Marquese Chriss

How Draymond Green is leading Warriors in ‘frustrating,’ injury-plagued season

How Draymond Green is leading Warriors in ‘frustrating,’ injury-plagued season

Draymond Green has been a winner for as long as he can remember.

To maintain that standard, he has used a forceful, unapologetic style, often riding his star Warriors teammates — sometimes to their chagrin — on their way to three NBA titles in five years.

These days, his approach is tamed. With Kevin Durant out of town, a 2-12 start to this season and seven players injured, Green must reconcile himself with a new Warriors era while mentoring a young group.

"It's frustrating," Green recently admitted to NBC Sports Bay Area. "I've never lost at this rate in my life, but I just got to look at the bright side. Just try to make sure that I'm leading these young guys the right way."

Since he entered the league eight seasons ago, Green has unabashedly pried, cursed and grinded teammates in an effort to get the most out of them. There’s no better example of that approach than a year ago, when Green cursed out Durant during an early season loss to the Clippers, calling him out during a nationally televised game.

Green was suspended in the fallout, and his friendship with Durant -- who signed with the Brooklyn Nets in July -- needed repair, further perpetuating a narrative he'd built around the league.

"I thought he was going to be an a—hole," said Marquese Chriss, who joined the Warriors this season. "I'm not going to lie."

Of the eight new Warriors, Chriss might have been the biggest beneficiary of Green's refined approach. Chriss was drafted No. 8 overall by the Kings in 2016 before being sent to the Suns in a draft-night trade. He spent two seasons in Phoenix, before stints in Cleveland and Houston, with some reported character concerns along the way.

"He was immature," former Suns teammate Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Bay Area last month. "But it's not a bad immaturity. He just had to grow up, and they threw him into the fire and sometimes kids aren't ready for that." 

When Chriss signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Warriors in late September, Green had a message for him.

"This is your opportunity to f--k up," the veteran forward said. "You're going to have an opportunity to show yourself. Take advantage of it."

Chriss heeded Green's words, averaging 9.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game during the preseason, forcing the Warriors to add him to their cash-strapped roster by cutting Alfonzo McKinnie. But it was Green's defense of the former first-round pick's journey after a preseason loss to the Lakers that earned Chriss' trust.

"[People] always want to blame the kid," Green said that night. "It's not always the kid's fault. He's getting older now, so he's not a kid anymore. But he came into this league as a kid, but it's never the organization's fault. It's always that guy. So I'm happy he's gotten the opportunity to show what he can really do because it's a prime example.”

Chriss' social-media mentions received a notable uptick after Green’s comments, to the point that his mother, Shawntae, reached out to check on her boy, who was grateful for his teammate’s statement.

"To have somebody like that who is willing to take the backlash for saying things like that is pretty dope,” Chriss said.

Green's leadership tendencies remain apparent, but with a twist. In the second half of his team's latest loss Sunday to the Pelicans, he yelled at guard Jordan Poole as he walked off the floor, getting in the rookie's face as he made his point. Toward the end of the conversation, Green tapped the 20-year old's chest in encouragement, displaying his tough-love relationship.

"I can go to him for anything,” Poole said. "If I have any questions or we want to hang out, want to go get food. If I do something wrong, he'll tell me. If I'm doing something good, he'll encourage me. It's just kind of like a big-brother, little-brother relationship."

Added Warriors coach Steve Kerr: “He knows he has to be the guy, and he does a great job of it. He's doing a good job of being patient because these are trying times for our team and for him."

While injuries have all but erased the Warriors’ playoff chances, Green's imprint on the next generation has been evident. Rookie Eric Paschall has averaged 17.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 48 percent from the field over his last five games. With Stephen Curry and All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell out of the lineup with injuries, two-way guard Ky Bowman had 19 points and four assists in 28 minutes in his latest outing. 

"I like them a lot," Green said of the Warriors’ young players. "They're not backing down from anyone. They got a lot to learn, which is to be expected. But one thing you can't really teach is confidence. And they don't lack in that area, which is important for them moving forward in this league."

Green's change in demeanor comes as the Warriors embrace a new chapter. Over his first five seasons, Golden State won 78 percent of its games, capping the best run in NBA history by winning three titles in five NBA Finals appearances. Now, with Durant gone and Curry and Klay Thompson shelved until at least February, Green is aware of his team's new reality.

