Draymond Green helped seal a win for the Golden State Warriors over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night with a pair of blocks, first against Dennis Schroder and then denying Kent Bazemore. It was the latest exhibit for the case he’s building (you may recall his game-saving deflection of an inbounds pass at Milwaukee in the last road trip) on how the NBA robbed him of the Defensive Player of the Year Award the past two seasons, offering the trinket to San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard instead both times.
Green made his declaration of intent about DPOY two weeks ago, telling ESPN:
“That’s something that I want to win. And if there’s anything I’ve ever been selfish about, it’s that award. Like, I want that award.”
“That doesn’t bother me to say I’m selfish in that regard,” Green reiterated to ESPN. “I want that award bad. And that’s because I view myself as a defender. It’s like if I view myself as a scorer then I want to win the scoring title. If I am a scorer and I say I’m a scorer and that’s what I do, I want to win the scoring title because it says I was the best in this year at what I do. So that is something that I want to win.”
Those comments stand in stark contrast to the tune Green sang after the Atlanta game, telling reporters his motivation isn’t the award at all but rather the disrespect he’s felt of critics disparaging the team’s defense as a whole in light of their offseason moves, specifically jettisoning Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli to create cap room for Kevin Durant. The criticism was never widespread or fever pitch, mind you, but all it takes is a few hot takes from the “embrace debate” high-earners and some eggs on Twitter to make it seem like a consensus. Besides, athletes are forever looking for slights, real or imagined, for fuel.
“People have kinda called our defense out with Bogut leaving, and that kind of pisses me off,” Green revealed in Monday’s presser. “It’s not necessarily about that award. Awards, they are what they are. I’ve never been a guy who prides myself on those. Would it be cool to win? Absolutely. But my goal for this season is to win a championship. In order for us to win a championship we gotta defend.
“When the world says we traded our defense away when we got KD, I disagree. I think our defense actually has the upside to be better. That actually pissed me off more than anything. It’s like ‘Yeah, their defense is going to suck now.’ I take that personal. So that pushes me more than anything else, just the doubt from everyone on that end of the floor. Like if somebody said ‘Yeah, the Warriors’ offense is gonna suck,’ KD would be pissed, Steph [Curry] would be pissed and Klay [Thompson] would be really pissed, so that’s kind of how I feel about the defensive end.”
Green’s dedication and loyalty to his teammates are certainly commendable, even if his sentiments are misplaced. It sure looks like he’s dedicated himself more than ever to being a difference-maker on defense because he’s more needed on that end of the floor without Bogut. Consequently, he’s been less of a factor offensively, not just in his scoring and assist averages and his field goal attempts, but also in his usage rate, which is way down from last year, according to Basketball-Reference.com.
Steve Kerr is on his side, though he’ll admit to being biased. “Draymond’s amazing,” Kerr marveled after the Hawks game. “He literally can guard anybody in the league, from Dwight Howard to Schroder to everybody else in between.”
It’s interesting that coach and player are “Kumbaya” these days — I suppose a 12-game winning streak helps — considering that the last time Green was in this much of an offensive funk was a nationally televised Saturday night special at Oklahoma City where he went off on Kerr in the locker room and threatened to sit out the second half of that game, screaming loud enough to be heard through the locker room walls that he wasn’t a robot.
Green’s shooting only 40.7 percent from the floor and 29.1 percent from three while passing up open shots left and right, hot-potato-ing the ball to Durant and others. He’s not hitting his floaters at all, shooting just 16 percent on shots from 3-10 feet, and is taking one fewer shot and averaging one fewer free throw attempt per 36 minutes. It’s hard to argue his tentativeness has hurt the offense, however, as they’ve never been more efficient overall. Their current offensive rating of 114.6 would be the best in NBA history if it holds up.
The question is whether Green’s right to feel like the front-runner for the DPOY. He ranks fifth on his own team (though third among players who’ve logged over 200 minutes) in defensive rating, but to his credit the on/off stats are in his favor. The club’s defensive rating is second-worst with him off the floor at 104.1, just trailing Durant’s 104.2. Opponents are challenging Green down low as much as ever, according to Matt Moore of CBS Sports, and getting just 72.2 points per 100 possessions for their trouble.
ESPN.com’s Real Plus-Minus has Green as the league’s most productive defender thus far — coincidentally it’s got Bogut second-best — but it’s tough to trust a metric that ranks Zaza Pachulia as the fourth-best defensive center and Durant as the third-best defensive small forward, ahead of people like Leonard, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Al-Farouq Aminu, Andre Roberson and, oh yeah, LeBron James. On the other end of the scale, RPM absolutely sneers at the defensive work of Thompson (88th among shooting guards), Andre Iguodala (28th among small forwards), Curry and Shaun Livingston (45th and 56th, respectively, among point guards).
Leonard’s fallen off some defensively — not having Tim Duncan behind him will do that — so voters may well feel it’s Green’s turn to win it. He’s going to be challenged by DeAndre Jordan of the Clippers, though, so pay attention to those head-to-head match-ups and the standings, not to mention where their respective teams finish overall in defensive rating. There will be others who also make a strong case as well.
One thing’s for sure, Green will have no shortage of opportunities to make a case for himself. The Warriors seem to be nationally televised every other game. As long as the balls he’s smacking around are inflated and orange, his chances for winning his coveted award are almost as good as the odds of achieving his other stated goal, the 16th playoff win that eluded he and his teammates last season.