There weren’t many problems with the San Antonio Spurs during the 2015-16 regular season. They notched a franchise-best 67-15 record and actually ended with a better net rating than the 73-win Golden State Warriors.
The most remarkable part about the Spurs’ accomplishments was that they found that success while Danny Green, supposedly their top long-range marksman, was firing up bricks from three-point range all season. Green’s three-point percentage was 33.2 following seasons of 43.6, 42.9, 41.5 and 41.8 in that category, respectively.
Since Green is such a fabulous wing defender, he stayed on the court plenty to help out the Spurs’ top-ranked defense. But that also meant the team and its fans were frequently subject to his constant clangs.
My first instinct when the slump started early on in the season was that San Antonio’s new offensive style was cramping the 29-year-old’s style. The Spurs were relying on a lot of LaMarcus Aldridge and Kawhi Leonard in the post, and less of the drive-and-kick, whip-it-around the perimeter action that got him his in-rhythm, open looks of 2011 through 2015. Maybe Green was getting fewer open shots in different spots, and not as many were off the catch.
Yeah, that was baloney.
If you’re getting bogged down in all those numbers, the gist of the data is that Green had significantly more wide-open looks in 2015-16 than he did in the previous two seasons, yet shot a very mediocre percentage on them. He had more catch-and-shoot threes by a significant margin, too, but that didn’t help.
Based on Green’s success rates in the “wide open,” “open,” “tight” and “very tight” levels of shot contest in 2013-14 and 2014-15, he would’ve been predicted to shoot 43.8 percent in 2015-16 with his set of attempts. That’s more than 10 percent better than what he actually shot, and it also equates to 37 extra made three-pointers, which is 111 points the Spurs missed out on.
Basically, Green’s sudden struggles from the outside cost San Antonio approximately 1.4 points per game in the 79 contests he played. And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that Green had more catch-and-shoot looks in 2015-16 (an easier type of shot for him), that his confidence would have empowered him to take (and more) more and that his presence could have resulted in some extra spacing for teammates.
His shot distribution from behind the arc wasn’t all that different, either. The first chart below is from 2014-15, and the second is from 2015-16:
Sure, he evened out his looks from the two wings, but he still got plenty of attempts from the corner and the rest of the distribution from three-point range was relatively similar.
Once the regular season was ever, Green went nuts from three. He made 24 of his 48 trifectas (50 percent) in the postseason and was one of the few Spurs who stepped up to the challenge in their second-round loss to the Thunder:
He also underwent LASIK eye surgery right after the playoff loss to the Thunder, indicating that there must have been some vision problems prior to the procedure.
Knowing all of this, it’s reasonable to hypothesize that “Icy Hot” will regress to the mean in 2015-16.
A factor that will help Green’s cause is the addition of Pau Gasol, who passes even better than the guy he’s replacing, the great Tim Duncan. Aside from Draymond Green, Gasol led all post players in assists per game in 2015-16 (4.1):
Unlike Duncan, who hardly shot the ball from the mid-range areas in his final season, Gasol also has a soft touch from 15 to 20 feet that should help the spacing and ball movement in the starting unit, which should give Green every opportunity to get in-rhythm looks to rebuild his confidence.
It’s fine to doubt the Spurs’ title chances this year. If you think they can compete with the Warriors, I would advise you to check their rotation again and get back to me. The Clippers should be hot on their heels in the Western Conference.
But just know that whatever happens with San Antonio, they’re probably going to get the 3-and-D version of Danny Green again in 2016-17, not just the “D” one of 2015-16.