One thing that is still unclear is how the Toronto Raptors were able to finesse both Kawhi Leonard and Danny Green in their trade with the San Antonio Spurs. Whether he actually wanted out – which is unlikely – or if he was just used as collateral damage if Leonard is to leave, the Raptors lost a first-round pick and DeMar DeRozan and somehow got better…a lot better.
Leonard was the clear high-point of the trade. No one is going to argue that. But what got lost in all the conundrum of the trade is that Green got moved to the Raptors as well. The Raptors are one of the deepest teams in the league. In fact, their highest net rating (plus-17.1) came from a unit made up entirely of bench players. Adding Green, a true three-and-D player with a championship resume, is going to make their reserves that much better if head coach Nick Nurse chooses to have him come off the bench.
Team president Masai Ujiri was very tactical in bringing Leonard to the Raptors. His plan wasn’t to take him in on a one-year rental, but to keep him here long term. He knew that bringing in a familiar face would be essential to Leonard’s retention. During the Raptors’ media day, it was clear that Leonard and Green have a great relationship.
“I’m happy that Danny was coming with me. He’s a competitor on both ends of the floor,” said Leonard when asked about the importance of having Green come to Toronto. “Having a familiar face here is great.”
During his lengthy answer, Leonard also alluded to the fact that going on multiple playoff runs with the same player gives you confidence knowing that you play well together on the floor.
Green and Ujiri have a relationship dating all the way back to 2009. When a reporter brought this up, Green smiled and went into how they’ve been in contact throughout the years ever since his rookie workout with Toronto.
“Being able to link up at this time is very special,” Green said. “And hopefully we can continue to make it a special year…we’ve been looking forward to this day for some time now.”
It is clear that Ujiri values Green and his addition to this team. While some team presidents would simply bring out their new star alone on media day, Ujiri walked out with both Leonard and Green together and allowed them both to field questions from reporters. This was a clear indication as to how the front office views both new acquisitions. Obviously, acquiring Leonard was hailed, but getting Green was the cherry-on-top. He’s the kind of role player that any team in the league would welcome on their roster with open arms.
Perhaps it is easy to forget what Green did for the Spurs during his extended tenure there, what with all of the star players on that roster throughout the years. But Green was essential to the Spurs during their 2014 championship run. Shooting 41.5 percent from three during the season, he upped that number to a blistering 47.5 percent during the playoffs. He averaged 9.3 points along with 1.4 steals in just 23 minutes of play per game.
As much of an impact as Green makes offensively, he is that much better on the defensive end. Making the NBA All-Defensive Second Team in 2016-17 further solidified the praise he has received throughout the years as an incredible athlete with an elite defensive IQ. Anchored by Tim Duncan, Green was perhaps the second-most important player on that Spurs roster on the defensive end of the court. His ability to guard multiple positions is highly regarded in today’s NBA, and he’ll make an instant impact there for Toronto.
The Raptors finished fourth in the league last year in three-pointers made per game, but 18th in three-point percentage. Green’s ability to shoot the three – especially when the team can rely upon him as more of a catch-and-shoot option rather than a playmaker – will certainly help them from an offensive perspective. Green had a much higher three-point percentage during the prime years of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili.
On a roster flush with playmaking talent, Green will be able to do what he does best: catch and shoot. His release has to be one of the quickest this league has ever seen. With facilitators like Leonard, Kyle Lowry, Fred VanVleet and Delon Wright, we are sure to see an uptick in the number of three-pointers Green can pour in this season at a greater efficiency.
The Raptors seem to have an endless supply of wings that can defend at a high level and switch onto multiple positions. With players like Leonard, OG Anunoby, CJ Miles, Norman Powell, Pascal Siakam – and even Wright and Serge Ibaka at times – it will be interesting to see where Green ends up in the lineup. He has been a consistent starter for the Spurs the last six seasons.
Although he started in the Raptors’ first preseason game, Nurse opted to switch things up and had Green come off the bench in game two. He clearly has the skills and knowledge to start for this Raptors’ squad, but could potentially be of better assistance coming off the bench. Only time will tell.
An interesting point brought up during his media day interview was his relationship with Lowry. They grew up playing against each other, as both are a similar age from the northeast. He said they’ve played together many times but have never once been on the same team.
“He’s a bull,” Green said of Lowry. “He knows how to get guys involved, he knows how to make his teammates better, and I’m sure over the last couple of years he’s become a great leader.”
Green was noticeably excited to play alongside Lowry for the first time, so that can only bode well for the Raptors’ upcoming season.
Green hasn’t looked stellar offensively through the first two games of the preseason. This is understandable, as he is still getting used to his new teammates in a new system. But he says that his overall health is improving, as that was a concern last season.
“[I’m] feeling pretty good right now,” Green said. “The training staff has done a wonderful job with helping me get to where I am right now.”
All the projections you hear about the upcoming season for the Raptors are positive. People seem to think that Leonard will make a huge impact, and if he is healthy they should be thinking that way.
But shouldn’t we think they are going to be even better thanks in part to the addition of Green? The top seed in the East seems more than possible, but, with their new additions, the Raptors should be eyeing the NBA Finals.
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