"It's different," he said. "Because it's like people don't expect us to win, but teams don't play us like they don't expect us to win. Everybody still wants to beat our a--."

Indeed, teams around the league are relishing this new era. After the Warriors’ season-opening loss to the Clippers, LA guard Patrick Beverley boasted to Yahoo! Sports: "Y’all a little different without KD, I see. Uh-huh, y’all cheated long enough. It’s OK. Y’all had a good run. Back to reality.”

Beverley essentially verbalized the league's attitude toward the new Warriors, which amuses Green. 

"We put them down, so they're trying to kick us while we're down too because we've put them down for years," Green said. “But we didn't have to take shots while they were down. We just put them down, so it's a difference."

Green’s push for another title is coming at a cost. Last season, he missed 16 games in the regular season while nursing toe, knee and ankle injuries, forcing him to lose more than 20 pounds by the playoffs. He blamed the rough start on compounding injuries piling up the previous season, which forced him to prioritize rehab over basketball activities during the summer of 2018. He admitted he didn't play pickup until his “Grind Week” -- his invite-only camp at Oakland's Holy Names University -- just prior to the season, something he was able to change entering his eighth NBA campaign.

"This offseason was different because I was healthy,” Green said, “so I was able to be in the gym, get my work in, just kind of typical offseason as opposed to that offseason before I was so beat up." 

The summer also brought a four-year, $100 million commitment from the Warriors. Still, Green hasn't had a clean bill of health through the first month of the season. A torn ligament in his left index finger -- which Green insists is fine -- forced him to sit out five games, begging the question: Could his current contract be his last as a pro? 

"No," Green deadpanned. "I get a lot of nicks and knacks, which part of it just comes from the way I play. But I'm not going to act like I'm just the most beat-up guy. There are guys that have had three, four major surgeries and they say like, ‘Thank God.’ Knock on wood, I've never had a surgery. It's all relative." 

Even in Golden State's current state of peril, there's still hope for the future. Curry and Thompson are expected to be healthy to start next season, reuniting Green with the group that started the Warriors’ run five years ago. Additionally, a $17 million trade exception -- acquired when the Warriors dealt Andre Iguodala to Memphis -- is expected to bolster the team's depth, potentially building another Western Conference contender.

[RELATED: How Draymond, Bowman will be used with D-Lo out]

But for now, Green has his eyes on something different. 

"I take this league one day at a time," Green said. "I'm not sitting here looking forward to next year. Next year will get here soon enough. I'm taking this season one day at a time because I'm trying to get better and trying to improve myself, trying to help these young guys improve. Whenever that time gets here, that time gets there."

Warriors showing signs of development despite lowly win-loss record

Warriors showing signs of development despite lowly win-loss record

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors are not actively trying to "tank," like some are assuming. The players that are healthy and able to play are competing with maximum effort, as many of the role players and rookies are trying to prove themselves in the NBA.

Despite that, the team is now 2-9 on the season -- good for dead last in the league. On a macro level, their team and individual defense has been poor, and their offense is still trying to find chemistry and an identity.

But that does not mean there hasn't been gradual player and team development. Here are some takeaways from the Warriors' 122-108 loss to the Jazz on Monday night: 

D'Angelo Russell is sharing the ball

We all know that Russell is scoring. He is averaging over 36 points per game over the last four contests, and has set a career-high by scoring over 30 points in four consecutive games. But he also is distributing the ball to his teammates at a higher rate than the start of last season.

During his 2018-19 campaign with the Nets, Russell dished out eight assists only once in the first 16 games of the season. This season, he has accomplished that in four of eight games. As the season went along with Brooklyn, Russell's assists per game rose considerably. Fortunately for the Warriors, he has hit his groove earlier in the year.

With Steph Curry out, the ball will be in Russell's hands nearly every play and he will have the opportunity to help out his teammates. So far he has been doing just that, while also scoring in bunches.

The Warriors centers are improving

The improvements may be small, but as the season has gone along, Warriors centers Willie Cauley-Stein, Marquese Chriss and Omari Spellman have been gradually getting better as they become more familiar with their new team and as their conditioning has progressed. In the loss to the Jazz on Monday night, Cauley-Stein collected 11 rebounds -- the first double-digit rebounding game for a Warriors center this season.

