Even before their so-far storied season began, the Golden State Warriors must’ve known they’d face this dilemma: Bide time until David Lee’s return or mold Draymond Green into the starting-caliber player he’d proved he could be?
Green has all but settled that matter for them.
Propelled by a career-high 31 points in his team’s 112-102 win over the Chicago Bulls on December 6, Green has officially emerged as Golden State’s not-so-secret weapon—not to mention one of the sterling standouts of the young NBA season.
“The numbers are incredible tonight,” head coach Steve Kerr said during an NBA TV interview following the Warriors' franchise record 12th straight win. “That’s who he is. He’s a winner and he’s given us a new dimension with this three-point shooting. When you can pick-and-pop with your 4 man, it spreads the floor.”
For an offense where pace and space are of the utmost importance, Green’s improvement as a shooter cannot be understated:
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Mid-range outlier notwithstanding, Green—a player whose unique combination of size and quickness allows him to get his shot off almost at will—has flourished as a secondary option behind Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Slightly higher usage rate and all.
Reading into Kerr’s comments, it’s not difficult to sense where the first-year skipper stands with respect to the starting power forward slot.
It’s clearly become Green’s job to lose, a stance cast into even starker relief when one considers Lee’s comparably spotty splits from the floor:
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With Lee expected to return later this week, Golden State is about to add yet another weapon to its already terrifying arsenal. The question is whether—and to what extent—the 10-year veteran’s presence stands to affect the Warriors’ finely calibrated chemistry.
The concern is more than well warranted: According to NBA.com (subscription required), in 242 minutes, Golden State’s starting unit (Curry, Thompson, Green, Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut) has registered an offensive rating of 118, a defensive rating of 90.4 and a net rating of plus-27.6.
That’s not just a well-oiled machine. That’s some straight-up science-fiction wizardry.
Conventional wisdom suggests Lee’s return inherently means carving into Green’s playing time, what with both of them typically slotted at power forward.
Even here, though, Kerr has more than enough room to be creative. Per 82games.com, the Warriors were actually significantly better a season ago with Lee playing the 5—albeit a mere 17 percent of his time on the floor.
If Kerr has proven anything during his short but charmed time on the job, it’s that he’s more than interested in retooling and recalibrating than he is reinventing.
Taking the Warriors job wasn’t about erasing Mark Jackson’s doubtlessly flawed philosophy. It was about shaping an already tightly-knit team into something just a few measures more harmonious.
This is why, Green’s gangbusters play aside, Lee should only be seen as helping—rather than hindering—Golden State’s cause.
Indeed, Green is no stranger to the merits of familiarity and stability.
As a four-year standout at Michigan State University, the modestly recruited Saginaw, Michigan native evolved from plucky-but-pudgy frosh into the statistical and spiritual center of one of Tom Izzo’s most idiosyncratic teams.
Green didn’t arrive in East Lansing with a picture-perfect jumper. He developed one. He wasn’t always known as a savvy passer. He became one. Written in his genes, poise in the paint was not. He made it so, slowly but steadily, a standing totem to Izzo’s emphasis on full-scale basketball matriculation.
For Green, exceeding expectations isn’t some soft-boiled belief. It’s the blood of his very hardwood being.
First it was Izzo who saw the sculpture for the stone. Now, as Golden State of Mind’s Andy Liu wrote in the hours following his breakout performance, it’s Kerr’s turn to chisel away what’s left of Green’s flaws.
Draymond Green's nickname in college was the Dancing Bear. Beloved in Michigan State and by head coach Tom Izzo, the name stuck because of his portly figure and quick feet. Similar to San Francisco Giants legend Pablo Sandoval, Green was extremely effective at the college level despite the extra weight. But because of those pounds, plus a combination of his hitchy jump shot and lack of tangible measurables, he slid to the second round. Most called the pick a steal for the Golden State Warriors. Grand larceny is what it has become.
Green will likely never be an All-Star. His game—while five-tool-reliable—yields little in the way of in-your-face strengths. A max-contract candidate? Perhaps in some, far-off universe where Twitter names make the man.
Even before the digital ink has dried, Green has sensed the slights. The receptors are raw by now, scorched and singed to within an inch of numbness.
But he'll seep through those slights, take them and pin them on some bulletin board of the brain—the latest in a too-long list of doubts to rout and questions to quell.
All the while, the Warriors march onward, a once-nascent force of nature now realizing its full potential. In this sense, some might call Green a metaphor, though we're sure he'd prefer something a bit more tangible: the worst-kept secret in the game today.