It was during Draymond Green’s five months of fury that the conjecture began to surface. At the essence of it was whether his high-velocity characteristics were threatening the blindingly bright future of the team, if not Green himself.
There was enough concern that folks in front offices around the league would mention Green’s name in the same sentence as that of the former Ron Artest.
Which led to the obvious question: Might the Warriors and their much-envied chemistry, be better off without Green and his occasionally exasperating behavior?
The Warriors, for their part, consistently closed that door. Slammed it shut, put a lock on it and walked away. Draymond, they said, not only was the catalyst but also intelligent enough to survive this spell of nonsense and disobedience. We’ve talked with him and we’re confident he’ll be fine, they said.
Folks within the organization didn’t say much about his importance to their success. They didn’t have to. We’ve seen it before. And, now, not quite a month into the season, we’re seeing it more than ever.
Regardless of where one sets the parameters – the eye test, the stats watch or stats within the stats examination – Green’s defense is the bedrock upon which the Warriors championship hopes rest. That the team’s defense, the subject of considerable concern two weeks into the season, is gradually improving is largely a result of Green realizing and accepting his altered role, and thriving within it.
Already the team’s most versatile defender, he has, out of necessity, become its top rim protector.
Green has finished second in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, behind Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard, in each of the past two seasons and admits he wants to nab it this season. Green’s statement a couple days ago, that he has been “incredible defensively,” is a left turn into self-promotion.
It’s also the truth.
“I hope he wins,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said Monday night in Indianapolis, after the Warriors swept a four-game road trip. “It’s one of those votes that the last couple years could have gone either way. But I would love to see Draymond rewarded for his efforts, but those things you can’t control.
“All I know is I’ve been thrilled with Draymond’s play at both ends. He’s been absolutely phenomenal.”
Green leads the Warriors in rebounds per game (9.1, 18th in the NBA), blocks (1.71, 11th in the NBA) and steals (2.21, fourth). His defensive real plus/minus (3.13) shares the rarified airs of such defensive-oriented centers as DeAndre Jordan (league-best 3.85), Andrew Bogut (3.25) and Rudy Gobert (3.14). Green stands 6-foot-6. Each of the others are at least 6-11.
If it seems that Green short-circuits opposing offenses several times a game, it’s because he does. Sometimes, it’s by blocking a shot. Other times, it’s by disrupting their action on consecutive possessions. Sometimes, it’s simply by anticipating that which is obvious only to him.
There are many terrific on-ball defenders, and Green is among them. There are plenty of passing-lane vultures, and he is among them, too. There are maybe 10 imposing paint presences, and he is the shortest among them – by far.
There are precious few that can change the game from most any spot on the defensive end, and Green conceivably is the best in today’s NBA.
“He's covering a lot of ground for us guarding one through five," teammate Kevin Durant said Monday night. "Rebounding, blocking shots, he's doing it all. That stuff is a popularity contest, so my campaign starts now: Draymond Green for Defensive Player of the Year. So hopefully (voters) realize what he does on the court, the small things that go into being a great defender."
The Warriors are scoring a league-best 117.1 points per game, while giving up 106.8 points, ranking 22nd in the NBA. More pertinent given the pace at which they play, the Warriors are seventh in both field-goal percentage defense (opponents are shooting 43.7) and adjusted field-goal percentage defense (48.8).
Think those numbers would apply if they had given up on Green? If those troubling months of irresponsible driving and confronting his coach and picking up technical fouls and late-night misadventures had been too much for the Warriors to bear?
“He’s in a great place,” Kerr said of Green. “He’s backed up everything he said this summer, when he said he grew and he realized he needed to grow. And he has grown. There is zero drama. He’s just playing. He’s putting his head down and playing as hard as he can. He’s been great in the locker room.
“I really think Draymond has taken another step.”
There will be moments when Green chafes his teammates. He will annoy. Like matriculating education or eating fresh crab, he requires tolerance. It’s work, it’s irritating and it can try one’s patience. But it’s almost always worth it.