Heading into the playoffs, the Golden State Warriors remain the heavy favorites to win an NBA championship.
Even with the rise of the Houston Rockets, the Warriors retain a greater collection of firepower than anyone else in the NBA. But in an age of super teams, what separates the Warriors isn’t just the individual talent, but how they’re all connected.
From last year’s Cleveland Cavaliers to the Kevin Durant iteration of the Oklahoma City Thunder, there have been teams capable of matching Golden State’s sheer star power. None can match how it all fits.
Stephen Curry was a superstar prior to the Warriors’ first championship. Klay Thompson was a star on the rise. The Splash Brothers’ ascension helped the Warriors win a playoff series and challenge the San Antonio Spurs under Mark Jackson.
But Golden State wasn’t truly a revolutionary team until Draymond Green stepped in as the starting power forward.
Since the 2014-15 season, the Golden State Warriors have redefined the NBA. Over that time, Draymond Green has helped to reimagine the concept of the superstar.
His game ignites a polarized reaction from NBA fans. Some believe he’s truly deserving of his three All-Star appearances. There’s an argument to be made for his defense and playmaking being as—if not more—vital to the Warriors’ infrastructure as Kevin Durant.
Others believe he’s an overhyped product of a perfect situation.
Make no mistake, Green isn’t a superstar in the traditional sense of the word. He struggles to create his own shot, doesn’t shoot 40 percent from downtown, and can’t be relied upon to score 20 on any given night.
He does, however, possess basketball’s most desired attribute: versatility.
Need someone to initiate a fast break after grabbing a rebound in a crowd of giants? He’s your man. Need that same someone to throw an alley-oop to a streaking wing? He can do that too. Need someone who can shut down a point guard after a switch in pick-and-roll? Yep. Need someone to battle with a 7-foot, 27o-pound center? Draymond Green can do it all.
The biggest knock on him is he’s a product of his situation. On the Warriors, he’s not asked to carry the scoring load while sharing the court with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, or Durant.
Role players support, stars carry.
A different kind of star
He sets the first few screens of that video up until the 0:37 mark. This willingness to put his teammates first and set good, hard, legal (?) screens is something not many players are enthusiastic about doing. Sure, he has great shooters around him, but they are the ones who are reliant on him to get consistent open looks throughout the game.
Once the defense turns their complete attention to the other shooters, Green is able to show off his great finishing abilities around the basket.
Draymond Green is very good at finishing in the lane, converting 67.5 percent of his shots inside the restricted area, which ranks right up there with Gobert (67.9), DeAndre Jordan (68.6) and Karl-Anthony Towns (69.5).
Here, he sets a ball-screen on Ricky Rubio and his man tries to perform a trap on Curry in the corner. After dribbling up the sideline, Curry is able to whip a pass back to the uncovered Green in the short corner. Green then takes one dribble heading toward the hoop and what looks to be an inevitable blocked shot by Rudy Gobert. But not so fast, my friend! Green delivers a nifty reverse layup and lays the ball in the basket while the Utah Jazz’ big man is left looking silly.
Part of the reason he has such a high-success rate inside the paint is his excellent basketball IQ, which sparks great timing and angles on his cuts.
As David West holds the ball on top of the key, Green is already beginning to set LeBron James up for his backdoor cut by slyly walking down toward the elbow. When the ball is rotated to Shaun Livingston on the wing, Nick Young shoots back up the floor for what looks to be an elevator screen by Green and West.
This is when Green’s amazing IQ sets in, knowing James has sniffed the play out and is leaning towards half court in an attempt to thwart the play. He then pauses for half a second before quickly cutting to the hoop and receiving the pass from Livingston for the bunny.
As good as his cuts are (ranking in the 84th percentile by averaging 1.456 points per possession according to Synergy Sports), his ball-handling and passing are even more vital to his stardom. This handling ability allows the Warriors to maximize Curry and Durant’s strengths by giving them the freedom to play off-ball and ease their in-game duties.
Green averages 10.6 assists per 100 possessions, which is second among NBA forwards. This mark trails only the greatest passing forward of all time, James (11.7), and right ahead of the lauded passing phenom Ben Simmons (10.5). And by averaging only 4.0 turnovers per 100 possessions, he does a better job of valuing the ball as well.
I mean, he might be one of only a handful of big men who can do this:
On both plays, he’s tasked with initiating the offense, reading the defense and hitting the open man on the play. However, he takes it one step further and comprehends the action on such a high level he anticipates his teammates veering from the designed action and hits them in rhythm for an open dunk.
The best defensive player in the league
As versatile as he is on offense, he’s a chameleon on defense, which is his greatest asset. This extreme versatility allows the coaches to put everyone else on the floor in a position to maximize their strengths, knowing damn well Green will cover up for their weaknesses and mistakes.
For most players, it’s a compliment to say they can guard two or even three positions. Draymond Green can truly guard all five positions at a lockdown level:
He begins the play by guarding one of the burliest centers in the game, Andre Drummond. After some off-ball action, Drummond sets a ball-screen for Reggie Jackson, which means Green will now go from defending the Detroit Pistons’ center to defending their point guard after the switch.
For Detroit, this is typically what they look for in these situations. And the same can be said for the Warriors. Jackson thinks he has a mismatch, so he brings the ball up and away from the three-point line in order to give himself some space to gain momentum going downhill and attacking his new defender.
As Drummond is setting up to set another screen, Jackson fakes that way before jetting down the right side of the lane toward the hoop. He has Green, but just for a second before the reigning Defensive Player of the Year quickly recovers and sends Jackson’s shot back toward the hardwood.
This is all made possible due to his unparalleled package of intensity, low center of gravity, thick frame, and quick feet that allow him to stay with guards on the perimeter and fend off big men down low just the same.
There have only been four players in history to average greater than 11 points, 8.5 rebounds and 8.0 assists per 36 minutes throughout an entire season; Russell Westbrook, Oscar Robertson, Magic Johnson and Draymond Green. The other three are unquestioned superstars, yet Green remains a few notches below them.
It’s easy to get caught up in all the hype surrounding the Warriors and the offensive prowess of Thompson, Curry and Durant, but don’t lose sight of Green’s unique greatness.
What makes Golden State truly dangerous isn’t just the amount of firepower on the roster, but how they’re all connected together. Draymond Green doesn’t just glue the pieces together, he amplifies them.
The Warriors’ identity
The Warriors aren’t just a collection of offensive talent. What makes them special is the defense and passing that ties everything together.
Draymond Green is the backbone of all that.
Per NBA Wowy, Here is the Warriors’ Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson with Draymond Green and Kevin Durant without the other over the past two seasons and playoffs:
Both versions of the Warriors are elite teams, with the Durant version being the superior offensive unit. No surprise considering it boasts two of the greatest offensive players ever.
The Draymond Green version more closely aligns with the identity that’s taken the league by storm. The defense is far stingier. It is Green who unlocks all the Warriors’ switching schemes, after all. The offense, while less potent, sees its uptick in ball movement.
That’s not to say Green is the equal of Durant or Curry. Durant’s an elite two-way player whose isolation scoring adds an element and degree of potency that makes the Warriors absurd.
But within the context of the Warriors, who already boast devastating scorers, Draymond Green’s skill set is tougher to replace.
He’s a generational player who’s paving the mold for other 6-8 big-bodied forwards in the future and deserves our undivided attention and ultimate respect.
Draymond Green isn’t a superstar in the mold of anything that’s come before him. But then, since Green stepped into a starting role, these Warriors have been unlike anything we’ve ever seen.