Everybody wants to feel like they’re contributing to the success of any organization they’re apart of. The challenge lies in learning to adapt when a personal strength becomes a weakness.
Danny Green can relate to this dilemma. Despite his struggles on offense this season, his growth as a player in recent years has allowed him to continue being an important piece to the Spurs’ prosperity.
Early in his career, Green had the reputation as simply a “pure shooter.” There’s an old NBA adage that claims that if a player excels at perimeter shooting, he’ll always be able to find a niche in the league. Pure shooters are the basketball equivalent to left-handed relievers in baseball.
But what happens when that pure shooting ability disappears? This season, Green has a paltry field goal percentage of 37.7%. A career 40.5% shooter from downtown, Green has seen his 3 point field goal percentage plummet to 33.4% during the 2015-2016 campaign.
Normally this would make a player like Green expendable, and most likely cost him a spot in the Spurs’ rotation. What’s the point of keeping a guy on the court whose only real purpose is to hit perimeter shots if his shot is cold?
Ask the Atlanta Hawks what Kyle Korver contributes besides his perimeter jumper, and how the fans and coaching staff would feel if Korver shot 0-7 for a game. For all the credit J.J. Redick gets around the league for his overall advancement into a less one-dimensional player, he’s still a below average defender and scores the vast majority of his points on outside jumpers.
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Guys like Korver and Redick have important roles on their teams, but they’ve failed to develop multi-faceted skills to further assist their teams if their shooting ability ever evaporated for long stretches of time.
The league is difficult enough to establish yourself in; a player leaning heavily on one exceptional skill can never be frowned upon. It’s important to be able to live with the consequences of diminished skills, however, if proper precautions weren’t taken to develop other skills.
Green has spent the past few seasons becoming one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA. His defensive box plus-minus, which is the estimate of the defensive points per 100 possessions that a player contributed above a league average player translated to a league average team, is 2.9. To put that in perspective, not only is that a career high for him during a season in which his shot has disappeared, but it’s also good for 12th in the NBA, and higher than his teammate Kawhi Leonard. Leonard is widely regarded as one of the elite defenders in the NBA, and Green has a higher defensive box plus-minus than him.
Reinvention is a hard thing for an NBA player to go through, both from a kinesthetic and emotional standpoint. Not only are players rarely versatile enough to adapt their role after diminished skills or a relocation to a team that needs them to contribute in an altered way, but a player who has thrived in a more glamorous role can often be reluctant to accept a different type of responsibility for the good of the team.
Ron Harper is a great example of a star player being able to modify; he went from an elite scorer with the Cleveland Cavaliers and Los Angeles Clippers to becoming a lock-down defender on the Chicago Bulls teams of the mid-to-late 1990s.
Who knows whether Harper could have continued his scoring ability with the Bulls, but he didn’t have to. Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen handled the bulk of the scoring, and the team required that Harper commit himself mainly to the defensive end. The results speak for themselves, as Harper helped his teammates win 3 straight championships for Phil Jackson’s squad.
Whether it’s due to diminished skills or a changing role, the great players in this league will be able to adapt their playing styles to help fit the needs of their team. Clearly the Spurs don’t need Green to be a successful perimeter shooting team; Leonard, Manu Ginobili, and Patty Mills handle the bulk of the outside shooting.
In order to better help his team succeed, Green has steadily improved on the defensive end of the floor. He actually has more defensive win shares for his career than offensive win shares, illustrating his impact on defense for the Spurs.
A smooth stroke from deep may be more glamorous than defense in terms of TV highlights, but Green has put in the work to be an impact player in more than one capacity. This season has emphasized his versatility due to unfortunate circumstances surrounding his lack of a consistent jumper.
Although there’s still time to regain his shooting touch for the playoffs, Green is a fantastic example of the determination of some players to adapt to the unpredictable landscape which is an NBA season. Green can hold his head up high knowing he’s a huge reason for the Spurs’ historic season, playing like an elite defender despite the suffering of his offensive game.