Danny Green caught a bad break. (Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports)
Danny Green played just nine minutes in the San Antonio Spurs' Sunday night win over the Minnesota Timberwolves. The fifth-year shooting guard left the game less than 30 seconds into the second quarter and never checked back in after suffering what was reported as a sprained left index finger; he didn't know how he hurt it, but he knew something was up, as he told Dan McCarney of the San Antonio Express News on Sunday:
“I just remember after getting the ball, slowing it down, my hand kind of throbbing,” Green said. “It's painful to squeeze and grab and catch things. I tried to shoot it but I couldn't even grip the ball the way I wanted to.” [...]
“Hopefully, it's nothing major and it's only a couple of days of soreness and rehab and ice and getting the strength back,” he said.
Green took to social media on Monday to confirm that something was amiss, but aimed to prevent Spurs fans from getting too worked up about it:
Good news. .. I'll be back in couple weeks http://t.co/GCcDuTgCpg
— Danny Green (@DGreen_14) January 13, 2014
As it turned out, though, a "couple" appears to be an optimistic estimate. From the Spurs' Monday afternoon announcement:
Spurs guard Danny Green underwent an exam on Monday in San Antonio that included both an X-ray and an MRI on his left hand. Results revealed he has a nondisplaced fracture of his second metacarpal. Green suffered the injury in the first half of the Spurs-Timberwolves game on Sunday night. He is expected to miss approximately four weeks.
Green, who becomes just the most recent in a long line of NBA players to undergo hand injuries this year, will begin his unexpectedly long absence from the Spurs lineup begins Monday, when San Antonio takes on the New Orleans Pelicans in Louisiana.
While losing a player who has made 28 starts and figures prominently in the rotation is never a good thing, Green's injury might not be as significant a blow in the short term as you might expect if the version of Green you're remembering is the long-range bomber who scorched the Miami Heat en route to a record-setting 3-point performance during the 2013 NBA Finals.
Green's still shooting an above-average-and-respectable 38.4 percent from deep this season, but he's not ripping the nets at top-10-in-the-league levels as he has for the past two years. He's had difficulties with turnovers at times, too, posting his highest turnover rate as a pro; more importantly, though, a Spurs team that seemed to generate open looks for Green at will for most of the last two years has seemed to have increased difficulty doing so.
That difficulty, combined with Green's struggles for the better part of a month between late November through Christmas Day — led coach Gregg Popovich to move Green out of the San Antonio starting five in favor of offseason acquisition Marco Belinelli, whose mix of off-the-dribble creativity and playmaking (he's nearly doubled Green's assist rate this season) and long-range shooting (he's leading the league with a 50 percent mark from 3-point range) have fit the Spurs' offensive system beautifully. Upon making the lineup switch, Pop told reporters that he “didn't bench [Green] because he wasn't making shots," but rather to change up the rotation.
Green responded with two strong shooting nights in his next three outings as he seemed to find some rhythm with the Spurs' second unit, but he promptly cooled down thereafter, going 9 for 36 from the field (and 4 for 26 from 3-point land) over his next five games. Pop reinserted Green into the starting lineup against Minnesota, likely preferring to move Belinelli's playmaking back to the bench with super-sub/second-unit playmaker Manu Ginobili day-to-day with tightness in his left hamstring, but the hand injury knocked Green out for the bulk of the game.
Ginobili could return to the lineup against the Pelicans, giving Pop just as many healthy shooting guards as he had heading into Sunday's matchup, and a welcome boost of offensive initiation. Lineups Ginobili and Belinelli have been stellar offensively, roasting opponents by 13.9 and 10.5 points per 100 possessions respectively, according to NBA.com's stat tool.
The issue, however, comes on the other end of the court. The Spurs have allowed just 95 points-per-100 with the versatile, long-armed 6-foot-6 Green on the floor this season, and with starting center Tiago Splitter already sidelined and expected to miss the next two to four weeks with a sprained right shoulder, San Antonio's prospective new-look starting lineups don't profile as very strong defensively. The five-man unit of Boris Diaw, Tim Duncan, Kawhi Leonard, Tony Parker and Ginobili (Pop's second-most-used lineup this year) has allowed opponents to score 107.3 points-per-100 this season, which would rank 29th among 30 NBA teams (thanks, as always, for backstopping us, Utah Jazz). Pop hasn't teamed Belinelli with the Diaw-Duncan-Leonard-Parker that often this season, deploying that fivesome for just 41 total minutes over the course of 12 games ... and for good reason, as the group's been outscored by 16 points in those 41 minutes.
Matthew Tynan of Spurs blog 48 Minutes of Hell expects backup guard Cory Joseph to see an uptick in playing time in Green's absence, but also suggests that Pop might look to make up for the loss of the long-limbed wing defender by cranking up the minutes for third-year small forward Kawhi Leonard, who's averaging just 29 minutes per night, but saw more than 36 minutes of floor time with Green out of commission on Sunday. That's a more likely scenario than a free-agent acquisition, as San Antonio's already got 15 players with guaranteed contracts on the roster, and while recent reports have suggested that the Spurs' front office has been "unusually aggressive" in the trade market this far, given the number of wing options already on hand, it seems unlikely that the team will make a particular point of targeting an upgrade at the off-guard slot.
If none of Pop's on-hand options prove equal to the task, the Spurs could lose ground to the likes of the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers in the race for the top spot out West. If one does, though, we might have yet another in a long line of reasons to laud the way the Spurs build their roster and develop overlooked young talent.
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