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Warriors Film Room: Revealing Draymond Green’s true defensive brilliance

Draymond Green, Warriors

Golden State Warriors star Draymond Green was trying to make a point.

“Defense never goes viral because half the people don’t know what the hell they’re looking at.”

It was November 2021, and the Warriors had just held the Los Angeles Clippers to 90 points. Stephen Curry and the Warriors’ offense would undoubtedly make it on SportsCenter later that night. But the Warriors’ stout defense — which was the best in the league at that point — would go mostly unheralded.


Because most people don’t know what they’re looking at.

So, we’re going to dive into one game and get into the mind of Draymond Green, defensively. Granted, I’ve never coached an NBA team or played in an NBA game. But together, let’s break down Draymond’s brilliant defense and hope we can identify — and appreciate – what we’re seeing.

To do that, let’s head into Chase Center on Dec. 23, 2021.

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The Warriors were playing host to the Memphis Grizzlies — a “rival” of the recent past. The Grizzlies previously eliminated the Warriors in the 2021 play-in tournament, and more recently came back from down 19 to beat the Warriors in October.

In short, the Warriors were hungry.

We had to find a game where Draymond was fully locked in and motivated — and this one was a good match.

We dive straight into the fourth quarter. We’ll analyze screenshots of the Warriors’ defense on a few plays — in hopes of studying what’s going on in Draymond’s mind.

First, context.

The Warriors led by one heading into the final frame, 84-83. Draymond sat for the first half of the fourth and reentered around the six-minute mark. That’s where we’ll pick it up.

Desmond Bane runs a pick-and-roll with Xavier Tillman, and Tillman is Draymond’s man. Draymond isn’t up at the level of the screen, but rather is dropping in the paint to contain the drive.

Steph Curry fights over the top of the Tillman screen and recovers to Bane. Having Draymond loom in the paint both deters the drive and prevents the pass to Tillman. Notice Gary Payton II bumping down to Tillman as well, since Ja Morant was standing still way out on the perimeter.

With no other options, Bane flings it back to Morant. The pick-and-roll has been briefly nullified. But Draymond can’t relax, as Memphis flows right into another ball screen. Payton recovers to Morant, and Tillman steps up for the on-ball screen. But Draymond’s going to guard this one differently.

Aware of player and situation, Draymond doesn’t drop and stay in the paint. Instead, he recognizes that Ja wants to get downhill, and that there’s under five seconds on the play clock. So Green instead opts for a hedge on Morant. 

In a hedge, Draymond will come out and show like he’s doubling, but then recover quickly back to his man. The goal is to prevent the ball handler from turning the corner and getting into the paint. It’s especially important against someone like Morant, who makes a living on getting to the rim.

You can see Draymond retreat back to recover to Tillman for a brief second here after his hedge. But, then, he improvises. 

Knowing there’s now just three seconds on the play clock, and trusting that Juan Toscano-Anderson will tag Tillman in the paint, Draymond commits fully to the double-team on Morant.

As Ja pulls up, Payton and Green collapse on him. There’s no air space, and Morant gets the ball knocked away.

Of course, guess who comes up with it. 

You can see Steph leaking out, and one Draymond football pass later, Steph rewarded his teammate’s defense with two points.

We fast forward a little bit, and it’s a six-point game now. With three minutes to go and Steph cooking on the other end, the Grizzlies need a bucket. Their play starts with Jaren Jackson Jr. receiving the pass with Draymond on him. Jackson’s looking for a handoff, and Draymond knows it.

De’Anthony Melton takes the handoff, who uses Jackson’s screen to drive. With the other three Grizzlies on the perimeter, the paint is wide open to attack. Or so Melton thinks.

Draymond knows he’s the last line of defense here. Or else risk Curry bumping down to help, and trigger rotations that would get the defense out of position. So Green stays in the paint to help Otto Porter Jr. with the drive. It also means he felt comfortable leaving Jackson alone on the perimeter for the 3-ball.

As a result, Melton has no driving lane and is cut off by Porter and Green. So he smartly kicks it back out to a wide-open Jaren Jackson Jr.

Except Jackson isn’t wide open — partly thanks to an off-target pass, and partly due to Draymond’s hustle to close out and recover quickly.

JJJ drives, hoping desperately to create something. But Draymond is sliding with him the whole way. Notice Draymond’s defensive stance as he slides. His left arm is on Jackson to track him, and his right arm is high up in the air, ready to contest the shot.

Jackson doesn’t have any advantage on this play, but the Grizzlies end up scoring. Why?

Notice Steph falling asleep in the weak-side corner. Desmond Bane had been standing idle on the weak side the entire time, only to cut to the rim as Jackson drove.

