The beta version of these Golden State Warriors were coached by Mark Jackson and defined by the Splash Brothers. Steph Curry and Klay Thompson came up together as the sons of former NBA players redefining what three-point shooting could do for a team in the modern game. It’s easy to forget now but they were once playing in the shadow of David Lee, at least in terms of national perception. As the Warriors established themselves as a playoff team, the story was all about how far Steph and Klay could carry a team on their narrow shoulders.
Draymond Green’s emergence is what took them to the next level. Swapping out Green for Lee before the start of last season turned them from a good team to a great one and sliding Green down to center for stretches of the game turned them from a great team to one with the chance to be one of the greatest in NBA history. For as talented a scorer as Thompson is, Green has become the second banana in Golden State and the best team in the NBA is defined by the unlikely partnership between him and Curry.
Everything starts with the Green and Cury pick-and-roll, which could go down as this generation’s twist on John Stockton to Karl Malone. There has never been two players with their skill-sets who have been able to attack a defense so well in tandem. The greatest long-range shooter of all-time - a guy who has to be picked up at 30-35 feet away from the basket - is coming off a screen set by one of the most versatile players in the league, a guy who can step out and shoot the 3, put the ball on the floor and attack a close-out and make the right decision on the move everytime, whether it’s shoot the floater, hit the big man for the lob or find one of the shooters in the corner. There’s no right answer for how to defend that play.
What makes it even more dangerous is what Green’s defensive versatility means in terms of the other three players on the floor. Coming into the league, he was seen as a tweener forward, a guy not fast enough to match up with small forwards and not big enough to hang with power forwards. As it turns out, he has managed to leverage his unique set of physical tools in a way that allows him to defend all five positions. When he’s playing center, the Warriors can put three wing shooters around the two-man game and put the defense in an untenable position.
There is no line-up of death without Draymond’s unique set of skills and his versatility is the straw that stirs the drink in Golden State. He can run point on offense and play center on defense and guarding a screen set by a point-center who is playing in maximum space is pretty much impossible. Everyone focuses on the impossibility of finding anyone who can do what Steph does but replicating Draymond is almost as difficult.
There just aren’t many things on a basketball court that Green can’t do well. At 6’6, 240 with a 7’2 wingspan, his low center of gravity and extremely long arms allow him to hold his own against even the biggest players in the league and his reach and quickness allow him to cover ground on the perimeter against even the fastest players. His basketball IQ and his physical and mental toughness are the glue that holds together the Warriors defense and his ability to switch every pick-and-roll and protect the rim allows them to swallow up other teams and turn them over.
Green is the ultimate glue guy who fills in every crack and does all the little things that make Golden State go on both sides of the ball. He’s an elite defender, rebounder and passer and he can score and shoot the ball when called upon. Watch a game and you can see Green everywhere with his hand in just about everything that is going on, whether it’s protecting the rim, cleaning the glass, leading the break, setting up his teammates, stretching the floor or scoring the ball himself.
The numbers speak for themselves. He is posting career highs in points (13.3), rebounds (8.3), assists (7.4), blocks (1.6), field goal percentage (46%) and three-point percentage (38.2%). The advanced numbers are even crazier. The Warriors offensive rating is 16.1 points higher when he is on the floor and their defensive rating is 2.9 points worse when he is off the floor. His net rating (+19.1) is right behind Curry (+21.1) and it’s way ahead of everyone else on the team.
The inevitable question in our NBA Rank obsessed world is just how good Green is in comparison to his peers. Is he an All-Star? An All-NBA player? A Top-10 player? It seems crazy to say about a guy who only averages 13 points a game but try and insert just about any player in the league in Green’s spot and the Warriors become significantly worse. There are a lot of better scorers out there but Golden State doesn’t need scoring and it’s not all that hard to find scoring when building a team. The hard part is finding a guy who can do as many things as Green at as high a level as he can do them.
You can throw all the traditional C’s out of the mix right away. Whether it’s Marc Gasol, DeMarcus Cousins or Dwight Howard, none of them have the versatility to play on the perimeter on both sides of the ball like Draymond. And while he can guard all those guys in the box, none of them can guard him on the three-point line.
Anthony Davis? He can’t shoot 3’s like Draymond and he’s not nearly as capable a playmaker. Blake Griffin? He can’t shoot 3’s either and he’s not the same caliber of rim protector or perimeter defender. LaMarcus Aldridge? He can’t make plays off the dribble or distribute in the same way. Chris Bosh? He’s not guarding 1-5 or running point. Kevin Love? Not in the same galaxy as a defender. Kevin Durant is more of a scorer than a defender. Paul George? He’s uncomfortable playing as the 4, much less the 5. Kawhi Leonard and Jimmy Butler have Draymond’s size and versatility but they aren’t asked to carry nearly as big a load as interior defenders.
There’s only one player in the NBA who can guard all five positions and protect the rim and be a plus rebounder, shooter, passer and scorer. And there’s only one player in the league who the Warriors could slide into Draymond’s role and be a better team, which takes us full circle back to where we left this story last June.
LeBron James can do everything Draymond can do but better because LeBron can do everything there is to do on a basketball court at an extremely high level. The difference is that he isn’t being used in the same way. He spends most of the game playing next to two traditional big men in Cleveland and he never plays as a small-ball C. If you let LeBron play in maximum space with four wing shooters around him, there’s no telling what he could do. The problem is that he has traditionally resisted spending too much time playing as a PF, much less as a C.
If the Cavaliers are going to beat the Warriors, my guess it’s because they have unleashed LeBron as a point center and put four guys who can guard multiple positions and stretch the floor around him. It’s just unclear whether they have those four players on their roster and whether he will be willing to carry such a heavy load on both sides of the ball. However, as long as Draymond Green is doing what he is doing LeBron’s not going to have a choice.