While he can play point guard in a pinch, heís turnover-prone when heís dribbling in a crowd and his decision-making off the dribble leaves much to be desired.
On defense, screens still perplex Green at times. Heís gotten better about understanding the amount of appropriate space to give his opponent but he still makes mistakes every now and then. He also has a bad habit of synching his defensive energy to how well heís playing overall. As he grows as a player, he has to learn to play at the same energy level no matter whatís happening with him or anyone else.
As an overall athlete, heís good but not great, which limits his ceiling on both ends of the court. And while thereís no way heís a only a one or two dimensional player, heís always going to be a niche player whose job is to bring aggression and to fill a specific role next to star players. Even though heís just 25, heís not someone who is going to turn into a star or become able to single-handedly carry a team.
Weíve looked at Greenís strengths and weaknesses but the question still remains: How much is Green worth to the Spurs? To set the market, letís look at similar free agents from last season. Here is Greenís 2012 season compared to the 2011 seasons of seven shooting guards who signed free agent deals last summer. I included their age at the time they signed their contract, the average annual value (AAV) of their contract and the contractís length (CL).
Looking at the comparables, Green stacks up rather well. Heís easily the best rebounder of the bunch and his three-point shooting percentage is also tops. His scoring is on the lower side but itís quite a bit higher than Arron Afflaloís rate and Afflalo is the only player listed who is regarded as a quality defender. If Green isnít the best defender on the list, heís second.
Numbers-wise, you can see evidence of Greenís weaknesses. His lack of ballhandling and playmaking result in too many turnovers and too few assists. The only other thing that can hold down Greenís value is his relatively small sample size. Green had a great season, compared to expecatations, but he came out of nowhere. Nothing in his history suggested he could shoot the way he shot or have the overall impact he had on a championship contending team. Combined, Green neither having star potential nor tons of data promising a steady level of play going forward may scare off potential suitors.
As a Spurs fan, Iíd obviously prefer for Green to re-sign for a deal that calls for him to make around $3 million annually. However, after digging further into his numbers and viewing the comparables, if a team comes in offering $4 million annually, Iím confident in saying thatís a salary the Spurs should match. Thereís just no way the Spurs could turn that down when a very comparable player like Afflalo makes more than double that amount.
At what amount should the Spurs let Green go? Thatís difficult to answer. Itíd be easy if he was a one-dimensional gunner who would lose all value if his shot disappeared (say like Matt Bonner or even Gary Neal) but the numbers tell us Green is much more than that. On a per possession basis, he was the teamís best defender after Jefferson left -- whether youíre looking at the regular season, the playoffs or just the Thunder series. He was the most impactful player in the entire NBA in terms of defensive rebounding. He has the uncommon ability to get steals and block shots at the shooting guard position. His defensive versatility is advantageous. Offensively, heís a three-point shooter with a quick release who seems to have more room to mature on that end. In a global sense, heís a team-first type of guy who works hard, blends in and doesnít command a lot of touches.
Sure, thereís risk that his 43.6% three-point shooting this season was a fluke. But he does so many things well that I believe heís a low-risk investment. Even if his three-point shooting regresses all the way to around 36%, heís still a shooting guard who can rebound, block shots, get steals and defend. While the NBA as a whole usually monetarily rewards shooting guards who score the ball -- even if itís inefficiently -- I would argue that Green does a lot more that helps a team win than someone like a Monta Ellis (sorry cousin) who will shoot a lot and do little else. Rewarding Green for doing a lot of little things well requires some outside-the-box thinking but I believe that it would be justified.
Honestly, when I began this exercise, I was hesitant for the Spurs to give Green much more than $3 million per season. Now, Iíve already talked myself into $4 million. Depending on how the market shakes out for other shooting guards this summer, I might go even higher. At the end of the day, Green brings too much to the table to lose for nothing -- especially since the Spurs have very little long-term money on the books. The numbers say San Antonio would become a much worse team without Green and I agree that itíd be a giant leap backwards. We all might have a bad lasting memory of his 2012 season but if the Spurs have any hope of becoming a legit contender in 2013, Greenís special talents are needed.