The well-timed cut caught Curry off guard, and Jackson made the right pass. The play ended with a Bane layup, and this sequence won’t end up on any of Green’s highlight reels.

But he successfully contained the action on the strong side — cutting off Melton’s drive, preventing a Jackson triple, and covering Jackson’s drive. Another reminder that good team defense requires all five guys to execute.

Now a four-point game, the Grizzlies are on a fast break. Melton had just stolen the ball and was off to the races, hoping to cut the lead in half.

He had Ja Morant running with him, but the Warriors are there. Steph and Draymond are back, and JTA is shadowing Melton.

The brief double — if you can even call it that — caught Melton with nowhere to go. Melton likely would’ve hit the trailing Bane, who could step into a 3-pointer, swing it to Ja, or power his way to the rim.

But look closely at Melton’s position. Because he got caught up in the JTA-Draymond web, he exposes the ball very briefly. That’s all Draymond needs.

Green times his swipe perfectly, and the ball flies awkwardly out of Melton’s hands. Draymond’s heads-up play results in a Memphis turnover, stopping a Grizzlies’ fast break that would’ve cut the lead to two.

At a critical junction like this, those are game-saving swipes. It’s easy to point out in screenshots, but in real time, don’t take for granted the level of anticipation needed to execute the swipe as soon as the ball is exposed.

Our final play comes with a minute and a half left. In a one-possession game, the Warriors are looking for a crucial stop.

The Grizzlies run a Ja Morant-Jaren Jackson Jr. pick-and-roll. But the problem for them is that it involves two of the Warriors’ best defenders in Gary Payton II and Draymond Green. 

From here, it’s a chess match of how they’ll defend the pick-and-roll, and then how the Grizzlies respond.

Draymond chooses to drop and deter the drive. Knowing Ja prefers to get to the rim or to his floater rather than launch a trey, Green goes into contain mode. Payton fights over the screen, and Ja now has two defenders locked on him.

So he kicks it back out to Jackson at the top of the key. Draymond recovers to Jackson as the ball is in flight, and closes out to prevent the triple. 

Okay, let’s pause.

Draymond knows his opponents inside and out. It’s well-documented that he remembers his opponents’ tendencies and stats. So his choices on defense are almost always a deliberate blend of playing within the Warriors’ scheme, reacting off instincts, and knowing his opponent better than they know themselves.

Jackson, for example, is a career 35% 3-point shooter who took 5.5 3s a game last season. That’s decent efficiency at a pretty high volume for a big man.

Look at the space Jackson has. He very well could launch that — and in a two-point game, that’s something you can’t allow. So Draymond gets out there quickly enough to stop any thought of an attempt from distance.

Naturally, when a defender closes out hard, it gives the ball handler a lane to drive. So Jackson takes it.

You can see as he drives, he’s starting to get past Draymond, and it’s clearer in the next frame. Again, Green made a choice to close out hard and prevent the triple, trusting his teammates behind him will help on the drive.

This is where team defense comes into play. Let’s break down each step of what happens.

JTA leaves Bane to help on Jackson’s drive. When JTA does that, he hands off Bane to Otto Porter Jr. As the low man on the weak side, Porter knows it’s his job to bump down and cover Bane under the rim.

This, of course, leaves Porter’s man — De’Anthony Melton — wide open on the weak side. So Payton splits the difference and stands between Morant and Melton — ready to close out to either if need be. You can see Melton with his hands up. And if Jackson had swung it to him, Payton would be sprinting to Melton on the flight of the pass, and Steph would rotate to Morant.

This is textbook team defense, and everyone rotates beautifully. JTA jumps straight up to contest the driving layup attempt, Jackson misses, and the Warriors get a much-needed stop with a minute and a half to go.

The Warriors ended up winning this game, 113-104. But seeing the Warriors’ top-ranked defense go up against the Grizzlies’ fifth-ranked offense, at the time, was an intense battle of wills and chess match of schemes.

Draymond Green was in the thick of it all.

To Draymond’s original point, good defense will rarely go viral. Some of the plays we examined aren’t going on any highlight reels and won’t be on SportsCenter any time soon. In the social media age, it’ll always be clips of monster dunks, sweet handles,  or deep 3-pointers that make the rounds online.

But exceptional team defense — the kind that needs a genius defensive mind to quarterback — wins you a gritty game like this one. More than that, it wins you championships.

It speaks volumes that the Warriors’ defense has dropped off a cliff after Green’s injury in January 2022. But come playoffs, if Draymond’s healthy, it’ll be their cohesive team defense at the center of any deep Warriors playoff run.

Viral or not, Draymond Green has brought defense back into the spotlight, and Golden State is thrilled to finally get him back in the lineup.