Neal and Green: One teamís trash, another teamís treasure
Neal graduated from Towson University in 2007. He averaged 25.3 points per game his senior season, but his name was never called in the 2007 NBA Draft. So, from 2007 to 2010, Neal made a living playing for 4 different teams across 3 different countries. There was Turkey’s Pınar Karşıyaka, Spain’s FC Barcelona Bàsquet, Italy’s Pallacanestro Treviso, and finally Spain’s Baloncesto Malaga before July 2010, when the San Antonio Spurs took a shot on the 3-point specialist Neal.
It didn’t take long for him to make his presence felt in San Antonio. He hit 129 threes his rookie season, shooting a solid 41.9% from beyond the arc and he was named to the NBA All-Rookie First Team in 2011.
Green had a different sort of path to San Antonio. After winning an NCAA Championship in 2009 with a loaded North Carolina team that included point guard Ty Lawson, shooting guard Wayne Ellington and former NCAA Player of the Year Tyler Hansbrough, Green was selected with the 46th overall pick in the 2009 NBA Draft by the Cleveland Cavaliers.
But he barely saw the floor his rookie year and was sent down to the NBDL’s Erie BayHawks before the Spurs claimed him off waivers. He would go through two more stints in the NBDL with the Reno Bighorns and Austin Toros before solidifying his place on the Spurs in the 2011-2012 season.
In his first complete NBA season, Green logged about 23 minutes a game, scoring 9.1 points and hitting 1.5 threes per contest. In his second season, he increased on all of those numbers: 27 minutes, 10.5 points and 2.2 threes.
And in this year’s NBA Finals so far, the Spurs utility men have proven that the rest of the league might have really missed out on a few underappreciated glue players.
Green has hit 16 threes in the first 3 games of the series, netting 12 of his last 14 - which is just ridiculous. He’s averaging 18.7 points across the three games.
But it’s quite possibly his defense that’s been most impressive. He’s consistently blocking passing lanes and providing a tough obstacle for any Heat player that comes his way, particularly the great LeBron James.
Neal played respectably well in games 1 and 2, but in Tuesday night’s game, he was the dagger the Spurs needed to keep padding on their double-digit lead. Hitting 6 of 10 three pointers, Neal finished the night with 24 points, taking a great deal of pressure off starting point guard Tony Parker who only shot the ball 5 times, scoring just 6 points.
By keeping the Duncan-Parker-Ginobili nucleus intact under the guidance of the great Gregg Popovich, the Spurs have ensured themselves a spot amongst the NBA’s elite teams. But by making small moves like signing players that had been brushed off by other teams like Green and Neal, the Spurs have made themselves significantly stronger.
Whether they can take 2 of the next 4 or not, the San Antonio Spurs have once again proven why they’re one of the most respected franchises in all of sports.