Due to the center-by-committee rotation that coach Steve Kerr has been employing, playing time has limited the opportunity for the three big men to put up big numbers. From a qualitative approach, Cauley-Stein was more active on defense and bouncy on offense against Utah. Chriss has grown more confident with his offensive game around the hoop. Spellman, before his injury, had started to refine his mid-range jumper, and his shot-blocking recently had been a welcome development.

The rotation will change again once Kevon Looney returns, but until then, Kerr has to be pleased with the frontcourt's small improvements.

Jordan Poole's playmaking growing

It has been well chronicled that Poole is struggling with his shot. While he has not lost confidence, it is clear he has slowed down his gunslinger ways and has stopped unconsciously launching from deep.

One thing Poole can improve on is his willingness to simply catch-and-shoot, rather than put the ball on the floor or hesitate. He can model his game after Klay Thompson in that way, so that when the ball swings around the perimeter and ends up in his hands, he should shoot the ball in rhythm -- even if a defender is close by. Poole has the form to be a great long-distance shooter, so launching confidently in rhythm should benefit him.

[RELATED: Warriors' young players refuse to use injuries as an excuse]

In the meantime, while his shot is not falling, Poole is doing other things to be a positive on the court. Against the Thunder last Saturday, Poole dished out six assists, showcasing his playmaking skills. He is a willing passer and has started to drive and kick to open shooters.

Once he begins to drive and finish at the rim more often, the floor will open up even more and allow him to either find teammates or create separation from his defender by keeping them honest.

Young Warriors go to free throw line much more than in past seasons

Young Warriors go to free throw line much more than in past seasons

Editor's note: Grant Liffmann (@grantliffmann) is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders, which airs on NBC Sports Bay Area 60 minutes after every game. Each week, Grant will drop his Outsider Observation on the state of the Dubs.

The Warriors are severely undermanned with the crippling effect of multiple injuries to the team's top players. Despite losing six of eight games, this team currently is playing some inspired and competitive basketball, feeding off the lack of expectations.

While they might be catching their opponents off guard so far, the active healthy Warriors, led by rookies, role players and two-way players, are playing feisty basketball. The team has been pushing the pace, bursting into transition at every opportunity, and competing in a scrappy, aggressive and highly enthusiastic fashion.

How are the young Dubs staying competitive in games thus far? One main reason: They're drawing fouls. 

Entering Thursday, the Warriors are attempting over 27 free throws per game, good for sixth in the NBA. To no surprise, the Rockets lead the league with 30 free throw attempts per game.

This is a massive change from prior seasons under coach Steve Kerr and his past superstar rosters. Traditionally, many would expect that "superstar treatment" of elite players would lead to drawing the most fouls, but for a Warriors team that was so dominant for many years, it was quite the opposite.

Last season, the Warriors ranked 28th in the league with just over 20 attempts per game, which is the same amount Golden State attempted in the 2017-18 season, good for 22nd in the NBA. Without the best long-range shooters in the history of the game, the Warriors now are relying on attacking the rim and forcing the action. 

Trips to the free throw line are great and all, but teams also needs to make them, and the Warriors have been excellent thus far. The Warriors are second in the NBA in free throw percentage, converting over 86 percent. Being at the top of the NBA in this category is no revelation to the team. They were fifth in the league at 80 percent last season, and first in the league in the 2017-18 at nearly 82 percent.

But unlike the last few seasons when historically great free throw shooters like Steph Curry and Kevin Durant led the team in free throws, this season the Warriors are relying on rookies and relatively inexperienced players to convert from the stripe. Eric Paschall has made over 88 percent of his free throws, Damion Lee has converted 85 percent and Jordan Poole is yet to miss one.

[RELATED: Warriors learn lesson in poor third quarter vs. Rockets]

Even the combination of big men -- Willie Cauley-Stein, Omari Spellman and Marquese Chriss -- have combined to hit 86 percent of their free throws.

It's a small sample size, but if the young Warriors can continue to get to the line and make their free throws, then they might be in more close games than many previously thought.