Draymond Green has long established that he’s an elite player in the league, in spite of his lack of scoring. Thursday night, as I was watching the Golden State Warriors come back from their abysmal first quarter against the San Antonio Spurs, I couldn’t help but focus on Green and how much he means to the defending champions.
He’s not the most valuable player or even the second-most valuable player: That would be whatever order you want to put Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant in.
Yet, there is something the Warriors would be missing without Green, and while some of that is basketball, it’s not all basketball. Both in terms of personality and skills, he meshes perfectly with what the Warriors do and who they are.
Curry might be the heart of what the Warriors do, but Green is the adrenal gland. When it comes to fight or flight, he’s the one that fuels the adrenaline, supplying the Warriors with the fight.
Thursday night, what caught my eye was when Green returned in the second quarter. With the Dubs down 49-35, Green grabbed a defensive rebound, but then turned the ball over on a bad pass. Frustrated with himself, he fouled LaMarcus Aldridge 20 seconds later. Aldridge made the freebies to give the Spurs a 51-35 lead with 4:26 left in the half.
That’s when Green’s fighting spirit kicked in. Curry drained a 3. Then the defense, fueled largely by Dray’s ubiquity, forced the Spurs into a shot-clock violation. Green fed Kevin Durant for a 3. Then LaMarcus Aldridge recovered a missed Patty Mills shot and put it back as Green contested. He missed and rebounded it again. Green’s contest forced another miss. And again. This time it went in and Aldridge got the and-1, but the Warriors were suddenly awake.
They started chipping away at the deficit, with Green putting the clamps on defensively. The Dubs cut the margin to five by the end of the half, and Dray buried a 3 to open the second half. Then he stuffed a dunk to cut the Spurs’ lead to two again after a Danny Green make. With 10:29 left, Zaza Pachulia hit a layup to tie it. With 9:44 left in the third, Draymond put the Dubs up four with a free throw (61-57).
In a span of 6:45, the Warriors outscored the Spurs 26-6. In that span, Green contributed 14 of the Warriors’ points, either through passing or scoring, was vital to numerous stops and was on the court the entire time. He fueled the comeback, and by the end of the game, the Dubs had won it going away.
Some people dislike Green because of his temperament, propensity to whine and overall “jerkiness.” That’s understandable, but having a guy like that on the nice-guy Warriors is crucial.
The Skill Set
Green’s defense is well renowned. His ability to defend all five positions well is why he’s the reigning Defensive Player of the Year. We don’t need to recount all that.
His passing, however, hasn’t gotten the same level of attention. It is not only at an elite level, the way he gets his assists is unique. The chart below demonstrates how that is, but it requires an explanation. (You can see all the details in an interactive version of the chart here.)
What this shows is every player in the league who is averaging at least six assists per game. But the axes need explaining.
First, the vertical axis shows “net passes,” which is the difference between passes made and passes received.
Why is that significant? Think of the ways you can get the ball: Someone can pass it to you, you can get a rebound or steal, or recover a loose ball.
The ways you can get rid of the ball are passing it, shooting it and turning it over.
So, your off-the-bench power forward who brings hustle and rebounding but doesn’t have a lot of usage will get a lot of balls that weren’t passed to him. One who passes the ball will have fewer passes received than made, but a guy who runs the offense and shoots a lot will have more passes received than made because a lot of his possessions are ending in shots.
The vertical axis shows net passes received. This isn’t a positive or negative assessment; it’s merely observational.
Also consider that the more a player is responsible for running the offense, the more often the ball is going to be in his hands. The horizontal axis shows how many minutes the player has the ball for each assist. (That’s Kemba Walker on the right, whose name didn’t show up.)
What is impressive about Green is that he facilitates like a point guard without playing like a point guard. All the other players in the chart are either point guards, shooting guards who play like point guards (James Harden), or point forwards (LeBron James). Whatever you call them, they tend to be the one with the ball in their hands the most, and they all get the ball a lot more than they give it. Again, that’s not a criticism; it’s an observation.
What makes Draymond so unique is his ability to facilitate like a point guard without dominating the ball. When he does that, the Warriors win. They are 68-8 over Green’s career when he delivers at least eight assists in a game. That number is remarkable on two counts. First, there’s the winning percentage (equal to a 73-win team) and second, the volume — he is second among power forwards with that many dimes in 30 games.
Depending on whom you classify as power forwards, every power in the NBA combined has 81 — just five more than Green by himself.
We give the Warriors a lot of credit for how the ball pops on the offensive end, but Green is the most important part of making that work. He averages more touches than Kevin Durant, and doesn’t only lead the team in assists; he leads the Dubs in passes made and assist-to-pass percentage.
His assists come within the flow of the offense, either through pushing the ball upcourt via outlet passes or from quick recognition and decision-making while the ball is flying around the perimeter, trying to find an open shooter. Granted, it helps that Green’s choices are Curry, Durant and Klay Thompson — but no one else on the team seems to take advantage of that as much as he does. He has great vision and always seems to know which of the three he can deliver the ball to. That’s why his teammates’ effective field goal percentage is 70 percent off his passes this year.
Whether Draymond Green would do as well in a different offense is moot. That kind of passing often gets the Warriors going when they need such a spark. It’s why feeding Durant and Curry had just as much to do with sparking the Warriors’ rally against the Spurs as shutting down the bucket on the other end.
It’s why on both ends of the court, Green is the adrenaline that fuels the Warriors.
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