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Golden State Warriors

Draymond Green bolstering Defensive Player of the Year case sans KD

Tom West

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(AP Photo/Jim Mone)
AP Photo/Jim Mone

Draymond Green’s versatility or Rudy Gobert’s Stifle Towering rim protection? There are two clear options in the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year race this season, both of which are perfectly justifiable options.

They both excel in their own regard and do things no one else can, and have both transferred that to team success. The Golden State Warriors’ defense has drastically overachieved this season behind Draymond’s fierce, steadying presence in so many facets of the game.

The Utah Jazz can dump Gobert in and around the paint and let him block, contest and prevent shots to no end. They have a tough defense because of it.

I’m going to dive into Green’s case, though. Because while you can certainly go either way, the sheer amount of dominant defensive stuff Green has been doing better than ever is unmatched in the league right now.

The range of Green’s defensive play is so hard to match or surpass. He’s the ultimate swiss army knife that plays above and below his size at the same time, guarding positions 1-5 in a way that no one else can. It’s at the heart of the Warriors’ ability to go small and be so successful because Green can switch onto guards whenever necessary and still help protect the rim.

He gets everywhere on the floor to break up plays. You can’t plan to beat him with mismatches because he can hassle everyone.

Kevin Durant’s impact has been vital to the Warriors’ defense with the quickness and length in his unique 7’0″ frame. His career-high 1.6 blocks per game have added a level of rim protection that Golden State desperately needed.

So, even though he’s not on Green’s level, Durant has been a major driving force in the Warriors ranking second in defensive efficiency this season, climbing from fourth last season despite losing their interior shot blocking size and muscle in Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli.

It’s for the recent loss of this support that Green has taken his DPOY case up a notch. Due to a Grade 2 MCL Sprain that’s kept Durant sidelined for the last 11 games and possibly until the end of the regular season, Green has been the backbone, quarterback and versatile enforcer of the team without his rim-protecting forward running mate. And the Warriors have still got by defensively.

Well, they’ve done more than get by. They may not have faced a ton of elite opponents all the time (Philadelphia, Orlando and Dallas in their last five games, for instance), but they’ve somehow led the league — yes, led the league — in defensive rating since Durant went down, allowing a mere 99.7 points per 100 possessions.

To strengthen Green’s DPOY case, this is highlighting his value, even more, seeing as he doesn’t have Bogut, Ezeli or Durant for support now.

Green has been exceptional. As a result of anchoring the Warriors’ league-best defense in this spell, he’s earned the second-best defensive rating among all players who’ve averaged at least 25 minutes at a tremendous 94.6, only falling 0.3 behind P.J.Tucker (who has also been brilliant lately since arriving in Toronto).

Without Green, that number soars to 106.5 points. As a result, Green also has the best net rating in the NBA at +16.3 since Durant’s injury. For the season as a whole, Green ranks first in defensive rating at 99.1 (among players averaging at least 20+ points per game) and second in Defensive Real Plus-Minus at 5.33.

Of course, not everything is on Green’s shoulders. While the Warriors have had their issues without Durant, the team has stayed focused defensively, communicated well and delivered high effort (Andre Iguodala turning his defense up a notch has made a difference).

Without that, they wouldn’t be so good. Obviously, the same goes for Gobert and all the athleticism, length and depth that surrounds him in Utah.

Green has been doing what he always does. Playing through adversity at a time when the team needs his defense more than ever is always going to bring out the best, most intense version of himself.

Take his six-block game against the 76ers on March 14, for example. He showed off all of the things that make him stand out, from the rare ability of being able to go straight up to protect the rim at 6’7″ to his instincts that place him a step ahead of almost everyone else.

Here, point guard T.J. McConnell thought he’d try and take Green off the dribble by driving down the lane for a layup. Once the 76ers got the switch off a pick-and-roll, though, to place Green onto McConnell, the poor 76er was smothered all the way to the basket and had his shot pummelled off the court:

Guards can’t simply slip past Green as they would against other power forwards and centers. Jahlil Okafor was shut out, too, as Green helped Matt Barnes with another McConnell drive to force a pass before turning and jumping to block Okafor at the rim:

Another recent game, the Warriors’ 117-95 win over the Milwaukee Bucks on March 18, provided a perfect example of what Green can do against all kinds of opponents.

Even when facing the freakiest of athletes in the phenom that is Giannis Antetokounmpo, Green is a force. He defended Giannis frequently, helping to force the Bucks’ All-Star to shoot 4-of-14 for only nine points; it was his fourth-worst shooting performance of the entire season.

Green showed that he could keep with Giannis on his drives and avoid fouling:

Or here, where Green shifts his feet and attacks the ball to prevent Giannis from trying two drives to the basket, constantly gestures and communicates positioning with his teammates, and then switches onto Malcolm Brogdon to force a miss at the rim:

Green probably doesn’t get enough credit for being as smart as he is. Like Nikola Jokic sees plays and passing opportunities before they happen on offense, Green anticipates what his opponents are going to try before anyone else on defense. With his motor and length to support that awareness, he’s often able to capitalize with steals, too. After all, he is the league leader with 2.1 per game.

People just aren’t supposed to get triple-doubles with steals. But Green did earlier this season, becoming the first to record a triple-double without scoring 10 points:

As Green showed so well in that game, he can stop the biggest of centers with his persistence, strength and annoying arms, including 7’1″ All-Stars like Marc Gasol:

It doesn’t feel like Green–or the Warriors as a whole–are getting enough credit for how they’ve fared defensively without Durant. Their depth, size, rim protection and lineup versatility have all taken a major hit, yet they keep on going, and Green keeps dominating. We take the offense for granted, but we can’t be why we overlook how pivotal defense is to the Warriors’ success and how integral Green is to making that possible.

Gobert may still win DPOY, and it wouldn’t be unfair for him to do so after defending the paint like no other, anchoring the Jazz’s third-ranked defense and being so important to their ascension to a 44-28 record and fourth place in the West. There are plenty of reasons he leads the league in Defensive Real Plus-Minus.

Draymond Green is as steadying and overwhelming a defensive player as any in the NBA, though, establishing an array of ability in countless aspects of the game against every position. Voter fatigue will hurt Kawhi Leonard after he won the last two years.

Green’s diversity for a defense that has drastically overachieved all season, and even more in Durant’s absence, speaks for itself. After coming close the last two seasons, this could finally be Green’s year.

All statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com and NBA.com.

Tom West is an NBA writer based in England with a degree in English Language. He currently writes about the league for FanRag Sports, and has previously written for FanSided, The Cauldron and served as the editor of Clipperholics for two years, covering the LA Clippers.

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