by Tracy Weissenberg / @basketballista
They say getting into the NBA is not nearly as difficult as staying in it. This past season, and specifically postseason, proved transformative for Spurs guard Danny Green and Grizzlies forward Quincy Pondexter.
Green started 80 games during the regular season, shooting a blistering 42.9 percent from beyond the arc. He started all 21 playoff games, averaging 11.1 points and maintaining an impressive 48.2 three-point percentage. Through the first five games of the NBA Finals, Green connected on 25 of his 38 three-point attempts. He broke Ray Allen’s previous 2008 record of 22 made threes in a Finals series. It began as fairytale scenario: Green, who made six total threes in 115 minutes during his rookie season with the Cavaliers, going against his former superstar teammate on the NBA’s biggest stage. The Spurs were up 3-2 against the Heat, and people were speculating he had a chance at Finals MVP. The tide would quickly turn for both Green and the Spurs. Green shot 2-19 from the field in the final two games. The Spurs lost both, and the Heat clinched their second straight Championship.
SLAM: Fans really saw you emerge last year. Can you talk about the work that goes on behind the scenes from not having your place in the League to playing an integral role in the Finals?
Danny Green: It’s come a long way, [and] it’s still a long ways to go. Every day I’ve been working on a lot of different things with my developmental coach, Chad Forcier. He’s done a great job with me and keeping me focused and in tune and working on techniques. When things aren’t going right, you kind of go back to the basics. The big thing in this league is confidence. With him, along with my teammates and [Coach Popovich], encouraging me and giving me the confidence game in and game out to shoot the ball whenever I’m open, or even if I see some light. It helps a lot knowing that they’re behind me to take those shots and make them.
SLAM: What do you do to maintain your confidence?
DG: Just get in the gym. Practice, they say, makes perfect, but perfect practice makes perfect. It also builds confidence. When you’re used to doing something, you do it 100 times or 1,000 times, you get more confidence in yourself and in doing what it is that you’re practicing.
SLAM: You saw the highest highs and the lowest lows in the NBA Finals. After the first few games, people were saying you could be named the MVP. Then, you struggled with your shooting. What is it like to experience those ranges in emotions during one series?
DG: It’s crazy, a lot of ups and downs, but that’s how the season is in the NBA. It shows you how quickly things can turn around for you and for your team. This year, we want to be more in tune, we want to not have lapses, and [we want to] take advantage of the opportunities that we have better than we did last year.
SLAM: What was it like playing against LeBron James in the NBA Finals? Did he mentor you while you were on the Cavaliers?
DG: Definitely, I learned a lot from his as well as many other players on that team. It was kind of weird, playing against him in a series. I’ve played against him a couple of times here and there randomly throughout the season and preseason. We haven’t really had many head-to-head matchups. [The Heat are] in a different conference, different coast. Being on the same team as him, and watching what he did my rookie year, and him being the best player in the world, and playing against him in the NBA Finals, was very different for me. It was a lot of fun at the same time. It was a great experience, very surreal.
SLAM: So many times, the NBA is a league of circumstance and a league of opportunity. Do you think that people don’t realize how much the NBA is about situations? Sometimes, a guy’s game doesn’t change, it’s just the fit.
DG: Definitely. It’s all timing, with everything. Like I said, confidence is a big thing. You’ve got to feel confident that you belong. A lot of times, it’s situation, and timing, and system. Like you said, a lot of guys’ games don’t change, just the system changes and they fit better within systems. This is a great system for me as well as the other players here. They make it easy for you to be successful. Hopefully, I’m here for a long time.
SLAM: Did your game change?
DG: A little bit, but not much for the most part. This system is great for me, having Tony [Parker] and Timmy [Duncan] and Manu [Ginobili] being all the ball handlers, and Pop letting me know my role as a defensive guy. Shots just came along, and just spotting up and being ready, because they attract so much attention, penetrating on the defense. I just got to be ready, wait for it in the corner. But for the most part, my role on this team is defense. Pop let that be known and he’s made my job pretty easy for me.
