Warriors

'Special' Draymond leading Warriors to wins with passing

Warriors
Warriors celebrate

Few players currently in the NBA would rather wrack up more assists in a game than points. 

The first three names that come to my mind are Nikola Jokic, LaMelo Ball, who quickly added his name to this list, and Draymond Green. 

It's not clear how they got the knack for this skillset, but boy, do they have it. 

Green's facilitating abilities were on full display in the Warriors' 130-121 win over the Hornets on Friday night, when Green had a career-high 19 assists, 12 rebounds and 11 points. This wasn't a revenge game Green for what transpired last time these two teams played. It was more of an opportunity to make things right.

"He was fantastic," Warriors coach  Steve Kerr said. "I think you can see Draymond is in really good shape. Physically, he looks better, he feels better, and he's on top of his game right now."

Green's dominance started as soon as the game did. The first time Kerr looked up at the scoreboard in the first quarter, Green already had seven or eight assists. Early in the third, he had 13. By the three-minute mark of the third quarter, he had a new career-high.

Green used his 19 assists to highlight how the Warriors' chemistry has grown over the first half of the season. 

"It means my teammates are playing well and we're getting better," Green said. "Earlier in the year there were a lot of things I would see that other guys weren't seeing but with the repetition, with the time together, guys are starting to see it."

 

Green's correct in that more assists that lead to successful baskets mean team-wide improvement. But it's impossible to ignore the performance Green has been having on an individual level. 

Green has recorded 15 or more assists four times in February. In the last nine games, he's had 100 assists and just 22 turnovers. All the while, he's continued to anchor the Warriors' defense. 

"Just in terms of making an impact on both ends, having that size and brain to control the game and understand everything that's happening, Draymond is really special," Kerr said.

Green's passing ability -- or any good passing big-man -- opens up unique opportunities for the Warriors. It inverts the floor, dragging the bigger player guarding Green away from the basket to where he is on the floor. So, when Green manages to pass the ball inside, the opponents' largest defender usually isn't in the paint to stop it.

"Most teams are used to certain patterns that they see in the league and a lot of stuff that happens with Steph and Draymond is unique, Kerr said. "It's hard for a team to really lock in on it and be comfortable with it."

The importance of passing was engrained in Green's head while he was at Michigan State. But how to read the game and defenses started much earlier. It began when he was a child and would practice with his uncle Benny. 

Instead of having them scrimmage, Benny would take the time to teach Green and his teammates how to see the floor and understand nuances like help-side defense. 

"A lot of coaches, as kids, they take the ball, roll the balls out and say, 'Let's go play,' " Green said. "You don't necessarily learn the game. We would go two or three weeks of practice and not scrimmage. It's more so drills and help-side defense and back screens and back cuts. I gotta give a lot of credit to my uncle Benny. He just taught how to read the floor and understand the game of basketball."

For Green, having a greater understanding of the game at a young age allowed him to become a strong passer more quickly. By the time he got to Michigan State, he had the skills to be an elite facilitator. Coach Tom Izzo just drove home the importance of it.

RELATED: Draymond explains defensive mindset in win over Hornets

The question of whether passing is teachable is still up in the air. Green points to Klay Thompson as evidence that it is. When Thompson first got to the league, Green says he was one of the worst pocket passes he'd ever seen. But now, Green sees him as one of the best at it. 

"The question is, do guys ever want to learn it?" Green said. "For most people, passing the ball and getting an assist is not as exciting as scoring. So, I'm not sure if everybody really wants to pass. But maybe I'm giving guys too much credit. Maybe you can't."

 

Teachable or not, Green can pass. He is a point-forward in the truest of forms. The Warriors need him to do other things as well -- lock down on defense and yes, even score -- but he needs to continue to be a facilitator.

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