Draymond doesn’t score anymore. It’s a combination of factors: his poor shooting stroke, a predilection to pass, the decaying athleticism of a 31-year-old who enjoys a night out and was never spectacularly mobile in the first place. It feels in certain respects like a more honest expression of what he’s great at, for him to have these games where he only scores five points but can still be said to have played well. He lights up the basketball dork part of your brain the way Dennis Rodman and Boris Diaw used to. He must be explained to the layman, and in the middle of that explanation, you pause and think well, I don’t really understand it either; he’s just kind of a genius. You think you know NBA defense until you watch Draymond play it and realize that there is a different level of knowledge you can’t pick up from study. It’s what animals understand about smells, that you couldn’t hope to.
Like Diaw and Rodman eventually did, after butter and booze got to them, Draymond appears to be entering the part of his career where his mind is straining to compensate for the stuff his body can’t do anymore. (Abilities he’s unlikely to recover, through diet or some new strenuous workout regimen. Draymond doesn’t strike me as the vegan-at-33 type.) In each of the last three seasons, he’s had at least one significant injury layoff and then a rough patch as he reentered the lineup. His lower body gives him grief, particularly his right foot, which has been bruised and sprained several times over. It’s slightly strange to think of Draymond as quick, but he covers quite a bit of ground on defense, in two- or three-stride increments. From the block to the corner, from the elbow to the top of the key, etc. They’re not dead sprints—Draymond’s top speed is theoretical—but they’re movements that need to be performed swiftly. It makes the difference between a lightly contested shot and a smothered one, an open passing lane and a deflection, a pretty good positional defender and Draymond Green, who can screw up an offense more or less by himself, because he knows what the actions are and consistently stays ahead of them. Hard to do at 31. Nearly impossible, with a sore knee or a bum foot.
On offense, at least, he can control the pace and let others do most of the running around. He operated at the point for stretches last season. Not high post point forward, not that thing where teams double Steph Curry and Draymond goes downhill 4-on-3, but straight up point guard maneuvers: taking the ball up the court, faking dribble hand-offs, wheeling around screens, inevitably driving the lane and looking to pass. Steve Kerr put Draymond in this position out of necessity, because the alternative was letting Andrew Wiggins cook entirely too much, but also seemingly to keep Draymond engaged. When more than half of what a player brings resides in his mind, you don’t want him bored, as he was for most of the Warriors’ cursed 19-20 season. Allowing Draymond to throw lots of lobs and bounce passes and football-style heaves from his own paint invigorates him. He loves demonstrating that he has the angles down better than anyone else. Draymond’s adventures in Point Guarding produced easy buckets and a positive outlook: probably what resembled premature decline in the winter of 2020 was just ennui, a less severe case of what Boris Diaw was suffering from during his Bobcats tenure. If Draymond isn’t going to approach the all-around brilliance he displayed in his mid-20s, he’s still a really useful player, provided you give him something to care about.
The shape of the work Kerr carves out for Draymond will be different in 21-22. That’s the idea, anyway, with Klay Thompson returning at whatever full strength looks like following a torn ACL and Achilles. I considered putting Klay in this series, but realized I have nothing but questions about him. And they’re not particularly novel ones. I don’t have any clue how he’ll perform coming off a pair of serious, season-obliterating injuries. Draymond will respond to what Klay can give the team. Maybe Klay’s his old self, and Draymond fills in the gaps. Maybe he’s sharp but more stationary, and Draymond has to create looks for him. Maybe he’s depressingly diminished, maybe his legs are shot. Draymond will contract or expand as needed. He’s used to that. But there are hard limits on what he can contribute. He might sulk if that third thing happens, and the season starts to curdle.
There’s buzz that he’s been working to extend his range. This past July, Kerr claimed Draymond was “shooting the hell out of the ball” in workouts. This is something Draymond has in common with Ben Simmons, and most other NBA players. Since the 15-16 season, in which he was nearly 39 percent from behind the line, he’s been a terrible three-point shooter, even when defenses leave him wide open. It’s conceivable that he could develop that skill and it could serve as a significant advantage for this battleworn and back-to-basics Warriors squad. But more likely than not Draymond will continue to fire a triple or two per game, and clank the vast majority of them.
Which is just as well. The ability to hit an uncontested 24-footer is a useful but not very interesting talent. And Draymond Green is an interesting player, at an interesting point in his career. Almost everything he’s good at is difficult, hard to find. You feel the labor of it, the thin margins he’s constantly operating within, while also appreciating that some part of his play is effortless, buoyed by gifts as innate as Giannis’s length or Zion’s springiness. All that sweaty grinding—Draymond is an unparalleled perspirer—is underpinned by an impossible intelligence. The body keeps up, still. But it’s always been a secondary thing, and is becoming more of a nuisance all the time.