For a moment early Wednesday night the San Antonio Spurs 100-99 victory over the Denver Nuggets seemed improbable at best. The Spurs were losing ground under the weight of turnovers and transition points, the Nuggets threatening to blow open their 50-39 lead.
Enter Danny Green with a little over three minutes left in the first half.
In roughly 90 seconds Green brought the Spurs back on the strength of three consecutive three-pointers, finishing with six in the first half and 20 points for the game. Without Green’s barrage of three-pointers, the Spurs open up their most brutal stretch of the season with a loss.
“He’s confident in his shot, he knows where his shots are going to come from,” Tim Duncan once said of Green. “He gets them, catches, and fires. There’s no hesitation.”
Throughout his early tenure with the Spurs, Danny Green has proven to be somewhat of a streak shooter; earning the nickname “Icy Hot” on Twitter and amongst Spurs writers for his tendency to alternate between extremes in shot accuracy. Fitting then that Green operates as a barometer of sorts for the Spurs offense.
In wins this season, Green is shooting a sterling 46.4 percent from the three-point line, a number that drops to 34.8 percent in losses.
Green and the Spurs offense share a symbiotic relationship in which his teammates provide open shots Green himself can’t manufacture, while he provides spacing for the offense to work. When the ball movement stagnates, it often reflects in Green’s shooting numbers.
“The shots that I get are dependent on how Tony or Tim are doing, so it varies from night-to-night,” Green said. “I’m a little more comfortable offensively, more aggressive. But at the same time my role is the same, it’s not like they’re calling plays for me.”
Dynamic moving off the ball, questionable moving with it, Green has never been known for creating his own offense. On the night he missed every shot he attempted off a dribble, nailing the six three-pointers he took in catch-and-shoot situations. To Green’s credit, he knows his limitations and largely sticks to his strengths.
“I wasn’t a great athlete. I was a decent shooter, defender, versatile, and a winner, obviously, playing at North Carolina,” Green said in mentioning his scouting report coming out of college. “They didn’t see me as a person that could create his own shot, I was limited offensively.
“I’m not saying all those things were wrong, but it all depends on where you play at, who you play with. Guys have different roles on different teams in different places, and some have been able to flourish going into different systems.”
In Cleveland, Green was drafted to fill in the gaps around LeBron James. A role the Cavaliers no longer needed him for once James departed for Miami. Instead the Cavaliers needs shifted towards players more capable of creating plays, something Green admits is not his strong suit, and he quickly became expendable.
“They were looking for guys that could make plays and do their own things. Not saying that I’m terrible at it, but obviously it’s not my game,” Green said. “Luckily I found a place where I didn’t have to do all those things.”
Green has fit perfectly into the Spurs three-and-”D” role, the only real blemish on his Spurs resume being an abysmal Western Conference Finals in which Green couldn’t find his shot and promptly fell out of the playoff rotation as the Spurs were eliminated by the Oklahoma City Thunder.
His focus the entire year has been consistency and trying to avoid the extreme peaks and valleys that earned Green his Icy Hot moniker.
“He’s still working to be consistent, but we trust him,” Tony Parker said earlier this year. “We’re still going to give him the ball.
And Parker did find Green against the Nuggets, often, with Green three-pointers accounting for five of Parker’s 11 assists. The first half of Wednesday night’s game displayed some of the chemistry that has developed between the two backcourt partners.
No longer chained to the corners, Green does an excellent job of drifting into passing lanes as Parker creates opportunities with his dribble penetration. Watching Green work off the ball, you can see the subtle ways in which he drifts against his defender’s vision before cutting hard to the appropriate spot the second his opponent focuses too much on the ball.
The faith Parker and the Spurs have had in Green has been rewarded, as Green’s shot has proven to be far less volatile than in the past. In the 17 games since the All-Star break, Green is averaging 12.6 points on 49.5 percent shooting from the three-point line.
Credit for Green’s improvement can go to the Spurs player development staff, particularly Chad Forcier, who can sometimes be found raving about Green’s work ethic on Twitter. The Spurs haven’t overhauled Green’s shot so much as they’ve worked to make sure he shoots the same shot on every attempt.
“Before I got here my shot would look different every time. Sometimes I wouldn’t hold my follow through, sometimes I would,” Green said. “So it’s just about being consistent in the fundamentals and mechanics of it. Shooting it the same way every time; repetition.”
Green’s development path goes a little beyond refining the muscle memory of his shot. Forcier has also worked with Green to develop his off-the-ball movement–a skill that garners Green easy layups and ways to occupy a defender when his shot isn’t falling, and a means to find a rhythm by finding a shooter more touches.
For all his improvements Danny Green still relies on his teammates to produces his shots. But after holding the Spurs afloat through the first half of the Denver Nuggets game, it’s obvious Green’s teammates rely on him just as much.