Draymond Green: The Heartbeat

Draymond Green is a superstar.

In the past half a decade, the league has changed and evolved drastically. More and more teams, this year especially, have began to retool their personnel and their roster to try to emulate what the D’Antoni Suns pioneered, what the Spurs built upon, and what the ’14-’15 Warriors perfected. The system that has enamoured GMs across the league isn’t possible for every team in the league, however. It’s a system built on pace and space, having the ball whip around the court, off ball screens, constant movement, creating chaos in the defence, and of course, scoring lots of points. It’s the new fad that is here to stay: Small ball.

However, it’s not so much about playing as small as possible and inserting shooters everywhere you can in order to space the floor. Small ball is based on the idea of versatility. The ’14-’15 Warriors were dominant in every facet of the game. Sure, they have a couple of pretty good shooters who can hit threes at an alarming rate (I’m underselling it just a bit) which makes them an exciting basketball team to watch. Yes, of course we know Steph is an inexplicably good shooter. But that’s one, very small cog which makes the this current Warriors team the freight train that they are.

The Warriors, first and foremost, are an incredible defensive team. They have been for a long time, even under Mark Jackson. During his tenure, everyone who saw the Warriors with Steph jacking 30, 35, even 40 footers would think that they are an elite offensive team. This was far from the truth. In reality, the ’13-’14 Warriors team that took the Clippers to seven games ran a very average, middle of the pack offence. It was their defence with Bogut as their anchor and long, versatile wings in Thompson and Igoudala that made them an above average team. Offensive sets generally came down to a lot of isos and a couple of high screens which eventually lead to Curry isos on mismatches. This system under Mark Jackson worked, but it didn’t cater to the type of personnel that they had on the team and severely under-utilized the Warriors’ two most lethal offensive weapons.

The ’13-’14 Warriors took the Clippers, without Bogut, to a brutal and physical seven game series where both teams were clawing to make it into the second round. Jackson was promptly fired after the loss, allowing NBA darling Steve Kerr to take the reigns. Kerr, who is no stranger to the three ball, saw a chance to install an offensive system that was custom fit to the team’s main strengths. It utilized a lot of ball movement as well as constant off ball screens and backdoor cuts from the team’s best shooters. This was all made possible due to the two great passing big men, Bogut and David Lee (oh yeah, I remember that guy!). A few weeks in, David Lee, the highest paid player on the team, suffers a hamstring injury and is ruled out for twenty-odd games.

Enter Draymond Green, the 6’7” tweener second round draft pick from Michigan State. What? Prior to Lee’s injury, Draymond rarely logged any minutes at the four, with most of his minutes coming from the small forward position. He was an energetic bench guy who contributed a solid few minutes with an ugly jump shot and above average defence. No one knew how he would fare as the team’s starting power forward, let alone become one of the most important pieces in a historic season. I don’t think even Kerr had any idea.

Fast forward to this season and Draymond Green has become a superstar. The term “superstar” is kind of arbitrary. What does it mean to be a superstar? Throughout NBA history it’s generally been a guy who you can throw the ball in the post or top of the key and he’ll be able to create his own jumpshot. That’s just kind of how it’s always been. Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, Durant. These guys are all players who are renowned for their ability to score, especially in one on one situations. Draymond Green can’t do that. Admittedly, this year he has really improved his three point stroke and has become a surprisingly good finisher at the rim. He is unusually strong for a guy his size, which is part of the key to the Warriors’ success. However, he still isn’t a guy that you can just dump the ball to and expect him to take over a game.

No, instead Draymond is a player who thrives on the intangibles. He is the industrial sized version of a “glue guy.” Draymond never gives less than 100% on both the defensive and offensive ends and it shows. When he gets it going, the Warriors feed off of his energy. Whether it be a tipped pass, a blocked shot, diving for a loose ball, or hitting an and-1 layup on the other end (which will undoubtedly end in a flex for the camera afterwards). He sets the tone for his teammates that’s hard to shake. There’s a reason that Kerr calls him the “heartbeat” of the Warriors.

So what is it that makes Draymond a superstar? There are tons of glue guys in the league, why is this dude making $16 million a year? Versatility. Yup, there’s that word again. On the defensive end, he allows the Warriors to switch everything. He, along with the other wingers with long wingspans, are able to constantly switch on screens and swarm the ball handler with help in every direction. Draymond is one of the only players in the league who can comfortably guard a point guard and a centre, as well as everything in between. He’s that good. He isn’t the fastest or the strongest, but he is always there. He’s smart, always keeps his feet planted on the ground, and his hands straight up. His 7’1″ wingspan allows him to bother perimeter players as well as keep up with the bigs.

His incredible reach is also handy for grabbing offensive and defensive rebounds. There aren’t a lot of guys in the league who have skill set to defend the opposing centre, grab the defensive board, push the ball up the floor, and loop a pinpoint accurate pass to a leaking Igoudala before the defence has had a chance to set. This is the last facet of his game that is criminally underrated: his passing. Draymond’s handle has gotten a lot better that he is able to dribble drive past smaller or slower defenders and whip a cross court pass for an open Klay three. Or maybe he sets a high screen for Curry, receives a pass and rolls to the basket. From here, he has a few different options: Drive to the basket and try to bulldoze through his smaller defender or, if the defence chases over the screen, he can continue rolling to the basket while drawing help defenders, where he can throw a lob upstairs to wide open Ezeli, or perhaps kick it back out for a corner three. Draymond has become so adept at reading the game that he always makes the right decisions.

It’s no wonder that this guy was able to rack up thirteen triple-doubles throughout the course of this season, second behind certified manic Russell Westbrook. The way Draymond has elevated his game on the offensive end while continuing to be an elite defensive force has made him an invaluable piece to the Warriors. If you watch any one Warriors game, it’s incredibly easy to see the impact that Draymond has in the game. It’s not even an argument anymore. Draymond Green is a superstar and there isn’t a single NBA team that wouldn’t benefit from his unique skill set.

Is he the sole reason behind the Warriors success? Of course not. Him being thrust into the starting lineup was a complete fluke at the expense of David Lee (bless his soul). But in order to become great, I think every team needs a little luck. Kudos to the front office for being able to draft the core of Curry, Thompson, Barnes, and Green. But most importantly, the front office had the foresight to trade away their All-Star Monta Ellis for Bogut, despite the protest of their fans. They saw a vision for a team that could put defence first and become contenders in the West with some patience. However, no one could have foreseen Curry becoming the all-time superstar that he is today and leading the Warriors to an unprecedented 73-win season. But the Warriors didn’t win a championship because of small ball and Stephen Curry. They won because of talent, a little bit of luck, and a lot of heart — but also the know-how to run a franchise and the patience to watch it all come together.

-Allan Huynh

 

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