DETROIT – As Kawhi Leonard‘s relationship with the Spurs deteriorated last season, Danny Green tried to diffuse tension at every turn. Green said it wasn’t easy trying to play peacemaker while focusing on his own game. But he cared greatly about San Antonio, where he spent eight years and grew into an NBA starter. He knew the Spurs rarely faced distractions like that and wanted to help.
Before joining San Antonio, Green played for the Cavaliers during LeBron James‘ first contract year. Rumors swirled that season about LeBron’s decision, which eventually became leaving Cleveland for Miami. So, Green was used to drama and the attention it draws.
“It’s a constant thing that’s going to happen, regardless, if you have any star player around,” Green said. “If there’s something going on, people want to know.”
Green has gotten quite accustomed to playing with stars, a talent he’s putting to good use in Toronto.
Traded to the Raptors with Leonard, Green carries a reputation for having special insight into his longtime star teammate. And Leonard appreciated Green’s attempts to tell a different story than what was portrayed in the media last season. “He knew what really was happening. He was there,” Leonard said. “So, I guess I can thank him for that.”
But when I asked Green how often he gets asked in Toronto about Leonard’s plans for free agency next year, Green cut me off before I even finished the question – “too many times.”
“I’m really not in his personal business like that,” Green said.
Green isn’t with the Raptors just to soothe and convey Leonard’s feelings. But Green still complements Leonard – and Toronto’s other stars – extremely well.
Green’s 3-and-D game is an ideal fit.
He spreads the floor, shooting 43% on 3-pointers and moving on the perimeter in a way that forces defenses to track him. He can also comfortably defend all three perimeter positions.
His teammates and Toronto coach Nick Nurse rave about Green’s communication. Green is vocal on the court and keeps everything flowing.
The Raptors outscore opponents by 11.8 points per 100 possessions with Green on the court and get outscored by 5.3 points per 100 possessions without him.
Green’s effect is felt with each of his top teammates. Here are Toronto’s net ratings when its best players are on the court, depending whether Green is on (red) or off (black):
In every pairing, the Raptors are way better with Green on. The stars just shine brighter with him around.
To be fair, these results are somewhat stacked. These six players often play together and lift each other. It isn’t just Green. But even further down the roster, the results are similar with Green on the court than off. He just makes everyone around him better.
Overall, Toronto plays like a 68-win team with Green and a 28-win team without him. That 40-win-pace difference ranks third in the NBA, behind the Thunder’s Paul George and the Warriors’ Kevin Durant (minimum: 500 minutes).
Here are the leaders in win-pace difference – how a team performs without a player on the left, with a player on the right and the difference in the middle:
That win pace of 68 with Green on the court tops the league.
Green’s next step is helping the Raptors in the playoffs, where they’ve struggled. Green has a ring from San Antonio and even appeared to be leading for 2013 NBA Finals MVP through five games before the Heat came back to win the title.
This regular season followed by a strong postseason would send Green, who’ll turn 32 this summer, into free agency on a high note.
But attention on free agency is for Leonard, not Green. Really, attention period is for Leonard and other Toronto players, not Green.
Asked about Green, Nurse chuckled.
“We don’t talk about Danny very often,” the coach said. “That’s for sure.”
That should change.
Ibaka, whose Thunder thrice battled Green’s Spurs in the playoffs, said he always appreciated Green’s ability. But Ibaka’s admiration has only grown while playing with Green.
“He knows how to play defense. He can shoot the ball. Simple,” Ibaka said. “But he really impacts the game.”