During the past three seasons, Draymond Green has cemented himself as one of the premiere defenders and play makers in the NBA. Winning a championship in his first year as a starter and following that up with being named an NBA All-Star the past two seasons, Green has become one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports.
And he has not done so quietly by any means.
Known as an avid trash talker and for his eccentric celebrations after big plays, Green is beginning to be mentioned in the same breath as some of the most elite players in the NBA, and deservedly so. It is also beneficial for Green that he plays with some of the best players on the planet every night in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant. Last season, the Warriors set an NBA record by finishing the regular season with a 73-9 record, and went out and added one of the most lethal scorers of all time in Durant this past off-season to make their 2016-17 squad one of the most feared of all-time.
So, with the Warriors being so dominant offensively, how does a second round pick out of Michigan State fit in to the Warrior’s success? Let’s take a look.
After being selected with the 35th pick in the 2012 NBA draft, Green gradually gained more and more playing time during his rookie season, and got significant minutes when the Warriors made their first playoff appearance since the “We Believe” days back in 2007. Unfortunately for Green, in his first ever playoff game, he gave up the game winning layup to Andre Miller of the Denver Nuggets. The Warriors would go on to win the series (some guy named Stephen Curry broke into the national spotlight in game 3 of that series, maybe you’ve heard of him) 4-2. Also, that first game would be one of the last times Draymond’s defense would ever come into question.
Fast forward to the 2014-15 season, where first-year head coach Steve Kerr would make Draymond Green a day-one starter after David Lee was sidelined with an injury. Green would never look back, and not only keep his role as a starter but also finish as the runner-up in both the Defensive Player of the Year voting and the Most Improved Player awards. Green averaged 8.2 rebounds and almost 2 steals a game while holding his opponents field goal percentage (FG%) to 45.4. The Warriors would go on to win their first championship in 40 years that season, with Green recording a triple-double in the series clinching game over the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Green would finish up as the runner-up again in the Defensive Player of the Year voting the next season, losing both times to the Spur’s Kawai Leonard. He was a main proponent in the Warrior’s NBA record 73 regular season wins, but was also beginning to be recognized for his trash talk and controversial play that resulted in him kicking multiple players in the groin. He was ultimately suspended for one game in the finals, where they would lose in seven games to the Cavaliers. He boasted nearly 10 rebounds per game and 1.5 steals per game during the regular season, and in those 81 regular season games, he held his opponents to 45.4% shooting. Keep in mind, Green puts up these sorts of numbers while typically guarding the opposing team’s best player.
Draymond Green has continued his defensive brilliance into this season, and is seen as the favorite to finally capture that elusive Defensive Player of the Year award. On top of averaging 7.9 total rebounds and leading the league with 2 steals a game, Green is averaging 1.4 blocks as well. Tack on a 46.1 FG% against him as the primary defender, and he has a great case for finally being awarded for his defense. Now, the numbers do not tell the whole story of his defensive brilliance this season, as Draymond has come up clutch for the Warriors many times in crunch time.
A prime example of this came on Nov. 28, 2016 when Green made not one, but TWO defensive stops in the final minute of the game against the Atlanta Hawks that all but sealed the deal for the Warriors. Green was able to block Dennis Schröder and Kent Bazemore on back-to-back possessions and give Golden State back the ball. His ability to get all ball on both possessions and block the ball off of the offense out of bounds both times they came at him was a testament to his greatness on defense.
Another example came from a game early in the season against Milwaukee. Draymond had the (nearly) impossible task of guarding Giannis Antetokounmpo with 10 seconds left in the game and the Warriors leading by two. On the inbounds pass, Draymond was able to reach around Antetokounmpo and tip the ball to teammate Klay Thompson, all but sealing the deal yet again for Golden State. Plays like that will not show up in the stat sheet, but being able to close games defensively in clutch situations is part of the reason Draymond is heralded around the league for his unique abilities on the basketball court.
It could be argued that while the Warriors have two MVPs and a Finals MVP on their roster, Draymond Green is the most important player on Golden State. His fire and passion is a spark for the Warriors, as the rest of the All-Stars are typically pretty quiet on the court. Green plays, and embraces, the role of being the enforcer, and in doing so brings the bully mentality that other players on the team lack.
Love Draymond Green or hate Draymond Green, but if you want to try to argue against his importance to the Golden State Warriors, you have got yourself an uphill battle, because no one in the NBA can do what Green does night in and night out. The Warriors are building themselves a dynasty, and the heartbeat of the team has been an under-the-radar second round pick, who will play with a chip on his shoulder until the day he hangs up his #23.
Header image credit to Wikimedia Commons.