*This interview was originally printed in Dime #69. Check it out on newsstands nationwide for the full feature.*
Danny Green is a bit like an energy drink. Put him in the game, and he provides a spark. Put him in the starting lineup, and he’ll make the Spurs feel young again. And, with no disrespect to Manu Ginobili’s ever-expanding bald spot, the Spurs were in desperate need of some fresh legs. After sharing a backcourt on the Reno Big Horns last season with a guy by the name of Jeremy Lin, Green has been given a new opportunity with the Spurs this season, one that he hasn’t let slip away. On the season, he averaged 9.1 points and 3.5 rebounds a game, earning enough minutes (over 23 a night) to call himself an important piece of San Antonio’s championship puzzle.
We caught up with the 2-guard to find out what it’s like coming back after a stint in the D-League and how he and the Spurs survive their famed rodeo road trip.
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Dime: This has obviously been a big year for players making the jump from the D-League to the NBA (or those that have come back from the D-League) with the obvious example being Jeremy Lin, a guy you played with on the Reno Big Horns. Talk about the pressure of getting another shot at the NBA. Did you let that affect your game or did you use it to take your game to the next level?
Danny Green: I mean, I used it more as a motivational thing, and as a nothing to lose type of thing. I think it helped my game, and my attitude in the game. Being around the D-League it made me more confident in my game, and I don’t know, made me more aggressive. After the experience that I’ve had of being let go, and things of that nature, it really changed my mindset, so I took as: I got nothing to lose. And if I do go out, I’m going to go out the way I wanted to go out: I’m gonna go out fightin’. If I got another shot, another chance, I wasn’t going to let it slip away this time.
Dime: Do you think teams are figuring out Jeremy Lin’s game after his hot start? Are they beginning to figure out your game?
DG: Well, Jeremy came out very hot, he was just playing ball. Everybody was surprised at that and nobody expected that. I guess the same thing happened with me, a lot of guys don’t really know or respect your game until you start putting up some good numbers and it shows—whether you’re a known driver or a known scorer or a known shooter, and once they know that, they play into your personnel. I started knocking down some shots, and after a while they saw they couldn’t leave me open in the corner. For the Spurs’ offense, they know that can’t leave the shooters open like Matt Bonner, so I was just trying to make myself one of those proven shooters, to open up the floor for Tony, Manu and Timmy. It’s really just about playing to your team’s personnel more than anything else—making teams know that you can’t double team those guys and leave us open for threes. So I think people know Jeremy Lin’s game a little bit now — they scout him, they watch him, and they can try to make him turn the ball over, make him go this way, or do that, and make him take tougher shots than he was taking at the beginning because no one knew what type of game he had. But there’s a reason that guys in this league are where they are: they’re not gonna let certain guys just keep killing you. There’s a reason there are All-Stars and they’ll eventually figure out your weaknesses. That’s the goal for everybody, but right now we’re not in that position yet. We’re just learning with each game and making it work.
Dime: What has it been like to learn from three potential Hall of Famers in Ginobili, Parker, and Duncan and a Hall of Fame coach in Gregg Popovich? How have they helped you come into your own as an NBA player?
DG: Oh it’s been great, man, I couldn’t ask for a better situation to have people helping me grow and teaching me. Manu Ginobili, even when he was out, he was like an assistant coach out there, always telling me what to do, what to look for, what to be careful of, etc. etc. Coach Pop — he’s just straightforward with you. He’ll let you know exactly what it is he needs from you or wants from you, and either you do it or you’re going to sit. That’s why I enjoy playing for him because you know exactly what he wants from you. But also in the beginning, he gives you a lot of encouragement, and confidence, and tells you to just play, and it makes it easier for us to get more comfortable out there. Especially for the young guys, if you’re not comfortable, you’re going to be thinking a lot and you’re going to make mistakes. Pop just says, go play, have fun. Of course, once you start to get more playing time, those expectations get higher.
Dime: And what about Tim Duncan?
DG: Timmy’s done a great job being a mentor me to. Like Manu, he’s kind of been like an assistant coach, saying do this or do that, look for this, look for that, but he’s also great at giving guys confidence. He’s a very down to earth, humble guy, makes jokes, but he’s always there to push you and make you better. I think the whole organization is like that though, everybody around here is very together, pushing for each other, and you know, they help each other get better and try to be successful.