OAKLAND – The clatter of chatter spiking the air at Rakuten Performance Center on Sunday was a clear signal that Draymond Green is healthy and back in his element.
When Draymond is feeling good and confident, his mouth is the first indicator. The noise is inescapable. Everybody can hear him because he’s constantly talking.
Communication may be Green’s most valuable asset factor. His return to the lineup Monday night does more than add a premier defender, a devoted playmaker and a generous sprinkle of spice to the Warriors. It makes them whole.
Regardless how balls splash through the net from shots by fellow All-Stars Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant and Klay Thompson, this team’s backbone is Green’s ability to articulate, verbally or otherwise, the needs that best boost overall proficiency.
Green’s dual roles are perhaps best illustrated in football terms. He is the signal-calling quarterback and the signal-calling middle linebacker. He lines up teammates and provides direction at both ends.
“He’s the best defensive player in the league,” coach Steve Kerr said. “Our defensive efforts have reflected that in terms of not being as efficient, not being able to cover as much ground.
“We know we’re capable of defending without him. But we’re just a lot better with him.”
The same, however, applies to Green’s offensive value. His passing promotes movement that clears clogs and allows the offensive to flow.
“He has the ball in his hands quite a bit in transition, which means we’ve got, with the starting group, three lethal shooters on the perimeter while Draymond has the ball,” Kerr said. “We should get more transition baskets also because of the improved defense that I would expect.
“But his ability to push the ball and handle it at the top of the floor allows our best shooters to work off the ball and screen for each other. We’ve used that to our advantage over the years. But it’s not something we’ve been able to do at all without him.”
The Warriors played a strong game, perhaps their best this season, last Friday in Milwaukee. They rode a blend of active team defense and explosive team offense to a 10-point victory. That they did it without Green was particularly impressive.
Green’s contributions on defense are widely known insofar as he as been named to the All-Defensive first team in his first three seasons as a starter, culminating in being voted Defensive Player of the Year in 2016-17. His displeasure with being named to the second team last season is providing motivation this season.
His absence in recent weeks is a major factor in the team ranking 18th in defensive efficiency at the start of play on Sunday.
His absence on offense has forced others, most notably Durant and Thompson, to be more pass-conscious on offense. If they’re passing, that’s one less shooting threat.
If Draymond is passing, teams are in trouble.
“We play a completely different style,” Green said. “I think we play with more pace with Steph and me on the floor; there was more pace when Steph came back. (There is) more random offense, less play calling.”
There also is less talk. Green inherited the defensive communication duties from former center Andrew Bogut, who was traded after the 2015-16 season. When Green is absent, there is no natural substitute. It certainly isn’t primary starting center Damian Jones, who sustained a season-ending injury on Dec. 1. Durant made the effort, with mixed results.
“We’re much quieter, naturally,” Kerr said. “We’re just more reserved without him. One of the things that he has brought to us for many years is that edge that complements the other guys pretty well.
“Draymond’s a fireball. He just comes in just stirs it up. We need that.”
In the days after Green’s very public sharp criticism of Durant, there was speculation that maybe the Warriors had tired of his mouth. And maybe they have.
But the Warriors also realize that if Green were to be traded away, they’d need to find someone who brings the same combination of tangibles, intangibles and active communication.
Anything less and the Warriors know they wouldn’t be whole and that winning a championship would be considerably more difficult. -30-