OAKLAND, Calif. — Head coach Steve Kerr likes to preach that Golden State's prolific offense is largely a byproduct of defensive intensity, that forcing stops at one end of the floor makes for easier scoring at the other. From one action, a natural reaction.
Kerr—out while seeking treatment for health issues related to his back surgery from more than 18 months ago—must have been mighty pleased with Draymond Green once again forcing his defensive will on players both small and big.
Green did it all against the Jazz in Game 1, limiting Rudy Gobert—his top rival for this season's Defensive Player of the Year Award—to just seven shot attempts in just under 31 minutes and showing that his defense alone can be the kind of catalyst that propels the Warriors through against playoff competition.
In Game 2, Green got offensive, shooting a staggering 5-8 from 3-point range, pulling the Jazz front court out beyond their comfort zone. Among players who have taken 20 3s this postseason, Green is shooting the highest percentage: 54 percent (18-33). Considering all the talented shooters on his team—not to mention the likes of James Harden, Danny Green, Kawhi Leonard, Kyrie Irving, Kyle Lowry—that's absurd.
Against the Portland Trail Blazers and their high-scoring backcourt in the first round, Green led all players in the series with 17 blocked shots—just two fewer than the entire Portland roster accumulated across those four games.
Now, against the Jazz, who play at a plodding pace compared to the Warriors, Green is showing an array of defensive tricks, no matter who has the ball and where they are on the court.
It's a repertoire that's unprecedented in the annals of the NBA. Just ask Warriors assistant coach Ron Adams, now in his 47th season manning a sideline. With more than 20 years alone in the league, he's seen all the great defenders come through and studied myriad more who preceded his time in the league.
When you consider positional flexibility, on-court energy and how he can directly impact the final score of a game when it matters most, Green is the best defender Adams has ever seen.
"He's probably the top of that list," Adams tells Bleacher Report. "As far as a player of that size and versatility that he exhibits—and the results that he gets—I'd be hard-pressed to find anyone."
Adams credits Green's court vision and his ability to not just adapt but straight up anticipate how a play is going to develop. "Draymond has the capacity to see the pictures of the game very early," Adams says. "When you do that, your movements can be very decisive."
Just take this sequence late in the second quarter of Tuesday night's Game 1. The Jazz have cut the lead to 15 points and Stephen Curry gets a bit too casual on the walk up near midcourt. Dante Exum steals the ball and gathers himself for Gordon Hayward to cap off the two-on-one in the way you'd expect: an easy score at the rim.
Unfortunately for Utah, Green is the one.
Watch how Green turns around to his right even though the pass goes by the left side of his body. Another player might simply follow the ball itself and get spun around, but Green is already anticipated where it'll be after he contorts his body, and his hand meets the right spot as Hayward elevates for a layup.
You can watch the play over and over and still come away gobsmacked at this level of perception. This isn't simple luck but rather a preternatural level of court awareness and spatial recognition that few NBA players are capable of exhibiting.
Green has become well-known for this kind of fluid dispossession—only John Wall had more steals this season, after all—and Adams has a theory as to why he and teammate Andre Iguodala (someone else who's made his name with this type of play) are able to execute such a quick maneuver and not commit a foul.
"They have great focus on the ball," Adams says. "This might sound strange, but you have a lot of players who make a motion and I don't think they're focused on the ball when it comes to a steal. It's a general kind of picture to them, whereas Draymond really sees the ball, and because of his ability to set up quickly and see that movement—that picture—early, he's able to act with decisiveness."
In other words, Green is able to filter out all other external distractions and zero in on where the ball is, analyzing where it's going to be and formulating a plan for taking it away.
Just like the block on Hayward that led to an easy transition slam by Kevin Durant at the other end. For a team like Utah that plays so slow, a lost possession that turns into a four-point swing can be a killer.
In the playoffs, those are the moments that can decide even a tough matchup in May or June. The more games a series goes, the more you learn about your opponents' tendencies, and a player like Green can synthesize and collect that information with every game that occurs, like a filing cabinet that's overflowing with documents.
"When you're playing the same opponent four, five, six, seven times, you kinda figure out what you're gonna get and you try to take advantage of those things," Green said after Wednesday's practice.
Green has also thus far avoided the kinds of on-court disciplinary lapses in judgment that ended up torpedoing the Warriors' best chance at clinching the title last June, when a flagrant foul on Houston's Michael Beasley in the first round resulted (in a roundabout way) in his being suspended for Game 5 of the Finals.
Through five games, Green hasn't been called for a single technical or flagrant foul. "You learn from things and you grow," he said Wednesday. "You don't make the same mistake twice. When I harness my emotions and let them work for me, I'm a damn good player, but my dad has told me my entire life, 'Don't let your attitude be your enemy, let it work for you.' I think I've gotten better with it, but it's also something that I'm more conscious of now."
At least on the court, it seems like Green is conscious of everything around him, and that awareness makes him a valuable weapon for Kerr, Adams, interim head coach Mike Brown and the other players themselves, who can switch in any play set and remain confident that Green can handle any assignment.
Unlike his counterpart Gobert, who capably fulfills the archetype of an elite rim protector, Green does that but so much more. In Game 3 against Portland, when he finished with six blocks, Green was sending back all kinds of shot types: slam dunk, layup, a turnaround in the paint, a jumper from the perimeter.
It doesn't matter when Green is hanging around. He always finds the ball.
That's what the Jazz are learning, and should the Warriors advance to the conference finals, it'll be a sight to see how Green adapts to Houston's extreme inside-outside game or San Antonio's motion-style offense, in which he'll face off against perhaps his closest analog, Kawhi Leonard.
Adams sees Green and Leonard as proof of the changing landscape of the NBA, where you must possess a "variegated approach to defense" to contend with, say, 6'10" bigs who can knock down threes and space the floor.
I asked Adams if he could think of any past players who stood out as the Draymond Green of their generation: relatively undersized, could move around to defend other positions, relied on smarts as much as pure athleticism. After a little thought, the closest comparison Adams could summon was Bobby Jones, the Sixers' 6'9" power forward of the '70s and '80s who made 11 All-Defensive Teams in 12 NBA seasons. (Green himself is listed at 6'7" although that's almost certainly generous.)
"In every era there's been players like that," Adams says, "but the game was played in a different way then. Defense was construed more of me stopping you, controlling your own man."
Nowadays, thanks to rule changes eliminating things like hand-checking, defenses have had to adapt, get more sophisticated. Back then, you could, as Adams says, "beat people up a little bit more," but that NBA doesn't exist nowadays.
To shut down centers from three-point land, hulking power forwards and speedy point guards who can maneuver around the basket as if in zero-gravity, you need multi-faceted defenders who can switch, move and read plays as they happen to decide in the moment how to shut a play down.
The Warriors have all of those in Green, for which Adams is eternally grateful.
"Other teams are looking for a Draymond Green-type player," he says, "and that's good."
Erik Malinowski covers the Warriors for B/R. His book, Betaball: How Silicon Valley and Science Built One of the Greatest Basketball Teams in History, will be published in October. Follow him on Twitter: @erikmal.