With the Spurs machine finally running out of gas after a historic first round slug-fest with the Clippers, the focus in some circles shifted to what’s likely San Antonio’s most pivotal offseason in several years. Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili have contracts that expired Saturday night, and retirement is certainly a possibility from one or both. Marco Belinelli and Kawhi Leonard are also free-agents, though the former felt highly replaceable this year and the latter is almost certain to return. Even coach Gregg Popovich could have the slightest air of uncertainty about him inasmuch as his status is tied to that of Duncan and Ginobili.
Realistically, though, the most intriguing name to the league’s 29 other teams has to be Danny Green. He turns 28 and is a free agent just before the cap explodes, and may prove to be one of the key litmus tests for just how aggressive certain GMs are willing to be about pursuing deals that look bad for a year before becoming bargains almost overnight in summer 2016. He may also prove an intriguing test case for the perception from some that he’s a moderately valuable player inflated by the Spurs’ unique culture and scheme.
Green may have little interest in leaving San Antonio, but if he has any at all, expect the Jazz to be among his suitors. He knows Dennis Lindsey from their time together in the Spurs organization, and while he and Quin Snyder never directly crossed paths as coach and player, they’ll be well aware of each other after Snyder’s own involvement with the franchise in Austin.
The idea that his value is propped up by San Antonio’s system isn’t without reason, but two thoughts here. Firstly, this seems overstated to this eye – Green isn’t one of the league’s best open shooters or perimeter defenders just because of great schemes or chemistry, with several other elements falling in a similar category. More importantly, Snyder is openly modeling his scheme with San Antonio’s in mind; even if one assumes an exaggerated drop-off when leaving such a construct, this would hardly be the case for Green.
He’d fill several real needs right away on both ends of the floor. The Jazz were among the league’s worst open jump-shooting teams last season, posting the fourth-lowest percentage on all jumpers outside 10 feet where no defender stood within four feet, per NBASavant. Green was among the best volume guys in the league on these shots for the second year running, particularly from deep. 126 guys attempted at least 100 spot-up jumpers where they took no dribbles after the catch in the regular season; only Klay Thompson and Kyle Korver had a higher effective field-goal percentage1 than Green, per Synergy Sports.
Teams can run him off the line, his well-known weak point in San Antonio. A per-possession rate that’s in the league’s stratosphere plummets to sub-average levels when Green is forced to drive past closing defenders, per Synergy, and he’s never developed much as a kick-out passer here beyond the more obvious reads. But this is a consideration, not a deterrent; Green’s prowess and resulting gravity from deep, along with his utility on the other end of the floor, make a slight deficiency easy to cover especially considering Utah’s other strong ball-handlers at the wings.
And it’s his play defensively that’d really seal the deal for the Jazz if there were mutual interest. Green might not be a markedly better defender than a guy like Elijah Millsap2, but what he brings on offense along with it makes him a much rarer commodity. He posted the sixth-best DRPM figure of all shooting guards on the year, and was particularly effective against opposing isolations3 and spot-up attempts despite often checking the opposition’s best perimeter shooter.
He’s the prototypical “3-and-D” guy, one of the very few who does both these things on an elite level without many noticeable holes elsewhere in his game. He’s played the same sort of scheme Snyder runs versus pick-and-rolls – most often a conservative one, with bits of aggression mixed in for various personnel and opposition – for years.
Many will wonder who gets the short end of the minutes stick in this hypothetical scenario, which isn’t entirely without merit. But Green brings a skill set that’s an undeniable upgrade, and also opens up a few interesting possibilities for the Jazz that might make a few extra minutes available.
He’s a strong enough defender to neutralize many point guards, and Snyder could experiment with lineups where he did so alongside two of Gordon Hayward, Alec Burks and Rodney Hood, who could share lead ball-handling duties on the other end if nights where both Dante Exum and Trey Burke struggle remain too common. He can also shift up to many small forwards effectively enough, and would only add to the length brigade Utah is building on the perimeter and the defensive versatility that comes with it.
Bringing Green in might push a fan favorite out the door, but up-and-coming teams like the Jazz have to face hard truths at times, and we may be approaching one of these soon: The likelihood that Hayward, Hood and Burks are the current roster’s only safe-bet reliable rotation wings on a Western Conference contender moving forward. The most cynical of observers might even cast a few doubts about the latter two4.
Things could also get slightly tricky salary-wise, but there are plenty of scenarios where this is easy enough to work around. It’s important to remember that the draft would take place before a potential pitch to Green; if Utah ends up holding onto their pick and grabbing a possible ready-now third big like Frank Kaminsky, it could even become worth it to either dump or cut Trevor Booker’s $4.75 million to carve enough room to bring Green on in July. And signing Green in without losing Booker is far from impossible as well, pending his asking price and any other potential personnel movement.
In either case, the Jazz could fit Green on a multi-year deal without jeopardizing their ability to hold onto their core pieces down the line. It’s true that there’s a larger current talent need at the point guard spot, but if the front office’s frequent statements on the subject are taken at face value, a move to a long-term upgrade won’t be in the cards this summer. A true 3-and-D guy like Green or Khris Middleton is almost certainly the next best thing for this roster as far as win-now moves go for next season. The Jazz should, and almost certainly will, take a look if there’s any indication from Green’s camp that he’d be amicable to a move.