When the news of the Kawhi Leonard trade dropped, Danny Green felt like an afterthought. Sure, that’s not fair to someone who very nearly earned a Finals MVP with his play in 2014; a sharpshooter who was arguably the most exciting cog of a Spurs team that nearly perfected basketball in a demonstrative Finals win over the Miami Heat. It was the truth, though. The hype around getting someone like Kawhi made everything else feel secondary.
The reality was Green wasn’t playing like his 2014 self, either. After the championship, Green seemed to drift further from the Spurs’ limelight. He had a great 2014-15, shooting 41.8% from three, but quickly saw those numbers drop to 33.2, 37.9, and 36.3 in the next three seasons. The change in stature was visible off the floor too. When Leonard was sitting due to injury, Green was his only defender in a public forum — the rest of the troops stuck by Gregg Popovich. It made sense that the two would move together, both with a chance to prove the doubters wrong — though one with higher stakes than the other.
The result? Green had his best shooting season to date in a 10-year career that hasn’t afford him as much freedom as Nick Nurse’s system allowed. His 46.5% field goal percentage and 45.5% from three in the regular season were both career highs, with 10.3 points the high mark since the 2014-15 season. He was a crucial part of the Raptors offence, a corner threat who knew where to get open, as well as a wing three gunner in transition.
His regular season shooting plot tells you the story of a Spurs player, released. Green was able to dribble and create when he wanted to, but for the most part, he was expanding on what made him invaluable to San Antonio.
Green’s value in the regular season came in more than just shooting, though.
Being able to play in 80 games made him a constant in both “versions” of the Raptors offence: the one that centred around Kawhi isolations, and the one in load management games that fed off Kyle Lowry pick and roll. In the former, Green had baked-in chemistry with Kawhi, often able to fade up into three-point areas where Leonard could find him for passes. In the latter, he simply opened everything up for the Raptors, allowing Serge Ibaka more room to pop jumpers, or secondary ball-handlers to get to the rim.
His veteran presence counted for a lot too. Green was a great quote from the second he joined the Raptors, answering a bunch of questions on behalf of a monotone Kawhi Leonard at their introductory press conference, and taking it from there. He’s a podcaster, a sunny side personality, and someone that undoubtedly helped the Raptors’ locker room coalesce despite moving pieces throughout the season.
We’d be remiss, though, to talk about Danny Green’s season without talking about his drop in the playoffs. After a 47/46 split in the regular season, Green’s shooting was erratic in the post-season, falling to 34/33 with just 6.9 points per game. There were more bad games than good on the offensive end.
Still, he was cool with getting benched for Fred VanVleet at the start of second halves in the Finals — many players would grumble given the circumstances. He also had two singular performances in arguably the most dominant wins for the Raptors: 17 points (5-for-8) in a 36-point win over Philly in Game 5 of the second round, and 18 points (6-for-10) in Game 3 of the Finals, where Toronto took control against an injured Warriors team. Green ended up being the wave for blowouts — the Raptors were good enough to win without him, but with him shooting a good percentage, they were almost unbeatable.
His defensive impact was obvious too. Green took on Jimmy Butler initially in the 76ers series, spotting Kawhi as long as possible before he took over late in the series. Against Milwaukee, he kept Khris Middleton largely under wraps. In the Finals, he earned a Splash Brothers assignment in almost every game. Leonard may have been the more splashy defender on the Raptors, but Green was the workhorse that allowed Kawhi to stay fresh early in series, playing an unsung hero.
That’s really what this season came down to for Danny Green — a guy who seemed like a trade throw-in last summer showing what his role is in the NBA, expanding on it, and showing how a champion’s experience can show up outside the box score.
Money being what it is this summer and considering the demand for shooters, it seems doubtful that Green runs it back without a significant cut in pay. That’s the casualty of NBA titles, though. It’s not the top guys who you aren’t able to bring back — it’s the guy on the outside of the periphery, doing the little things that add up to rings and the Larry O.B.