Danny Green was the fourth-best player on the team in his final season of college basketball. Thursday night, Green was one of the reasons the Spurs popped the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the NBA Finals. Green nailed four of nine 3-pointers on a night when San Antonio otherwise had trouble making a shot. The Spurs won 92-88. The rest of the team made just three of 14 3-pointers and outside of Green made just 41.3 percent of its shots.
Green also gave Kawhi Leonard some needed relief from covering LeBron James. Leonard did a good job on LeBron, and Green got torched a time or two. But few teams have the luxury of even trying a guard on LeBron. The Thunder does it some with Thabo Sefolosha; the Spurs do it some with Green.
Hard to believe the Spurs have received so much production from a guy drafted 46th overall in 2009 and waived by the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers in 2010. Gregg Popovich picked up Green off the waiver wire and found a ballplayer.
As for that fourth-best-player-on-the-team stuff? Well, it was quite a team. The 2008-09 North Carolina Tar Heels won the NCAA title, went 34-4 and won every NCAA Tournament game by double digits. The closest any NCAA foe came was Blake Griffin’s Sooners, who went down 82-70 in Memphis in the regional final.
That Carolina team included Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Ed Davis.
* Hansbrough led UNC in scoring at 20.7 points a game, shot 51.4 percent from the field and was taken 13th overall in the 2009 NBA Draft. He’s become a solid backup player for the Pacers.
* Lawson averaged 16.6 points, shot 53.2 percent and was taken 18th overall in the draft. He’s become a star with the Nuggets.
* Ellington averaged 15.8 points, shot 48.3 percent and was taken 28th overall in the draft. He’s bounced around the NBA; in four seasons, Ellington already has played for Minnesota, Memphis and Cleveland.
* Green averaged 13.1 points, shot 47.1 percent and was taken 48th.
* Davis averaged 6.7 points as a freshman backup. He was taken 13th overall in the 2010 draft.
The other Carolina starter, Deon Thompson, averaged 10.6 points a game and was not drafted.
Reminds me of UCLA’s 2008 Final Four team. Kevin Love averaged 17.5 points, Darren Collison 14.5, Russell Westbrook 12.7, Josh Shipp 12.2 and Luc Richard Mbah a Moute 8.8. The year before, Westbrook’s freshman season, UCLA also made the Final Four and Westbrook was the eighth-leading scorer on the team. The top four were Arron Afflalo (16.9), Shipp (13.1), Collison (12.8) and Mbah a Moute (8.2).
The difference, of course, is that NBA scouts recognized Westbrook’s potential and elevated him to lottery-pick status. Then Sam Presti looked and saw something even better and made Westbrook the No. 4 overall pick, ahead of any of those UCLA guys, some of whom became solid NBA players (Afflalo, Collison, Mbah a Moute) and one of whom became a star (Love).
But now Westbrook is perennially all-NBA. And Danny Green is a major reason why the Spurs lead the NBA Finals.