Warriors

How Draymond Green is leading Warriors in ‘frustrating,’ injury-plagued season

How Draymond Green is leading Warriors in ‘frustrating,’ injury-plagued season

Draymond Green has been a winner for as long as he can remember.

To maintain that standard, he has used a forceful, unapologetic style, often riding his star Warriors teammates — sometimes to their chagrin — on their way to three NBA titles in five years.

These days, his approach is tamed. With Kevin Durant out of town, a 2-12 start to this season and seven players injured, Green must reconcile himself with a new Warriors era while mentoring a young group.

"It's frustrating," Green recently admitted to NBC Sports Bay Area. "I've never lost at this rate in my life, but I just got to look at the bright side. Just try to make sure that I'm leading these young guys the right way."

Since he entered the league eight seasons ago, Green has unabashedly pried, cursed and grinded teammates in an effort to get the most out of them. There’s no better example of that approach than a year ago, when Green cursed out Durant during an early season loss to the Clippers, calling him out during a nationally televised game.

Green was suspended in the fallout, and his friendship with Durant -- who signed with the Brooklyn Nets in July -- needed repair, further perpetuating a narrative he'd built around the league.

"I thought he was going to be an a—hole," said Marquese Chriss, who joined the Warriors this season. "I'm not going to lie."

Of the eight new Warriors, Chriss might have been the biggest beneficiary of Green's refined approach. Chriss was drafted No. 8 overall by the Kings in 2016 before being sent to the Suns in a draft-night trade. He spent two seasons in Phoenix, before stints in Cleveland and Houston, with some reported character concerns along the way.

"He was immature," former Suns teammate Jared Dudley told NBC Sports Bay Area last month. "But it's not a bad immaturity. He just had to grow up, and they threw him into the fire and sometimes kids aren't ready for that." 

When Chriss signed a non-guaranteed deal with the Warriors in late September, Green had a message for him.

"This is your opportunity to f--k up," the veteran forward said. "You're going to have an opportunity to show yourself. Take advantage of it."

Chriss heeded Green's words, averaging 9.4 points, 8.0 rebounds and 3.4 assists per game during the preseason, forcing the Warriors to add him to their cash-strapped roster by cutting Alfonzo McKinnie. But it was Green's defense of the former first-round pick's journey after a preseason loss to the Lakers that earned Chriss' trust.

"[People] always want to blame the kid," Green said that night. "It's not always the kid's fault. He's getting older now, so he's not a kid anymore. But he came into this league as a kid, but it's never the organization's fault. It's always that guy. So I'm happy he's gotten the opportunity to show what he can really do because it's a prime example.”

Chriss' social-media mentions received a notable uptick after Green’s comments, to the point that his mother, Shawntae, reached out to check on her boy, who was grateful for his teammate’s statement.

"To have somebody like that who is willing to take the backlash for saying things like that is pretty dope,” Chriss said.

Green's leadership tendencies remain apparent, but with a twist. In the second half of his team's latest loss Sunday to the Pelicans, he yelled at guard Jordan Poole as he walked off the floor, getting in the rookie's face as he made his point. Toward the end of the conversation, Green tapped the 20-year old's chest in encouragement, displaying his tough-love relationship.

"I can go to him for anything,” Poole said. "If I have any questions or we want to hang out, want to go get food. If I do something wrong, he'll tell me. If I'm doing something good, he'll encourage me. It's just kind of like a big-brother, little-brother relationship."

Added Warriors coach Steve Kerr: “He knows he has to be the guy, and he does a great job of it. He's doing a good job of being patient because these are trying times for our team and for him."

While injuries have all but erased the Warriors’ playoff chances, Green's imprint on the next generation has been evident. Rookie Eric Paschall has averaged 17.3 points and 6.0 rebounds and shot 48 percent from the field over his last five games. With Stephen Curry and All-Star guard D'Angelo Russell out of the lineup with injuries, two-way guard Ky Bowman had 19 points and four assists in 28 minutes in his latest outing. 

"I like them a lot," Green said of the Warriors’ young players. "They're not backing down from anyone. They got a lot to learn, which is to be expected. But one thing you can't really teach is confidence. And they don't lack in that area, which is important for them moving forward in this league."

Green's change in demeanor comes as the Warriors embrace a new chapter. Over his first five seasons, Golden State won 78 percent of its games, capping the best run in NBA history by winning three titles in five NBA Finals appearances. Now, with Durant gone and Curry and Klay Thompson shelved until at least February, Green is aware of his team's new reality.

"It's different," he said. "Because it's like people don't expect us to win, but teams don't play us like they don't expect us to win. Everybody still wants to beat our a--."

Indeed, teams around the league are relishing this new era. After the Warriors’ season-opening loss to the Clippers, LA guard Patrick Beverley boasted to Yahoo! Sports: "Y’all a little different without KD, I see. Uh-huh, y’all cheated long enough. It’s OK. Y’all had a good run. Back to reality.”

