Danny Green and Chris Andersen couldn’t be much different upon first glance.
Green is the model Spur. He’s not flashy. He’s not in-your-face. He was drafted in the second round of the 2009 NBA Draft by Cleveland after playing four years and winning a national title at North Carolina.
Andersen is as bright and bombastic as Miami’s infamous Big-3 welcome ceremony. Covered head-to-toe in colorful tattoos and topped off with a spiked mohawk hairstyle, Andersen is the Dennis Rodman (in appearance, at least, if not in production) to LeBron’s Michael Jordan. He went undrafted in 1999 after one year at Blinn College in Texas.
In many ways Green and Andersen had very different paths to the NBA Finals, where they will meet in Game 1, Thursday night in Miami. However, they share a common link on their journey. Both Green and Andersen had to prove themselves in the NBA Development League and earn a call-up to the NBA before becoming the contributing players they are today.
Green’s transformation from a D-League player to a starter for an NBA Finalist is a credit to both Green’s development as a player and the Spurs organization’s commitment to player development. Green’s college experience, where he played in the shadow of Tyler Hansbrough and Ty Lawson on a team that also included NBA players Wayne Ellington, Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller, did well to prepare him for his current role in San Antonio.
As a rookie in Cleveland in 2009, Green played just 20 games on a Cavs team that went 61-21 in LeBron James’ final season in Cleveland. He logged double-digit minutes only three times. However, in two games with the Cavs’ then-affiliate Erie BayHawks, Green showed glimpses of the player he has since become in San Antonio. The sample size was small and the competition level was not the same, but in two games with Erie he shot 7-14 from 3-point range and added 11 rebounds, 8 steals, and 2 blocks.
Green was waived by Cleveland prior to the start of the 2010-11 season. He was signed by the Spurs on November 17 only to be waived six days later. Green returned to the D-League, this time with the Reno Bighorns, where he once again showcased his 3-point shooting (43.4 percent) to go along with rebounding (7.5 pergame) and defense. The Spurs had kept tabs on Green and signed him in April before assigning him back to the D-League, this time to the Spurs’ own affiliate, the Austin Toros. After just one game for Austin, Green was recalled to the Spurs. This time the call-up stuck.
Last year, following the lockout, Green worked himself into the regular rotation for San Antonio, starting 38 games and finishing 9th in the league in 3-point shooting (43.6 percent). Green followed that up this season by starting all 80 games he played in for San Antonio en route to averaging a career-high 10.5 points per game and shooting 42.9 percent from 3, the seventh best mark in the league.
In his second significant playoff run Green has seen his minutes increase by 10 per game, a clear sign that coach Gregg Popovich trusts him in critical situations. His postseason 3-point shooting (43.1 percent) is actually a tick better than what he did during the regular season.
In his first NBA Finals, Green is a leading “other” from the Spurs cast of characters who will need to collectively produce for San Antonio to be successful. Outside of the “Big 3″ of Parker, Duncan, and Ginobli, the Spurs depend on timely shooting from Green as well as Kawhi Leonard, Matt Bonner, and fellow D-League alum Cory Joseph. Green will likely also be asked to guard LeBron James at times in this series. While Leonard figures to be the Spurs’ primary defensive option on the 4-time MVP, the Spurs don’t have a lot of depth at that position.
In just a few short seasons Green has gone from being buried on the bench behind James to facing him as a starter in the NBA Finals. That’s not a one-on-one matchup that will garner headlines. But as Green has surely learned by now after a couple seasons with the Spurs and Popovich, San Antonio doesn’t care much for one-on-one hoopla. The Spurs are all about the good of the team and the good of the organization. Few people would have agreed when they first acquired him, but Danny Green has indeed proven himself to be a good fit for the Spurs.
Andersen’s path to his current spot on the Miami Heat roster is anything but a straight line. He broke into the NBA as a call-up from the Fayetteville Patriots by the Denver Nuggets. Though his D-League tenure was extremely short, Andersen holds the distinction of being the first pick of the 2001 NBA Development League Draft and the first player called up from the D-League to the NBA.
After three seasons with Denver, he moved on to play for the New Orleans Hornets in 2004. In his first season with the Hornets he set new personal bests for minutes per game (17.8), points per game (7.7), field goal percentage (53.4), and rebounds per game (6.1).
It appeared as if Andersen’s career was on an upward arc, but all was not well. In January of 2006 Andersen was suspended by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy by testing positive for a banned substance. He was reinstated two years later in March of 2008, appearing in five games for the Hornets in late March and early April.
The following season Andersen rejoined the Denver Nuggets, playing in 71 games and finishing second in the league in blocks (175) and blocks per game (2.5) despite playing only 20.6 minutes per game off the bench. Andersen and the Nuggets advanced to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the eventual champion Los Angeles Lakers in six games. Andersen was rewarded in the offseason with a five-year deal to stay in Denver.
After another solid campaign in 2009-10, Andersen’s numbers dipped in 2010-11 and 2011-12, and he played in just 77 games combined those two seasons. Denver waived Andersen using the league’s amnesty clause last summer, and he began this season without a team.
It wasn’t until mid-January that the Miami Heat signed Andersen to a 10-day contract. In February, he was signed for the rest of the season, and by March, he was a regular part of the rotation, playing 15-20 minutes a night. With LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh, the Heat had no issues scoring. But Andersen gave the team, which was known for its “Small-ball” some added size, interior defense, rebounding, and toughness.
Much like Green in San Antonio, Andersen is put in a position to do what he does well in Miami. He’s a complementary player to the Heat stars. Never was this more apparent than in the Eastern Conference Finals. Despite a career average of only 5.4 points per game, Andersen proved to be an offensive weapon for the Heat, going 15-15 from the field in Games 1-5 of the series. Nit-picking fans may point out that his shot chart is highly concentrated in the paint, specifically at or around the rim area. However, his ability to catch and finish in traffic was something that other Heat bigs in recent memory have struggled to do.
The “Birdman” nickname is generally associated with Andersen’s appearance, but his ability to fly through the air fits the bill as well. And his ability to finish with explosiveness at the rim gives Miami something it hasn’t been able to count on recently from its array of big men, including Joel Anthony, Dexter Pittman, Juwan Howard, Eddy Curry, Ronny Turiaf, Erick Dampier, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, and Jamaal Magloire.
When the Heat won the Eastern Conference Championship, it was Andersen who raised the trophy above his head. Was it his presence alone that turned the tide from a Game 6 Pacers win (Andersen was suspended) to a Game 7 rout by the Heat? No, not even the zaniest Birdman fan would argue that. But he does provide Miami something extra. I don’t know if it is possible to get under the skin of and/or rattle Tim Duncan, but if it’s possible, Birdman is the man for the job.
Two of a Kind
Green and Andersen are two success stories from the NBA Development League. Green is a product of the new D-League system, one that is of increasing importance for smart, well-run organizations like the Spurs. Andersen was called up before the D-League was even being called the D-League, before anyone outside of basketball organizations really knew anything about the league. Yet despite all of their differences, both players are important pieces of what they and their respective teams hope is a championship puzzle.