Tim Duncan is the greatest player in San Antonio Spurs’ history. Tony Parker is their current MVP. Manu Ginobili, their first man off the bench, might be the best sixth man ever.
But more than anyone, Danny Green typifies what makes the Spurs special.
Green has taken the notion of the “three-and-D” wing to a whole new level during San Antonio’s series with the Oklahoma City Thunder, posting insane numbers on both ends of the court. It’s enough to make you wonder what happens when the unstoppable force is the immovable object.
Based on Synergy’s (account required) play by play through Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals, here’s what the various players for the Thunder have done when Green was the initial defender on the play:
When you factor in the only three-point shot Green has surrendered, the Thunder’s effective field-goal percentage with Green as the initial defender on the play is .162. That’s all the more impressive when you consider that he’s been guarding the Thunder’s two superstars, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, 61 percent of the time. No one else has scored on him.
And he’s only committed two fouls. In all, he’s yielded 13 points on 38 plays, .34 points per play. He also has an effective field-goal percentage of 1.028.
When you have a number in front of the decimal point, that’s ridiculous. When you have a number in front of the decimal point and crooked numbers behind it, it’s just wrong.
In fact, Green’s effective field-goal percentage is more than 100 percent higher than his opponents'. If 100 percent is perfect, he’s actually been better than perfect. What do you even call that? In San Antonio, they should call it, “Spurfect.”
This is, of course, an extremely small two-game sample size, but it’s still fun to look at.
If you want to zoom out, though, just for the sake of integrity, you can. For this year’s postseason, Green’s effective field-goal percentage is .667. His shot chart is living up to his name.
That’s not just good—it’s historic. No player has ever taken more shots in a single postseason and made them at a better rate, per Basketball-Reference.
If we zoom out even more, his career effective field-goal percentage is .603 on 373 shots. Again, no one with more attempts is better.
His great shooting and defense aren’t the only things that make him the poster boy for San Antonio’s system, though. It’s the history of how he got to where he is.
After being drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers with the 16th pick of the second round in 2009, he didn’t have much of a rookie season. He was sent down to the Cavaliers' NBA D-League affiliate, the Erie BayHawks.
The following preseason, he was cut by Cleveland altogether. For a week, the Spurs picked him up, but then dropped him.
Per Anthony Oliva of NBA.com:
Faced with the choice of going overseas or playing in the NBA D-League, Green chose to stay in the States. The Reno Bighorns made an investment in the sharpshooter, as they traded Patrick Ewing Jr -- arguably the team's best player at the time -- to the Sioux Falls Skyforce for Green.
In 16 appearances with Reno, including 15 starts, Green averaged 20.1 points and 7.5 rebounds in over 37 minutes per game. With the Bighorns, Green started to reveal his now famous 3-point touch, connecting on 43.1 percent of his attempts from downtown.
During the 2010-11 season, Green saw some playing time, Oliva says, “but both Spurs coach Gregg Popovich and Green have both admitted that his game was still far from where it needed to be.”
Then the lockout came and Green did a brief stint in Slovenia, playing for the Union Olimpija. How many players have ever hit the court for both Union and Erie?
After the lockout ended, Green was able to opt out of his contract and come back to the Spurs. By season’s end, he’d worked his way into the starting role he now maintains. There, he started to establish himself as a critical role player: a shooting guard who could shoot and guard.
After Game 2 of this year’s Western Conference Finals, J.A. Adande of ESPN.com asked him if that still weighed on him:
A lot, actually. I thought I helped my team to get in a good position but didn't do the little things -- not just offensively, but defensively -- to close it out. Timmy could have another ring, and Pop and Tony and Manu, and, obviously, my first one. We were right there. All I needed was a little bit more focus and a little bit more execution down the stretch, especially in that Game 6.
That’s part of the San Antonio way. Have your part and own it. Don’t worry about everyone else’s part. That’s how the Spurs keep building around second-tier players like Green and churning out 50-win seasons.
If you look at where the Spurs' current playoff team came from, it doesn’t look like a championship squad. Duncan, the No. 1 pick in the 1997 draft, is the only lottery selection on the team right now. Here are the current Spurs and which selection was used on them.
*Undrafted. A value of 61, the minimum possible value after the draft, was assigned for the sake of computing averages.
They actually have more players (five) taken with the last 15 selections than they do (three) with the first 15 taken. Green being taken in the second round fits just right on a team where the average pick was passed over by every team in the league.
Green wasn’t just ignored; he was also ultimately rejected by Cleveland, the rejected city. That’s just sad.
And he wasn’t the only player who washed out with his first team. Austin Daye, Marco Belinelli, Boris Diaw and Patrick Mills were all given up on by at least one team.
This is who the Spurs are: a bunch of castoffs doing more than they possibly should. A lot of that has to do with the team’s culture.
Adande quotes Green as saying the Spurs are more than just a team:
It's about everybody. We're a family here. Brotherhood, whatever you want to call it. Fraternity. We've been together for a couple of years, I've grown very fond of a lot of my teammates, and we've grown close together, close friendships. I know how much it means to them, how competitive they are. As much as I want to win a ring, I know they want it, too.
As demonstrated by Green's struggles in Game 3 against the Thunder, in which he went just 3-of-12 overall and hit only two from behind the arc, the Spurs go as he goes.
If you want a truly eye-popping stat, here's one for you: This year when Green hits at least three shots from deep, regular season or postseason, the Spurs are 24-1. If he is hitting, the Spurs are winning. He'll need to get back on track for San Antonio to make it back to the Finals.
And that's what makes the Spurs so special: a "nobody" who is a difference-maker.
If you want the antithesis of the Miami Heat, who have built a team around superstars and ring chasers, there’s no better choice than the Spurs.
The Spurs boast arguably the most underappreciated top-10 player in league history, Duncan. They have two other superstar-caliber players in Parker and Ginobili—although they've never really been treated as such.
The Spurs' Big Three have twice as many rings and, as far as I can tell, still no smoke machines.
San Antonio is the Statue of Liberty of the NBA, crying to the rest of the league, “Give me your waived, your castoffs, your misfits, longing to win rings.” The Spurs keep taking those players and working them through the system, developing and perfecting their skills, until they pop out, shiny and productive role players.
And holding the proverbial torch for them is Danny Green, their Spurfect poster boy.
All stats were obtained form Basketball-Reference.com or NBA.com/STATS and are current through May 24. The article was written prior to Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals, so results from that game are not included.