Beverley essentially verbalized the league's attitude toward the new Warriors, which amuses Green. 

"We put them down, so they're trying to kick us while we're down too because we've put them down for years," Green said. “But we didn't have to take shots while they were down. We just put them down, so it's a difference."

Green’s push for another title is coming at a cost. Last season, he missed 16 games in the regular season while nursing toe, knee and ankle injuries, forcing him to lose more than 20 pounds by the playoffs. He blamed the rough start on compounding injuries piling up the previous season, which forced him to prioritize rehab over basketball activities during the summer of 2018. He admitted he didn't play pickup until his “Grind Week” -- his invite-only camp at Oakland's Holy Names University -- just prior to the season, something he was able to change entering his eighth NBA campaign.

"This offseason was different because I was healthy,” Green said, “so I was able to be in the gym, get my work in, just kind of typical offseason as opposed to that offseason before I was so beat up." 

The summer also brought a four-year, $100 million commitment from the Warriors. Still, Green hasn't had a clean bill of health through the first month of the season. A torn ligament in his left index finger -- which Green insists is fine -- forced him to sit out five games, begging the question: Could his current contract be his last as a pro? 

"No," Green deadpanned. "I get a lot of nicks and knacks, which part of it just comes from the way I play. But I'm not going to act like I'm just the most beat-up guy. There are guys that have had three, four major surgeries and they say like, ‘Thank God.’ Knock on wood, I've never had a surgery. It's all relative." 

Even in Golden State's current state of peril, there's still hope for the future. Curry and Thompson are expected to be healthy to start next season, reuniting Green with the group that started the Warriors’ run five years ago. Additionally, a $17 million trade exception -- acquired when the Warriors dealt Andre Iguodala to Memphis -- is expected to bolster the team's depth, potentially building another Western Conference contender.

[RELATED: How Draymond, Bowman will be used with D-Lo out]

But for now, Green has his eyes on something different. 

"I take this league one day at a time," Green said. "I'm not sitting here looking forward to next year. Next year will get here soon enough. I'm taking this season one day at a time because I'm trying to get better and trying to improve myself, trying to help these young guys improve. Whenever that time gets here, that time gets there."

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

R.J. Hampton, LaMelo Ball making case to be Warriors' draft selection

The Warriors are going to have a very high draft pick. That much seems obvious. What's less obvious is which prospects they might be zeroing in on as the missing piece of Golden State's next championship pursuit.

Some prospects like Memphis' James Wiseman, Georgia's Anthony Edwards and North Carolina's Cole Anthony are all stateside -- Golden State doesn't have to send scouts very far to get a glimpse of any of them.

Two other highly-rated prospects, however, require a far greater trek to evaluate them in person, as 18-year-olds LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton currently play in the NBL, Australia's top basketball league. Both players elected to go overseas for their final year of basketball before entering the NBA draft, rather than enroll in a collegiate program or join the G League.

Liam Santamaria is a writer and broadcaster for the NBL, and whereas the Warriors likely haven't had a ton of opportunities to see Ball and Hampton firsthand, Santamaria has had no such issues. So far, he has been blown away by what he has seen from the two young prospects.

"I've been not just impressed with the way they've played and the improvement that they've shown in their game over the course of the season thus far in Australia," Santamaria told NBC Sports Bay Area, "but also just how they've handled themselves on the court with their teammates, in the heat of battle in a professional situation like this."

The two phenoms currently find themselves in quite different scenarios. Ball, playing for the Illawarra Hawks, has far less talent around him than Hampton does on the New Zealand Breakers, where he plays alongside the likes of former NBA players, McDonald's All-Americans and foreign league MVPs. Consequently, Ball fittingly has the rock in his hands more often than Hampton does, which helps explains why Ball's stats are so comparatively eye-popping.

"While he hasn't been putting up the same kind of stat sheet-stuffing performances as LaMelo, I think he's actually been equally as impressive," Santamaria said of Hampton.

Both Ball and Hampton project as guards at the NBA level, but they're different kinds of players.

Ball has a knack for highlight-reel plays, but still needs to round out his game.

"He's obviously a phenomenally talented playmaker, and his feel for the game is incredible," Santamaria described Ball. "And we knew that coming in, but his game still is for the most part pretty raw."

Specifically, Ball's shooting mechanics and defense remain works in progress.

"When he arrived here in Australia and started playing, it looked like he'd never really been taught much of anything about how to defend," Santamaria recalled. "The fundamentals of 1-on-1 containment defense, but also fundamental concepts of playing defense off the ball, five guys defending as one ... just team defensive concepts. And that for me is the area that I think has probably undergone the most rapid improvement because he was almost nonexistent as a defender when he first stepped on Australian shores. Now you can see him taking some big strides in that regard. He's much more engaged at that end of the floor."

Hampton, on the other hand, is more refined at this stage of his young career and has what Santamaria described as better fundamentals than Ball currently possesses. 