SLAM: What was the biggest thing you took away from last season?
DG: Focus and knowing how hard it is to make it to where we made it. It’s a big toll on your body physically, but it’s a big mental game as well. Mentality is a key factor in that, and being able to stay focused for the whole season, all the way until the end of June. Hopefully we sustain that better this year than we did last year.
SLAM: Do you have any personal goals that you want to achieve this year?
DG: Many, but team goals come first. We want to continue to win games, win more games, but personal goals are to get better in every aspect of the game, percentage wise and numbers wise. I want to be a better rebounder, shoot better, be more efficient, do better defensively, getting steals and blocks, everything—just get better in each category.
The Grizzlies won a franchise-record 56 games last year and reached the Western Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history. Quincy Pondexter, who averaged 6.4 points in 59 games during the regular season, averaged 8.9 points in the Grizzlies’ 15 playoff games. His shooting continued to improve on a bigger stage and with increased playing time. Pondexter shot 48.9 percent from the field and 45.3 percent from three in the 2013 playoffs. While the Grizzlies were swept by the Spurs in the Conference Finals, Pondexter averaged 15.3 points, shooting 53.7 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc, in those four games. It seemed as if both Memphis and Pondexter had finally arrived.
SLAM: What was it like being part of the team that reached the Conference Finals for the first time in franchise history?
Quincy Pondexter: It was amazing. It was a great experience for the city. It was a great experience for our team. It shows how much progress we’ve all made in the last few years. I remember watching the Grizzlies. They weren’t making the Playoffs, they were going through some rough seasons. Now, to be at the upper echelon of the League is a real testament to how hard everyone’s really worked.
SLAM: You had some breakout performances in the Playoffs. What was it about your role or how they integrated you in the offense that helped you do that?
QP: I’m still finding my way in this league. It was only my third year last year and I was just finding whatever it took to get on the floor whether it was knocking down threes, being the best defender, whatever I had to do to find minutes. My game’s still evolving. I’m becoming a lot better player, but I had a great foundation, and that’s what helped me really play well in the playoffs last year.
SLAM: Who has helped you find your way in the League?
QP: My rookie year really was a great base for me. I played on New Orleans, and I had Monty Williams, who was a great head coach, and a player like Chris Paul who really helped me find my identity in the league. Without those guys, I wouldn’t have the foundation I have. And to build off of that and to always be playing on playoff teams. I’ve been in the Playoffs every year I’ve been in the league. It’s just such an honor. You don’t see a lot of guys contributing on playoff teams while being so young.
SLAM: Was it interesting playing against your former teammate Chris Paul, and actually knocking his team out of the Playoffs?
QP: It was pretty crazy. I really look up to him. To go to battle against him, we lost the year before, and to come out and win was really, really special.
SLAM: The Clippers have a revamped roster and a new head coach—are you looking out for them this year?
QP: Of course, you can’t help but to look out for them. They’re on SportsCenter every day and we’re hearing all about the new moves that they’ve made and how much better they’ve gotten. They have great players, high risers. We’ve just got to come out and do our best. We’re the underdog in a lot of eyes, and we’ve got to come out and just prove we should be up there again.
SLAM: Back to your team: the Grizzlies were able to retain the majority of last season’s roster. There was a coaching change from Lionel Hollins to Dave Joerger, though Joerger had already been in Memphis as an assistant. What has training camp and the preseason been like?
QP: It wasn’t a huge change. Joerger has been a part of us for the last few years and he’s done a huge job in helping keep our identity, and that’s on the defensive end. We’ve tweaked a little bit of things on offense, but he’s only made us a better team. It’s not like we had a completely different, revamped lineup, coaching staff. I’ve known a lot of the coaches for a while and it still feels like home.
SLAM: I have to ask about the cutest member of the Pondexter family, Buckets (Quincy’s Siberian Husky). How is he doing and how tough is it to leave him during the road trips?
QP: It’s real tough. I really, really love my dog. He has so much energy, nonstop. It’s like raising a kid. I don’t have any kids yet so I call him my little son. He’s such a bundle of joy. I love him.