Danny Green's Metamorphosis From NCAA Sixth Man To NBA Starter
If you had told me in 2009 that I would ever hear an NBA announcer say the following phrases about Danny Green, I would have been skeptical:
"He makes yet another huge play"
"It is Green stealing the show"
Not totally impossible, but... not likely.
If you had told me that one day I would hear an NBA announcer say those both of phrases in in the fourth quarter of a monster game between the West's two best teams, on the #1 team's home floor, as a starter — I would have no doubt made a mental note to never take you to Vegas.
Danny isn't just starting for an NBA team (a sizable accomplishment in itself), he is starting for one of the best teams in the league. The Spurs are standing at second in the West and have a legitimate shot at the NBA title. The obvious question is how does a second round draft pick ― cut within a year and playing in Europe ― end up playing in crunch time against the best team in the West? Along that line of thought, how does a player like Danny Green even earn that kind of confidence from Gregg Popovich? Pop is known to dole out trust like the IRS gives away free money.
Green's success flies in the face of convention NBA scouting. Look at an NBA scout's draft analysis and you'll often see the phrase "he's well-rounded, but we're not sure what he's elite at." That's why Green was drafted so late. He's a good rebounder, scorer, passer, and defender (etc...), but he isn't necessarily great at any of those things. He isn't especially quick, and is a borderline perfect example of a college player that's stuck without a position at the next level.
But Green is playing. This is happening. Of the twenty to thirty NBA starters with a serious chance at the 2012 NBA title, Danny Green is on the list. And while his success might continue to baffle some scouts, I think I've figured it out:
Danny Green does have one elite talent: being good at basketball.
I'm serious. And I don't need to explain it with vague intangibles. With Danny, it's extremely tangible. Just check out one of his box scores. They're hilarious. He's doing in the NBA exactly what he did at Carolina. What I mean is, there are NO zeros in Danny Green's box score. Blocks, rebounds, assists, steals, points, turnovers, fouls― everything is there. If it can be done on the basketball court, good or bad, Green is going to do it. I picked out one of his games this season, at random, to put in this piece. I swear this is the one I picked blindfolded (against Utah last week): three field-goals, two three-pointers, six free-throws, four rebounds, five assists, two steals, two blocks, one turnover, two fouls, and the highest +/- on the team. Classic Danny Green.
Green's elite talent is being able to affect the game in whatever way he needs to. And Popovich has made a living off finding these types of guys. Dejuan Blair was labeled too short, too slow and too flat footed, and now along with Danny he starts for the third best record in the league. Tony Parker almost fell into the second round before the Spurs picked him up. Popovich doesn't mess around. Is anyone surprised that the Cleveland organization couldn't recognize what Green was capable of doing?
If some of Danny's skills were difficult to recognize, this one was not: His certifiably insane level of confidence. Green is what Bill Simmons likes to call an "irrational confidence guy." The irrational confidence guy thinks he's the best guy on the court, even if he isn't. And while that might sound bad, it allows those guys to do one of the hardest things in sports: come off the bench and hit jump shots. I have heard Hall of Fame shooting guards marvel at shooters who can come into the game totally cold, out of rhythm, and still put points in the basket. It's on par with a cold backup quarterback coming into an already intense game and having to get in rhythm on the fly. Anyone who's tried that knows it's unbelievably difficult at any level. Green learned to do this consistently at Carolina with ease. It's his greatest attribute.
Of course, that confidence translates over into clutch play as well. This is where Green has earned his keep in the NBA, and that shouldn't surprise any UNC fans. He always found a way make the plays that mattered. And he always did it in that classic Danny Green way, which was any way possible. There was the last-second block at Georgia Tech to save a one point lead in 2008. There were the big shots against Clemson in the Dean Dome that same year. There was the steal at FSU:
Those aren't exactly spectacular SportsCenter Top Ten plays, and they aren't going to earn a high grade on an NBA scout board, but they're the clutch plays that simply win basketball games. Danny Green was probably never even in the top five in pure talent while in Chapel Hill, but how many times did a game-changing play in the final minutes just happen to involve D-Green? It doesn't necessarily make sense, but it doesn't necessarily have to either.
It's like this: I played some big-time soccer while in high school, but only one of our field players was ever recruited by ACC schools. I was always a little jealous because I thought he was overrated. But one day I checked out his online recruitment profile and read the line, "known for scoring the big goals." I didn't understand it at first. He didn't score all that often; and when he did, it wasn't exactly Ronaldo-like. But the more I thought about it, I realized that he did always seem to score when it mattered, in the big games. I had never even noticed because it was always just a flick off his head or a toe-bash that snuck its way in. It seemed like goals would just fall into his lap. But, after reading that scout's report it all made sense. The goals that mattered were, somehow, always falling into his lap. At some point it isn't a coincidence anymore.
I've always hated the cliché "he just makes plays" because it seems like a cop out for announcers who can't explain their point. How can they say Ray Lewis made a play when a fumble or tipped pass presented itself on a silver platter? But while random things do happen, they seem to happen to Lewis, Ed Reed and Charles Woodson more than everyone else. Maybe announcers can't explain it because it can't be explained. Some guys just understand the flow of the game and have instincts or spatial awareness that they themselves don't even understand.
If someone is always lucky, sooner or later it isn't luck anymore. And it sure as hell isn't luck when Gregg Popovich decides to start you over Manu. Did I really just type that? One of the greatest coaches of all-time is starting Danny over a future Hall of Famer?2
I'm not surprised by Green's success, but by the way he is doing it. He hasn't changed a thing about his game. He's still as ultra-competitive as he was in Chapel Hill, with an uncanny knack for the big moments. It's awesome to watch. Green is simply a fantastic basketball player, and he's proving it on the world's biggest stage.
I don't care what you think about the NBA, if you haven't taken some time to catch a Spurs game this spring, you should. Danny's still a Tar Heel. Have you seen those montages in the Dean Dome with Dean, Felton, Worthy and Jordan? Are they saying "I used to be a Tar Heel" or, "I am a former Tar Heel?" No. They are Tar Heels. If you aren't just as happy for Danny right now as you were when he was dancing pre-game in the Smith Center or ruining Greg Paulus' life, you need to rethink that. And if anything, Tar Heel fans should simply be happy that the winningest Tar Heel of all time is still doing just that... winning.