The unsung heroes of Spurs-OKC

Matt Bonner, Thabo Sefolosha and other top role players in Western finals

Updated: May 28, 2012, 5:32 PM ET
By Neil Paine | Basketball-Reference.com
Matt BonnerDavid Liam Kyle/Getty ImagesMatt Bonner's ability to stretch the floor and hit shots has made him invaluable to the Spurs.

When the San Antonio Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder tipped off in the Western Conference finals yesterday, all eyes were on the considerable star power employed by the two teams -- names such as Kevin Durant, Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, Russell Westbrook and Manu Ginobili. But while San Antonio and Oklahoma City do rely heavily on their stars, neither team would have gotten this far without the additional help of some underrated supporting players.

Chief among the unsung heroes for the 2011-12 Spurs has been Danny Green. A 6-foot-6 swingman from North Carolina, Green was drafted in 2009's second round by Cleveland and played sparingly for the Cavs before being waived in October 2010. San Antonio claimed his rights shortly thereafter, but even the Spurs didn't know what they had, cutting Green six days later. It took D-League stints with Reno and Austin, plus some lockout time spent as a member of Slovenia's KK Union Olimpija, before Green made it to the Spurs as a rotation regular.

What followed was an unexpectedly strong season. Green's role wasn't expansive -- he used about 17 percent of San Antonio's offensive possessions while on the court, mostly as a 3-point shooter and floor-spacer, and did yeoman's work as an above-average wing defender. But within those responsibilities he flourished, knocking down 43.6 percent of his shots from downtown during the regular season and 45.7 percent thus far in the postseason. Because of this, the Spurs were plus-7.7 points per 48 minutes when Green was on the court, a big reason why San Antonio was able to weather the absence of Ginobili for large chunks of the season.


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Neil Paine writes for FiveThirtyEight, the data-supported sports, politics and culture site coming soon from ESPN.