Death, taxes and Danny Green shooting slumps. They are the three inevitabilities of life, and for the “glass half full” crowd, they come with more optimistic opposites. Death is only the end result of life. The more you make, the more you’re taxed. And Green’s slumps only stick out because his hot streaks are so blistering. Toronto’s championship run was a perfect example. Green went 4-for-23 from behind the arc in the Eastern Conference finals… and then started the NBA Finals 11-of-22 and all was forgiven. Green’s shot comes and goes. 

It hasn’t in the bubble. Green is sitting at 33 percent for the postseason, and with only one game remaining before a potential championship, it’s looking like his typical eruption isn’t coming. Yet Frank Vogel hasn’t taken him out of the starting lineup even once. Neither did Nick Nurse a year ago, or Gregg Popovich in any of his last six postseason runs in San Antonio. Some of that is trust. Some of it is blind hope of regression. But mostly, three of the best coaches in the NBA have all come to the same correct conclusion: Danny Green still impacts games positively even when his shot isn’t falling. 

The numbers bear that out for the Lakers. They have outscored opponents by 148 points in Green’s 476 playoff minutes and have been outscored by 14 in the 436 minutes he’s sat out. The obvious explanation for this is that he is still an excellent defensive player independent of his own shooting, yet most of this gap comes on offense. The Lakers are scoring 121.5 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor in the postseason and 107.5 without him. Lakers fans frustrated with his nearly-$15 million salary have run through the entire laundry list of possible excuses for that from “he still has gravity even when his shots aren’t falling” to “he plays most of his minutes with LeBron James and Anthony Davis” to “it’s just blind shooting luck in his lineups,” but the far simpler answer here is that Green is just an enormously intelligent basketball player. 

Basketball IQ tends to be ascribed to ball-handlers. It’s easy to watch Rajon Rondo dissect a defense in pick-and-roll and marvel at his brilliance, but the label shouldn’t be so limited. Shooting, in Green’s case, is the byproduct of the dozens of little things that make him such a special role player whether or not those shots go in. Game 4 of the NBA Finals provided a number of worthwhile examples.

Selling the screen

LeBron is one of the NBA’s preeminent switch-hunters, and Duncan Robinson has been his prey of choice in the Finals. The method is simple: whoever Robinson is guarding screens for LeBron, which forces Robinson to switch onto LeBron. Miami’s defense is so concerned with mitigating the damage of such a switch that they lost track of the simplest switch-busting tactic in basketball: slipping. 

A lazy slip is a predictable slip, but nothing about Green’s acting job here is lazy. He comes from the opposite corner seemingly to screen for James, and sells the idea of that screen to Robinson masterfully with a quick, tiny little jump stop in front of Jimmy Butler. Robinson switches, but immediately following that stop, he continues into the corner before making serious contact with Butler. Butler, therefore, doesn’t register the switch, and Green gets a wide-open 3-pointer from the corner. 

Green punished the Heat for their expectations, goading Robinson into a switch that wasn’t necessary in order to free himself for easy points. Most players slip too early. Some players oversell the screen. But nuance is Green’s specialty, and he isn’t the sole beneficiary of those veteran tricks. 

Peek-a-boo and the art of off-ball movement

Green spends a lot of his time in the corner. Many role players do. He starts this play like most others, waiting there for the action to potentially reach him. Eventually, it does. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope runs a loop around the court, and Bam Adebayo chases him. But watch what happens when Caldwell-Pope gets to the baseline. Green quickly shuffles out of the corner and behind Tyler Herro, obstructing Adebayo’s vision of him. He then immediately pops back out from behind Herro once Caldwell-Pope has passed for a surprise screen on Adebayo, which takes him off of Caldwell-Pope. 

It’s the role player equivalent of White Goodman’s patented peek-a-boo attack, but its impact is much subtler. The hard screen forces Adebayo off of Caldwell-Pope and into the corner on Green. Despite his best efforts, that functionally takes Miami’s best defender out of the play, which turns into a dunk for Davis that he couldn’t contest because of Green’s gravity. 

Green quietly punked Adebayo again a bit later, and just as before, the move was subtle. Bam winds up in the corner on Green, and as Davis drives, Green gives Adebayo a nice little tap on the back, as if to say “don’t worry big fella, I’m right here, you can leave me alone and creep towards the basket.” It buys him a split second of freedom to launch the 3. 

Adebayo was a Second-Team All-Defense forward this season. Few wings have gotten the better of him. Green did in the second quarter of Game 4 through little more than veteran guile. He has plenty of that on defense as well. 

His lightning-quick, ambidextrous hands

Green revealed in an interview during his rookie year that he is ambidextrous, but nobody paid it much mind because he barely dribbles. Where it has come into play, though, is on defense. Green is not just comfortable swiping with either hand, but can do so at almost any angle. One of his Game 4 steals came as he chased Herro, reached around his body and poked the ball out from behind with his right hand for the two easiest points of the night. 

He very nearly came up with another steal from behind, this time with his left hand while side-shuffling over a screen. 

Green has lost a step with age and a hip injury has nagged him during the postseason, but he remains a valuable defender in large part because of how he can use his length. Green tied for the Laker lead in deflections per game during the regular season, and even if he gets beaten off of the dribble more than he used to, he still affects jump-shooters even after chasing them around the court. 

It speaks to one of Green’s best traits, something that has shown up in all of these clips: his spatial awareness. Green uses and manipulates his position on the court as well as practically any off-ball player in basketball, and he does it on both sides of the ball. It is part of what sets him apart from his more traditional 3-and-D contemporaries. He doesn’t need to hit his 3’s to provide value. 

In a sense, that could be viewed as the mantra for this entire Laker team. They are about to win a championship in the highest-volume 3-point shooting season of all time despite taking the 23rd-most 3-pointers per game in basketball. Their stars drive that contrarian approach, but their role players support it, perhaps none more so than Green, the shooter that doesn’t need to shoot. 

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