Danny Green: More than ‘just’ a role player

Under-appreciated in the NBA draft. A championship with the San Antonio Spurs. Another championship with the Toronto Raptors. Lockdown defense. A free agent announcement on Saturday the 6th of July 2019, to leave Toronto for the city of Los Angeles…

Yes, I’m talking about Danny Green. Who else?

Danny Green to the Lakers

As the sun slowly sets on the 2018/19 NBA Season, and as the flow of champagne has finally ebbed to just a trickle in the streets of Toronto, Kawhi’s free agency (understandably) dominated the popular conversation. However, I’d like to shed a little light on his teammate heading to the purple and gold side of Los Angeles.

After watching Game 3 of the NBA Finals, I was struck by the performance of Danny Green. Despite being a stand out performer in the game, conversation still focused on Kawhi Leonard, and (of course) Kyle Lowry’s run in with a Warriors minority owner.

What caught my eye watching that game though, was that in the run of play it was often Danny Green that was the one answering Steph Curry’s barrage of three point bombs. You know, just the greatest shooter in the history of the game.

But this was nothing new to Green. While he has never been one of the most spoken about players on any of his teams, winning basketball games seems to follow him.

Tar Heel

Let me take you back to the 2005/2006 season. A British exchange student (spoiler, this is me) walks across the University of North Carolina’s pristine campus in Chapel Hill. A true basketball fanatic, it seems otherworldly to walk such hallowed ground. But nevertheless, there’s still an underlying feeling that he missed out.

Just one year earlier the Tar Heels led by the likes of Sean May, Raymond Felton, Rashad McCants and Marvin Williams had captured a national title. As tends to be the case, much of that roster immediately departed for the NBA.

The incoming freshmen class sounded promising. Particularly Tyler Hansbrough, who was coming off of back to back Missouri State Championships at High School. Bobby Fraser also had the people of Chapel Hill talking, a McDonald’s All American seemingly ready to come in and contribute.

The other freshmen (Danny Green, Marcus Ginyard, Mike Copeland) as my memory serves, seemed difficult to find out much information about them at all.

As soon as the first games tipped off however, Danny Green’s game immediately caught my eye. A rare combination of defensive intensity, pure shooting and athleticism, he was a perfect perimeter complement to the devastation that Tyler Hansbrough wrought on ACC front courts. (Note to reader – if you’re not much of a college basketball fan, go and check Hansbrough’s numbers in college!)

And not to sell Danny short, he delivered one of the most memorable plays in recent (for someone in their mid 30s) memory in the Duke UNC rivalry.

To fully appreciate the play, you must understand the intensity of the rivalry and how symbolic Greg Paulus (the guy getting dunked on) was to fans of both teams. For Duke fans he was a lynchpin. To Tar Heels however, he (along with others) symbolised everything that is considered unlikable about that other academic institution just a little further down the Tobacco Road.

In his Senior year, Green would capture a national title of his own and cement his legacy as a Tar Heel. Factoring in what a prestigious and historic basketball school UNC is, Danny Green left as one of the most versatile prospects to ever play there.

He remains the only Tar Heel ever to have 1,000 points (1,368), 500 rebounds (590), 200 assists (256), 100 blocks (155) and 100 steals (160). These were not empty stats – he is also the winningest UNC player of all time with 123 wins.

Green still has so much relevance in Chapel Hill that he still runs regular Summer Camps.

Beyond the Stat Sheet

Danny Green is a perfect example of why I never completely dismiss the fabled ‘eye test’ in evaluating players. His contribution to winning basketball games that I witnessed in his college career, never seemed to translate fully.

Like his ability to defend effectively from both an individual and team perspective, without necessarily gambling to steal the ball. His tendency to actually improve his play in bigger games. Or the fact that he’s literally an elite (I don’t use that word lightly) chase-down shot blocker.

Or that he’s the kind of three point threat that will shoot at a decent enough clip over the course of a season (over 40% for his career) – but that he can also get into a zone where he can (for a single game at least) go shot for shot with Curry as he did in Game 3 of this year’s finals.

Or, you know, break the NBA Finals record for 3 point shots made (since beaten by Steph).

The Grass is Greener

With the exception of his ill-fated stint in Cleveland as a Rookie, Danny Green has made every team that he’s played on better.

In the context that the Lakers have been hunting for a third star to play with LeBron James and Anthony Davis, Lakers fans would be forgiven for not being excited at the signing of Green. But Green should not be dismissed as a minor cog either. The term ‘role player’ can, and often is, misused in a dismissive way.

A key component of championship seasons in two cities and in two systems, Green’s combination of floor spacing, perimeter defense and his ability to heat up offensively is, arguably, one of the finest synergies out there for what the Lakers will actually need to get the best out of their stars.

While the Lakers clearly still have a lot of work to do filling out their roster to compete, Danny Green will likely play a pretty significant ‘role’ on this team.

Feature photo – Kyle Terada / USA TODAY Sports / Toronto Raptors / Double Clutch illustration – Matthew Wellington