"R.J. looks to me like he's a sure-fire certain thing, in terms of panning out to be a really productive pro," Santamaria summarized. "He has a great combination of size, length, athleticism, explosive quickness and basketball IQ."

As Ball and Hampton go through the draft process, they inevitably will be compared to other NBA stars, past and present. Santamaria has already begun that process.

"There's an element of Jason Kidd, for me," he said of Ball's comparison. "Where he just looks like he's got that thing on a string and makes those passes and plays look so easy." 

Santamaria added that Ball particularly reminds him of Kidd when handling the ball in the open court. Ironically, his comparison for Hampton involved another guard who has proven to be exceptional in the open court.

"He doesn't have the kind of strength and the kind of muscular frame yet that [Russell] Westbrook has, but when he gets that ball in the backcourt and starts pounding it, his head's on a swivel offensively and he's super quick attacking, putting heat on the rim," Santamaria said of Hampton. "In those situations, I see elements of Westbrook in his game. If he can become a little stronger and bounce off physicality like Westbrook does, I think that comparison might become more obvious over time."

As such, if the Warriors choose to draft another guard -- which seems unlikely, considering the presence of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, not to mention D'Angelo Russell -- it would appear they have a couple of fantastic prospects to choose from. If they come anywhere close to living up to Santamaria's lofty comparisons, they almost assuredly will have been worth the high draft selection.

[RELATED: Top NBA draft prospect LaMelo Ball is a big fan of Steph]

So, if push comes to shove, which one should the Warriors choose?

In formulating his answer, Santamaria mentioned yet another NBA MVP.

"Well, Bob Myers -- it depends if he's ready to swing for the fences, because LaMelo Ball is that swing-for-the-fences pick," he said. "Somebody's going to be brave enough to do it. I'm certainly not going to say he's going to be an NBA MVP at any point, but Giannis Antetokounmpo was a swing-for-the-fences pick a few years ago that a lot of teams decided they didn't want to or didn't have the courage to take. The Bucks did, and they have reaped the rewards. I think LaMelo Ball is going to fall into that category a little bit as well.

"If Myers and the organization have the courage to swing that bat, then he could very well be a home run."

The Warriors have long been expected to pursue Antetokounmpo if and when he hits free agency. There's no one quite like the Greek Freak, but perhaps Golden State ends up with its own version of him.

Warriors follow Draymond Green's lead in willing team to win vs. Bulls

Warriors follow Draymond Green's lead in willing team to win vs. Bulls

Throughout his career, Draymond Green simultaneously has been Golden State's emotional leader and one of its best players. 

On teams featuring Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Kevin Durant, Green consistently was the team's emotional heartbeat, occasionally willing his squads to unforeseen victories in standout performances that didn't necessarily reflect on the stat sheet. 

The latest example of Green's impact came in the last 12 minutes of Friday's 100-98 win over the Bulls, when he passed, defended and guided the Warriors to their fifth win of the season. 

A glimpse of Green's impact came four seconds before the final frame began when Golden State coach Steve Kerr substituted Green for Jordan Poole. On the next play, Green switched onto Bulls guard Coby White, forcing an off-balance miss. Four minutes into the fourth quarter -- with Golden State down 89-84 -- he successfully contested a Tomas Satoransky jump shot, leading to a fastbreak opportunity. Four minutes later, Green received a pass from guard D'Angelo Russell, drove the lane and found center Willie Cauley Stein for a dunk. With a minute left and the game tied at 98, he found Glenn Robinson III for another lob dunk to help seal the victory. 

Green -- who finished with nine points, five rebounds and four steals -- was responsible for 10 of the team's 23 fourth-quarter points, helping the Warriors outscore Chicago by eight points in the final frame. 

"Our defensive pressure picked up," Green explained after the win. "I think down the stretch in games, you have to do that. There have been games this year where teams have put pressure on us and we didn't respond well. I think tonight we were the aggressors and it worked out in our favor."

"He made great plays down the stretch," Robinson said of Green. "He got down on the floor for loose balls. He got us going, his talk, his communication. You always want a player like that the floor, directing things."

Green's performance came at a particular time of peril for Golden State. With Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson out of the lineup, the Warriors are one of the league's worst teams. In their last four games entering Friday night, they had been outscored by 61 points, including a 106-91 blowout loss to Charlotte on Wednesday. 

[RELATED: Sources: Steph has surgery to remove pins from hand]

Worse, Green's play has followed suit. Over his previous nine appearances, he had shot just 38.5 percent from the field while dealing with a myriad of injuries. On Friday, both he and his team found their stride. 

"We played the whole game hard," Warriors forward Eric Paschall said. "I felt like as a team, that's a big step for us after the last two games. We felt like we didn't compete at a high level. I felt like it was real good for us just in terms of coming out with a win."

Golden State's season has been new territory for Green. Since entering the NBA, he has never missed the playoffs, but with the Warriors' star-studded cast out for an extended time, that streak is expected to end. That makes Friday's act of leadership all the more important going forward.