He looks like a hardened veteran and often plays with the poise of one, which makes it easy to forget that Green’s only been in the league for two seasons.
Former head coach Mark Jackson used Green as a defensive stopper during his rookie campaign, which speaks volumes to the competitive spirit and talent the second-round pick from Michigan State. First-year players typically struggle on defense because they need time to adjust to the speed of the game and the craftiness of veterans.
Green conquered that challenge and became Jackson’s go-to second-unit stopper because of his toughness and ability to read angles. In addition, Green is tall enough at 6’7’’ to guard perimeter and interior players.
Still, Basketball-Reference.com tells us he only played 13.4 minutes per game in his first season with Golden State.
The limited floor time was due to an absent functional jump shot. Opponents dared Green to beat them by leaving him open, and the Dubs watched him make 32.7 percent of his field goals and 20.9 percent of his treys.
Green used the 2013 summer to improve his jumper and saw his minutes climb to 21.9 per night during the 2013-14 campaign. A better Green also became a more confident one.
“I don’t care who you are or what you do, I’m going to go at you,” he said in October, according to the Bay Area News Group’s Marcus Thompson. “I may not be the one guarding you but I’m going to say something.”
Keep in mind, the Warriors acquired defensive ace Andre Iguodala in the very same offseason, and Klay Thompson blossomed into a solid two-way player.
And yet Jackson simply could not keep Green off the floor given his defensive acumen. Jackson went even as far as comparing him to the ever-versatile LeBron James.
His improved conversion rate from the field (40.7 percent) and downtown (33.3 percent) made it easier for the Warriors to increase his minutes and even play him during crunch time. Green earned the trust of the coaching staff, and there is little reason to believe that will change going forward.
Can he leverage that improvement into Sixth Man of the Year candidacy under new head coach Steve Kerr?
Green averaged 10.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, three assists and two steals per 36 minutes last season. That’s an impressive level of production for a player that essentially had no role to speak of on offense. Golden State used him mostly as a finisher and never truly took advantage of his passing skills.
Indeed, Green is a decent ball-handler and sees the floor quite well. He has value as a pressure-release point and can even operate a little as a point forward from the elbows.
This wasn’t possible for Green last year because Jackson ran an offense predicated on isolation basketball.
However, Kerr comes from a different school of thought. His philosophy will emphasize the playmaking skills of his interior players, which means his big people should get a chance to handle the ball a bit more than in previous seasons.
“I think you’ll see a lot of ball movement; I think you’ll see the bigs utilized as passers on the elbows and on the block,” Kerr said in May, per the San Jose Mercury News’ Tim Kawakami. “I think you’ll see some Triangle concepts.”
This will be right up Green’s alley. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson warrant a lot of defensive attention, and opponents tend to overplay them to prevent open looks from downtown. In turn, this means they should be able to cut backdoor or benefit from back screens and get open near the rim.
A good passing big man is incredibly valuable in these instances, and Green certainly qualifies. His combination of passing, toughness and versatility might be enough to earn him additional minutes this season when compared to the last one.
Kerr will likely play him in all of the frontcourt positions in an effort to maintain continuity and prevent the offense from bogging down. The new coach is a big fan of keeping everyone involved, and he’s made that clear on more than one occasion.
“I want the ball to move. That's the biggest thing,” he said in July, per the San Jose Mercury News’ Diamond Leung. “We've got to get more ball movement, more passes per possession.”
Green will thrive under the new regime because he’ll be asked to do more of the things he’s good at. Instead of merely spotting up (not his strong suit), Green will be tasked with keeping the offense flowing with crisp passes and setting screens.
He will complement the likes of Andrew Bogut, Iguodala, Curry and new free-agent acquisition Shaun Livingston. All of them are pass-happy players, and they will set things up for David Lee, Klay Thompson and Harrison Barnes, who aren’t as adept at creating for others or keeping the ball live.
I think Green will finally be in a system that accentuates his skills, and that will place him in the discussion for the honor of top reserve.
Granted, it might be fair to ask whether Green will supplant Lee in the starting lineup. After all, Lee’s been marginalized because of his porous defense.
However, I doubt Green overtakes the starting spot. Lee is somewhere between a good and great post-up player. In addition, he is a terrific finisher who also happens to handle the ball a little. His offense makes up for Bogut’s shortcomings on this front, which makes the duo a great fit.
As it pertains to the Australian, he’s arguably the best defensive player on the team. Bogut does a marvelous job of bailing out his teammates by rotating expertly, contesting shots and occasionally hitting an opponent just hard enough to make him second-guess a future trip into the paint.
Bogut is a game-changer on defense, and as good as Green is on that front, I’m not sure he’s anywhere near the same level as Bogut.
I suppose Kerr could theoretically start Green at small forward, but that’s Iguodala’s spot. He operates as the starting unit’s secondary ball-handler, and the Warriors need a bit of offense from the position. Iguodala isn’t a great scorer, but he’s a superior option when compared to Green.
Iguodala converted 48 percent of his shots and 35.4 percent of his treys during his first season with Golden State. In addition, he registered 4.6 assists per 36 minutes.
Green is better suited to play at power forward or center in small-ball units. Opposing big men typically aren’t too concerned with him and stay close to the basket. It’s allowed Green to shake free for easy looks in the paint or spot up from long range.
Green, 24, has evolved since first joining the Warriors, and he’s still putting in more work.
When pressed by Dime Magazine’s Kristopher Habbas on improving over the summer, Green offered this nugget in August: "I want to hone in more on my three-point shot. It improved from my freshman from my first year to my second year, but is still not where I want it to be. I want to keep improving on that and that is one of the things I have really, really, really focused on this off-season."
Green will get some publicity during the 2014-15 season. The increased playing time coupled with a new offense and improved three-point stroke will earn him praise and recognition.
Green will be the best reserve on a team that will likely threaten to win 50 games or more, and as a result, many will clamor for him to win the Sixth Man of the Year Award.