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Warriors will need Draymond, their X-factor, to be great

NBC Sports

Draymond Green won’t be among the Warriors taking the court Wednesday morning for the first team workout since March. His absence won’t matter to the ring-owners among the team’s players and coaches. They don’t need him now, and they know it.

They definitely will need him next season, whenever it begins, likely sometime in 2021.

To have any real chance of getting back to The Finals, the Warriors will need Draymond to be great next season.

Green is this team’s X-factor, and coach Steve Kerr won’t bother offering a denial.

“That’s fair, totally fair,” Kerr told NBC Sports Bay Area. “Draymond has always been a guy who has taken us to a different level. I believe that will be true (next season), too, and I've told him that much.

“He’s that impactful for us as a player. That’s why we’re going to be relying heavily on him.”

Before Green was inserted into the starting lineup in 2014-15, the Warriors could only dream of reaching the NBA Finals. Seven months later, they were down 2-1 to Cleveland in The Finals. They won the next three games, with Green averaging 16.3 points (on 48.5 percent shooting), 9.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists and posting a cumulative plus-50. Astonishing.

The Warriors lost The Finals in 2016, blowing a 3-1 lead to the Cavaliers. Green, plus-36 over that four-game span, was suspended for Game 5. The Warriors, dazed and displeased, never recovered.

Does anybody really believe the Cavaliers take that series if Draymond is available for all seven?

 

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Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are constants. Curry is going to score and lead and put fireworks into the offense. Like a fantastic drummer who doubles as lead vocalist, he is the glue. Thompson is going to rain jump shots, exhaust defenders with off-ball movement and play tenacious defense. He’s a fabulous bassist, providing splendid backbeat, blending in yet standing out.

Green, in this analogy, is that saxophonist capable of stirring the crowd and blowing the roof off the building. He’s a mechanic on offense, probing opposing defenses and doing whatever is necessary for the squad to run smoothly. Draymond’s intuition and improvisational timing on defense tends to lift the Warriors to another dimension.

He is not the glue. He is the effervescence.

Last season, annoyed by nagging aches and abject circumstances, shooting poorly, and generally a small portion of his best self, left Draymond subjected to murmurs about his future. He’s 30, he burns hot and has played a lot of games, often against bigger men. Is the mileage catching up to him? Is the decline under way?

Some of the criticism is based on Green’s contract. He’ll be entering the first year of a four-year extension, signed last summer, worth a few nickels short of $100 million. With the COVID-19 pandemic forcing interminable delays, he possibly could turn 31 before next season.

Draymond hears the noise. He posted some reaction on social media, in one instance indicating he’s “going to go back to being that guy” -- a player that can produce spectacular triple-doubles along with his usual intangible assets. Yes, he hears it all.

Which delights his coach.

“I didn't even know that,” Kerr said, laughing off those speculating Green’s best days are in the past while also relishing the three-time All-Star’s response.

“But, good. Good. That kind of stuff usually motivates him.”

That’s Draymond’s nature. His competitive pride is immeasurable. This is a man who, eight years later, still can recite the names of all 34 players selected before him in the 2012 draft. Being doubted, like he is now, quickens his pulse and gives him a bullseye at which to aim.

The forgettable season. The long layoff. The skeptics. It’s all a setup, a perfect tableau for a man who thrives on skepticism and is yearning to make a statement.

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If Green declines to merely ordinary, a high-IQ cog in the wheel, the Warriors are not a championship threat. They’d have to scrap and scratch to make the playoffs in the treacherous Western Conference.

But if Draymond approaches previous peak levels, and the rest of the roster is in reasonably good health, the Warriors have enough for a top-four finish in the conference. And if they land there, it’s safe to expect he’ll be a terror in the postseason.