How Danny Green Became the Ultimate Sidekick to the Stars

Green has spaced the floor for some of the best players in recent NBA history. The two-time champ and those who know him well explain how he was able fit in with the likes of Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, and now LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

The Los Angeles Lakers entered the summer of 2019 with big dreams. After trading for Anthony Davis in June, the Lakers set their sights on Kawhi Leonard in free agency with the goal of putting together the biggest, baddest Big Three in recent memory. But after a lengthy pursuit, the bombshell news dropped in the early hours of July 6: Leonard was indeed headed to Los Angeles—not to join Davis and LeBron James with the Lakers, but to the Clippers; and he was bringing Paul George along with him.

The Lakers’ first in a quick succession of response signings was Leonard’s longtime teammate, Danny Green. If they couldn’t nab another star like Leonard, Green was the kind of player they wanted flanking the two stars they did have.

“He’s a winner. He’s a champion. He’s a perfect complement, really, to both of those guys,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel says. “You want 3-point shooters and guys that can pull their weight on the defensive end. Danny fits both of those. He’s also a super high-character player with leadership skills. So, really, everything about Danny Green attracted us to Danny Green.”

Playing alongside the best players in the league may seem like an easy task, but it can often be more challenging than it appears. It takes a willingness to fill a narrow role, and the humility not to try to extend too far beyond it. Luckily for the Lakers, Green had honed those qualities well before he signed up for two years, $30 million.

Green played college ball for four years at the University of North Carolina, where he had teammates like consensus All-American Ty Lawson, NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Wayne Ellington, and Wooden and Naismith Award–winner Tyler Hansbrough. Lakers teammate Jared Dudley, who played against Green and the Tar Heels when he was at Boston College, believes Green’s experience as a hypercompetent collegiate role player helped him become the same in the NBA.

“I think that you have to be self-aware of yourself of what type of player you’re gonna be in the league,” says Dudley, who transitioned from college star to NBA role player. “Because there’s only two stars per team unless somehow the Warriors or Miami get three. So, most likely you’re a specialist.”

At first he was kind of like the translator. … Obviously, Kawhi is not the most talkative person.Fred VanVleet, Raptors guard

Green is the all-important archetypal player who, as Vogel noted, has a dual specialty: shooting and defense. He’s knocked down better than 40 percent of his career 3-point attempts, and though he can occasionally run hot and cold, he has still checked in above 37 percent in seven of his nine full NBA seasons. Green is also widely regarded as an elite perimeter defender, a reputation that is well earned: In the six seasons prior to this one, he ranked second, second, first, first, fourth, and second among shooting guards in ESPN’s defensive real plus-minus.

A low-usage, high-efficiency shooter who can and will check any perimeter opponent and is almost never absent from the lineup (Green’s played 89 percent of all possible games since 2011) is exactly the kind of player most teams would love to have playing wingman to a superstar or three. Perhaps that’s why San Antonio held on to him for so long, and through so many on-court identities.

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