The NBA season tips off tonight and the Sixers open their season tomorrow vs the Wizards. Naturally, the fan base is restless for the first real taste of the new-look roster that Morey has put together in less than a month of offseason.
While there’s a handful of new additions and notable young pieces garnering the majority of attention, one player/storyline that has mostly flown under the radar (at least until recently) is Danny Green—whose value to the new-look Sixers is immeasurable, yet vital to their success. In an offseason filled with optimism, the most important piece we added is the one being most underrated.
The addition of Seth Curry, the high expectations around Shake Milton, and the draft-night robbery of Tyrese Maxey are getting the bulk of hype and attention in the lead up to 2021, but the addition of Danny Green should have the most notable impact of all. It wasn’t the sexy move—being somewhat buried in the headlines of draft night, and by Morey shedding Horford’s contract in the same trade—but make no mistake about the fact that on 30+ minutes a night his impact will be felt immediately.
The main area of his game that I routinely see being criminally underrated is his defense. He almost exclusively handles high-level matchups, he’s extremely role-versatile (can handle a variety of responsibilities), and is borderline elite stalking passing lanes off-ball.
Capable of defending high-level perimeter matchups
Nobody should confuse Danny Green with some high-level stopper capable of clamping the league’s top scorers, but he’s certainly not averse to handling those sort of matchups, ranking 6th in the NBA in matchup difficulty last season (98th percentile). Fans and media are well aware that Ben Simmons ranked first in the league in this metric, and have rightfully hyped up that fact. Adding another perimeter defender capable of handling top matchups should be celebrated similarly.
Ben Simmons also has the 1st ranked Matchup Difficulty, as seen in our Leaderboards tool.— BBall Index (@The_BBall_Index) July 30, 2020
The top 10:
1. Ben Simmons
2. Dorian Finney-Smith
3. Royce O'Neale
4. Wesley Matthews
5. Terrance Ferguson
6. Danny Green
7. Tony Snell
8. Jrue Holiday
9. Dillon Brooks
10. Dejounte Murray https://t.co/rKU6ybXbvt
He also ranks in the 97th percentile in terms of frequency defending players in the highest usage tier of the NBA (Harden, Doncic, Butler, etc.), spending a jarring 27.8% of the time on such players.
Again, Green isn’t on Simmons’ level in terms of ability, but he’s a far and away more capable wing defender than anyone we’ve had since Covington. Truthfully, this datapoint puts Danny Green’s somewhat negative perception into perspective—a player who is constantly drawing difficult matchups is going to have some bad nights and a lot of bad moments on tape, but context is king.
Defensive role versatility
Beyond his ability to handle tough matchups, he’s one of the more versatile defenders in the league in terms of handling a variety of responsibilities on that end of the floor.
While the role a players fills on defense is very fluid, we can generally reduce the responsibilities of non-big defenders down to a few basics: on-ball defense—either at the point-of-attack on lead guards, or on primary wing scorers—and off-ball defense—either sticking to/chasing dynamic shooters around the perimeter, or sagging off stationary wings and low-usage players to fill/disrupt passing lanes and help on penetration.
Obviously these responsibilities overlap on any given possession, but NBA teams will construct their defenses with these general roles in mind (adjusted for scheme, matchup, etc.). Here’s a breakdown of how often Green defends each offensive archetype/skillset, and how that frequency compares to the league average.
While that sort of versatility may seem inconsequential at a glance, there are plenty of high-level stoppers in this league who possess the skillset to excel at one role, but are exploited when put in a position where their responsibilities extend beyond that skillset. Danny Green doesn’t have that problem, and having that sort of glue guy does wonders for a defense.
For example, in the starting lineup next to Curry/Ben/Tobias/Embiid, Green will open most nights defending the point of attack (though I don’t think this‘ll be the case on Wed. vs Westbrook). Then, as Doc moves to the bench he’ll likely stagger Green‘s minutes with Simmons so he can supplement Ben’s role as the primary wing-stopper (GRIII was in this role last season, and Thybulle was forced to play bigger in the playoffs, but Green provides an upgrade over both).
Elite off-ball defense
On top of those on-ball responsibilities, Green is without a doubt at his best as a help defender disrupting passing lanes and racking up deflections. He’s similar to Covington in this regard—capable of handling tough defensive matchups, but truly elite at impacting the game off-ball.
While the above data includes all defensive possessions (on-ball and off-ball), the loose ball numbers, passing lane numbers, and deflections all point to his prowess as on off-ball defender.
Underrated shooter/floor spacer
Honestly, defense isn’t the only part of Danny Green’s game that doesn’t get a fair shake. The media and fan base are quick to point to his league-average career percentages or his major drop in shooting from Toronto to LA as reasons to fade Danny Green’s shot.
The hard truth is that none of the popular analysis on Danny Green’s three-point shooting provides proper context.
For starters, the lineups he played in last season ranked in the 20th percentile in terms of spacing, and his openness rating—a metric that quantifies how open a players 3PT attempts are on average—ranks all the way down in the 14th percentile. Those numbers should help put his raw percentages in context, and his high marks in 3PT gravity (80th percentile) should help shine a light on his clear value in spacing the floor for his offense.
It’s important to understand why one 36% three-point shooter is more/less valuable than another shooter with the same raw percentages. The player who connects at that rate but draws the attention of the defense (gravity) is creating space for the other four players on the court, the player who connects at 36% but is routinely given space to shoot is a liability, and a welcome sight for opposing defenses—the difference between the two is huge.
Put simply: Danny Green was smothered last season, and he’s been drawing that sort of attention for much of his career. The raw percentages have been underwhelming at times, but they’re misleading. While Lakers fans are ironically some of his loudest critics, anyone who watched their games understood that he was the only real floor spacer opponents needed to lock in on, and they did just that.
For more perspective on Danny Green’s value spacing the floor for his offense, check out his gravity charts from the past few seasons.
In each of his last five NBA seasons he’s ranked above the 80th percentile in three-point gravity: 82nd percentile last season, 97th the year before, 82nd again in ‘17-18, then 86th and 88th percentile in ‘16 and ‘17.
I’m not sure what more evidence you could need—Danny Green is the consummate 3-and-D player the Sixers have been targeting for years. When push comes to shove he’s a better shooting Robert Covington, and much cheaper.
Finals pedigree & playoff experience
This final point may seem a little hokey but it shouldn’t be ignored that Danny Green has won championships at each of his career stops but one (Cleveland). A winner at UNC, with the Spurs, the Raptors, and now the Lakers—either winning follows him wherever he goes like a lucky charm, or he provides a vital cog to winning that the league continues to misperceive and undervalue… which is more plausible.
The truth is Danny Green will always be somewhat undervalued by virtue of who he is and what he’s asked to do, but he’s the consummate role player in this league and should be appreciated as such. So much of what he adds to a team doesn’t show up in the box score; from handling tough defensive matchups, to creating gravity that allows teammates to score, to being the veteran presence in the locker room, it’s impossible to fully measure the value he brings to a contender like the Sixers.
He may not have been the headline grabbing move this offseason, and he likely won’t be grabbing headlines much throughout the regular season, but make no mistake about the fact that any step forward the Sixers take in 2021 will likely be traced back to Danny Green.