It’s hard to call a guy like Danny Green underrated. Pundits and fans alike seem to recognize that he’s a good player on a good team, but when you actually look at his numbers, it still seems like he doesn’t get enough credit for the Spurs’ success, inside or outside of the organization. I have a very unscientific theory that it’s partly because his time with the Spurs has almost perfectly coincided with the second coming of Tim Duncan, but also because, well… he’s kind of an odd dude.
The story of Green’s career, from being cut by two teams to becoming an NBA Finals record holder, is in many ways the quintessential Spurs story, but in almost every other way he seems like a bit of a misfit. He may play like an NBA super star, but on a team filled with worldly, sophisticated dudes, Danny Green seems more like your endearing but kind of weird little brother or maybe some sort of silicon valley nerd bro who hasn’t quite figured out that being super talented and really rich doesn’t make you one of the cool kids.
For this reason, I cannot recommend his Twitter feed highly enough. His social media presence is a bizarre mix of the banal, the nerdy (for a long time he was really into sharing the #SnappleFacts that are printed on the underside of the drink’s lids), and awkward efforts to do cool shit, the best of which was when he decided to host a New Years Eve party at a San Antonio strip club. In the week leading up to the party, he kept offering what he seemed to think were reassurances that it was totally not a sketchy thing to be doing:
— Danny Green (@DGreen_14) December 31, 2013
This will be a regular club on that night
— Danny Green (@DGreen_14) December 31, 2013
He managed to strike an amazingly unappealing middle ground, somehow making the whole thing sound way less cool without making it sound any less sketchy.
In his interviews, Green always comes across as incredibly intelligent, much more engaged and considerate than almost anyone else in the Spurs organization. But also unlike other players in the organization, he sounds a lot like a young suburban kid. While Boris Diaw is chiding reporters for referring to any old sparkling wine as Champagne and Manu is tweeting bilingual recommendations for his favorite TED talks and Kawhi is off somewhere doing his best impression of a basketball cyborg, Green is sharing his favorite art on Instagram:
I’m not an art critic, but I feel pretty confident that this is not actually the best painting Danny Green has ever seen. Still, there’s something charming about his naiveté. Even his more serious gaffes seem to be born out of a lack of understanding of etiquette and followed by genuine apologies, but this lack of worldliness makes him seem like the odd man out on the Spurs.
And it’s not just off court that he seems to be a little different. Green occasionally does some genuinely frustrating things when he’s on the court, but Popovich always seems to have a special doghouse with Green’s name on it, responding to his mistakes with a sort of vitriol I’m starting to think he reserves for players who are chatty yet incapable of recommending decent wine pairings:
It probably doesn’t help that he’s lived his whole Spurs life in Kawhi Leonard’s shadow. Green is older and has been in the league longer than Leonard, but their careers with the Spurs both started in 2011. Popovich is rarely more effusive than when heaping praise on Leonard, but he almost never takes the opportunity to do so with Green. A reporter recently prefaced a question to the coach with “I know Danny’s not as good a defender as Kawhi…” only to have Popovich interject unnecessarily, “He’s not.”
And Pop’s not incorrect; Kawhi Leonard is a superstar and Danny Green is only almost a superstar, but this lack of recognition is unfortunate, because Green has played as well or better than Manu Ginobili over the last two seasons, while logging more minutes. And although Leonard has been hurt this year, Green’s overall numbers have been much improved since last year (when he was very, very good) and are now comparable to Kawhi’s. He’s the second best shooting guard in the league when it comes to blocks, a category in which he led the NBA handily last year. He holds the record for most threes made in the NBA Finals, and he set that record with remarkable efficiency. He’s also capable of amazing defensive moves like this:
It’s not just inside the organization that Green seems to be overshadowed by Leonard, even when he outperforms him. The Spurs have had several solid wins since Leonard returned, and the ESPN recaps of their first two featured these headlines: “Kawhi Leonard scores 20 in return to send Spurs past Blazers” and “Tiago Splitter, Kawhi Leonard lead Spurs to blowout of Jazz.” Like Pop in his assessment of the relative defensive merits of Leonard and Green, these aren’t incorrect. Kawhi Leonard returning is a huge deal for the Spurs, but Green played an enormous role in both of those wins.
Against Portland, Green contributed 19 points on 4-5 shooting (Leonard’s 20 points required 18 field goal attempts). He also out-rebounded Leonard and managed to contribute two steals that night, just shy of Leonard’s three. Same story in Utah: Leonard wracked up a lot of points on poor shooting, which is totally understandable as he recovers from an injury to his shooting hand, while Green outscored him thanks to 75 percent three-point shooting.
When it comes to his performance on the court, Danny Green seems like he should be the team’s next Bruce Bowen. Bowen was never the best guy on the team, but he was a major contributor who was appreciated hugely (locally, at least), and the Spurs even retired his number. But despite his Spursian backstory and incredible talent, the organization doesn’t put much effort into promoting Green. He’s often replaced by Manu on Spurs promotional materials featuring the team’s “starters”, and you’ll have better luck trying to buy a Marco Bellinelli jersey in the Spurs fan shop than a Green jersey. He’s never made an appearance in any of the Spurs’ famous HEB commercials, passed over most recently for the charming Australian Spur Patty Mills.
Green will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. The Spurs aren’t generally an organization that lets talent slip through their fingers, but how Danny Green feels about the situation matters, too, and my fear is that, faced with the prospect of spending years in Pop’s doghouse on a team where he doesn’t quite seem to fit in, he’ll ultimately find a home somewhere else.