Draymond Green was always going to have a solid NBA career. Despite being picked 35th overall (underrated), he’s always been one of those guys who knew his spots and played them at an average or better level. He’s always been a decent passer, a very good rebounder, and a passable-at-least scorer. He’s an energy guy and a hustle man. Those players always have a spot in the league. When the Golden State Warriors picked him in 2012, he looked pretty much like the guy most expected him to: toughness and defense off the bench with a spotty shot and tons of effort. Going into the 2013-14 season, he lost 20lbs and got better. He played 82 full games with 12 starts, and earned praise for his toughness averaging 1.7 steals and 1.7 blocks per game in a seven game series with the Clippers that Golden State ultimately lost. But that’s not the story here.
The year after, he took it to another level. After David Lee went down early with a hamstring injury, Green took over and cemented himself in the starter’s role at power forward, a position he’s traditionally undersized for. He became the ultimate swiss-army knife, filling every gap and playing every role, continually coming up big in grand moments. The pinnacle of that timeliness was a triple-double in the Finals-clinching game that won the Warriors their first title since 1975. But that’s not the story here either.
Prior to the 2015-16 season, Green re-upped with the Warriors on a five-year, $82 million contract. That cash-in might have been worrying if he was less of a hard worker. He spent all year enabling Golden State’s “Lineup of Death”, featuring him at center in a small, five out set of players that ripped other teams apart all year. He’s a triple double machine and a double double machine, averaging 14 points per game and 9.5 rebounds per game (along with 7.4 assists) on great efficiency numbers. He’s played stellar defense all year. But again, that’s not the story.
The story is how he’s stepped into an increased role in the playoffs, been forced to do nearly everything more, and has done everything even better. And not just a little better. A lot better. Let’s start with the basics, regular season versus playoffs:
Side note: there’s also 4 double-doubles and 1 triple-double in the playoffs across nine games so far.
This is already a great improvement. His FG% took a hit, but his 3P% skyrocketed as he attempted a couple more shots per game. For what it’s worth, his eFG% is almost exactly the same. He’s assisting just as much, and rebounding a hair more. These are all things the Warriors sorely needed from him with Stephen Curry out. The bigger differences are when you look even closer. On offense, he’s touching and passing the ball more. This year, Green passed 64.1 times per game, versus 75.7 in the playoffs (roughly 10% of those result in assists). Touches? Up to 98.6 from 81.2. As mentioned a second ago, he’s also shooting the ball more. He’s more important on offense not just from a shooting standpoint, but from a focal standpoint. Things are running through him more. He’s also rebounding stronger. In the playoffs, 47.3% of his rebounds are contested (defined as having an opposing player within 3.5 feet). In the regular season, that number was 36.5%. Half of his rebounds are ones that he hustles and fights for, and has to beat someone for.
And of course, we can’t talk about Draymond Green’s importance without checking defense. This is where things get really scary. Here’s his defensive tracking, regular season versus playoffs (these FGAs are “against”, meaning shots taken with Green defending them):
When he defends shots, they drop into a dismal range. For reference, there are players in Green’s same range of minutes that shoot worse than 45.5%. There are none that shoot as badly as players do when he’s on defense. That’s Ricky Rubio range. 2016 Jarrett Jack range. Emmanuel Mudiay range. The drop in the playoffs though? Insane. A 12 percentage point drop is crazy. 33.7% shooting is really bad. Worse than retirement tour Kobe bad. There’s nobody in the NBA playing 25 minutes a game or more that shoots that badly, but they do when Green guards them.
The question then becomes, what specifically is he doing better? He did a bit better against three-point shots during the year, and there’s basically no change in opposition 3P% when he guards in the playoffs. That’s not his thing. In the midrange? About the same. It’s all about the paint defense. During the regular season, players attempting a shot from six feet or less against Green saw a FG% drop of -8.1, from 60.5% to 52.5%, which is great. In this year’s playoffs, players Green have defended shoot an average of 60.1% from less than six, so about the same. When Green comes at them? 37.7%.
Let that sink in for a second. It’s a change of -22.4 percentage points. For reference, there are only four starters who played 60+ games this year who shot worse than that for the season, taking all their attempts into account. In the 2016 playoffs, players attempting a shot from six feet against Draymond Green shoot them barely better than the four worst starting shooters all season. Those players, for the record, are Kobe Bryant (35.8%), Emmanuel Mudiay (36.4%), Ricky Rubio (37.4%), and Danny Green (37.6%).
Golden State is running more of their games through Green than ever now, partially due to Curry’s absence. Given those increased opportunities, he has done essentially everything at least as well, just extrapolated out for volume. But his defense has been out of this world. He’s not the offensive heavyweight that Curry or Klay Thompson are, but he gets his points. And he gets them every game. This year’s Warriors are both an unstoppable force and an immovable object, but not always both at the same time. Green is a potent mix of both.