Steph Curry, alone, is enough to make the Warriors exciting. Andrew Wiggins is playing well enough to keep them competitive. Kelly Oubre Jr., on his good nights, is as likely to star on offense as defense.
James Wiseman, the 19-year-old 20 games into his NBA career, has the rest of the league anticipating headaches until 2035.
All salient factors, but none of them wears the critical X.
That’s the sole property of Draymond Green. He is this team’s X-factor. His effectiveness, above all others, will determine whether the Warriors go up or down or sideways. Whether they spend this season hovering around .500 and sliding into the play-in tournament or pull 40 wins and become a team that actually scares others when the postseason begins in May.
And he’s not that latter guy. Not yet.
“I think I’m like two or three weeks away,” Green said Saturday night, after supplying much of the velocity behind a 118-91 thrashing of the Detroit Pistons.
“Every game, he is moving in the right direction,” said Curry, Green’s teammate since 2012.
“He’ll probably tell you he’s not playing his best,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He can play better and I’m sure he will. But he’s engaged, he’s competing and he’s helping the young guys and that’s the main thing I’m looking for.”
The uncertainty of how effective Green will be is why, 40 days into the season, any judgment of the Warriors is conditional. There can be no fair and discerning judgment until Draymond is his best self, whatever that is.
Draymond missed 22 games last season and didn’t look great in most of those he played. After an NBA hiatus that lasted almost nine months, he then spent all of the December training camp in the league’s health and safety protocol. He was inactive in the first four games with a foot injury and didn’t get onto the floor until New Year’s Day.
Even though there have been flashes of the familiar Draymond in recent games, and often on Saturday, it’s reasonable to conclude he’s not at optimum level.
“Just continue to be in better shape,” he said. “My speed is kind of getting there.”
Green was pleased with dunking off one foot for the first time this season. The more significant sign of progress came during several grip-and-go forays in transition. His ability to grab a rebound or a quick outlet pass and make that 80-foot sprint toward the basket -- with near equal ability to reach the cup or feed a teammate for an easy bucket -- sets him apart from most NBA big men.
Throughout his career, Green has routinely led the Warriors in rebounding and one-man fast breaks. He also has been their defensive catalyst, simultaneously locking down his man and blowing up the offensive sets of the other team.
Now that he’s five weeks from turning 31, with six years of brutal physical hardship behind him, the question is whether he can do that on a consistent basis for the duration of the season.
It’s a legitimate question, and it’s why he is the X-factor.
“We’re all six weeks into the season and it’s still kind of weird talking about what the vibe was in week one or week two, with the short training camp and him coming off 14 days off sitting away from the team,” Curry said. “It is all new territory for everybody, especially him.
“But you see the aggressiveness, the sharpness on offense, being a playmaker, and obviously defensively. Putting together amazing runs out there making his presence felt. I will take him for his word on where he thinks that he is at and where he is trying to get to pretty soon.”
Kerr likes what he’s already getting from Green and believes there is more to come. Green likes how he feels and what he’s able to do. He also likes his forecast.
“I think a couple weeks,” he said. “But it’s coming. I got a couple pushes in transition today, that’s a good sign. It’s definitely coming. I’m excited about it. It’s good to see the work pay off and starting to build up.
"Some continuity and some feel and my conditioning. It’s coming. I’m excited.”
Coming from Green, this sounds like a warning. The Warriors hope it is, for their immediate future depends on it.