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They are the system, Part 2: Draymond Green

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Part two of this series focuses on Draymond Green and how he has become the defensive maestro of the Warriors.

2018 NBA Finals - Game Three Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images

Draymond Green benefits from the system that he plays in. Put him in another team, and he won’t be anything more than a role player.

There are many things that Golden State Warriors fans hear from haters and detractors, like how Stephen Curry is supposedly a mere system player. On a near-daily basis, such statements — usually with a lack of factual reinforcement — are thrown around wantonly like candy on Halloween. It is not only Curry who is the victim of such blasphemies; his teammate, Draymond Green, has also been targeted ruthlessly.

If you are not a Warriors fan, then there is a certain level of rational thought behind not liking Green. He is extremely expressive, with an apparent lack of restraint in showing emotion. If he is filled with excitement, he will allow the adrenaline surge to take over in the form of a primal scream. If he does not agree with a call, he will let the referee know what’s exactly on his mind, regardless of the consequences. There is almost no in-between with Green.

When one looks past his highly-expressive passion, it is abundantly clear that Green is a unique player; there is no one quite like him in the the NBA, past or present. A second round pick in 2012, he was widely categorized as a “tweener.” Many predicted that he would not find a suitable niche in the NBA, and that he would amount to nothing more than a journeyman.

As it turned out, Green did not try to fit into an established mold — he created his own mold. And by creating that mold, he came to be identified as the heartbeat of the Warriors. Most importantly, he came to be identified as the defensive maestro of Golden State.

Draymond Green is not a system player — he is the system.


His defensive versatility

Many people think of defensive ability as having one or few “sub-specialties.” Players are often pigeonholed into a certain defensive specialization. One player can be a rim-protector/shot-blocker; another player is a lockdown perimeter defender; or a player is a “huge body” down low, capable of defending the post with strength and presence to make post players’ lives uncomfortable.

Draymond Green cannot be categorized into one defensive specialty. He is capable of being all of the aforementioned specialties, and can switch seamlessly from one to the other as needed. An apt description of his defensive versatility would be from the first half of the old adage: “A jack-of-all-trades.” But he is far from being “a master of none.”

One defensive trait that is commonly thrown around in the modern game is the ability to defend multiple positions. You often hear this of certain players, such as LeBron James, who was once described as capable of defending positions one through five. Green has proven that he is capable of such a feat.

Just take a look at this sequence.

The amazing aspect of this sequence is the fact that Green virtually defended all five positions in the same possession; he can easily be confused for an NFL free safety who found his way to a basketball court. Additionally, he was responsible for the defensive stop, achieved through a great close out — and an excellent contest — on Damian Lillard’s three-point attempt. Green’s ability to switch from one defensive assignment to another, coupled with the fact that he has no problem guarding the smallest guy on the perimeter up to the largest big-man down low, is perhaps the most crucial component of the Warriors’ switch-heavy defensive scheme.


His ability to protect the rim

Green is listed at a height of 6 feet 7 inches, which makes him considerably undersized at the power forward position, let alone at the center slot. Despite this, he has proven to be an excellent rim protector, due to his long wingspan of 7 feet 1 inch, and his exceptional anticipation and timing.

Green’s ability to roam and recognize holes in the defense enables him to instantly plug those holes with excellent help defense. A defender who thinks he has a clear path to the basket is often surprised to see Green appear out of nowhere to contest his shot.

Even “kings” have been victims to Green’s exceptional defensive acumen.

It is generally unwise to challenge Green when he roams the paint, but that hasn’t stopped several players from attempting to do such a thing. Kyrie Irving, to his credit, has occasionally bested Green on one-on-one drives to the basket. But other players, such as Damian Lillard, weren’t so lucky.

There is no such thing as a sure basket for the opponent, as long as Green is there to say something about it. It’s a lesson that Noah Vonleh learned the hard way.


His perimeter defense

As part of Green’s identity as a defensive Swiss army knife, his repertoire includes being an excellent perimeter defender. While he is capable of locking down opponents one-on-one on the perimeter, there are other defenders in the league who are better perimeter defense “specialists.” However, Green’s ability to go one-on-one on defense isn’t the only thing that makes him a great perimeter defender.

Green is usually aware of the opposing personnel on the floor. He is able to defend CJ McCollum due to his recognition of Al-Farouq Aminu and Moe Harkless being below-average perimeter threats. Confident that he will have help — should he need it — from his other teammates, he is therefore able to solely focus on McCollum and prevent him from getting a bucket.

Green possesses deceptive agility and foot speed, which enables him to keep up with smaller guards on the perimeter. In the modern NBA era, many teams often force switches to exploit mismatches. Green welcomes these switches, and he often proves that there is no such thing as a mismatch when he is around.

Green is forced to guard Lillard on the perimeter in this possession, who thinks he has a favorable one-on-one matchup. But Green stays with him and forces Lillard to change his mind mid-shot attempt. The possession ultimately bears no fruit for the offense.

In this sequence, Green’s ability to cut off the driving lane forces Lillard to make a bad kick-out pass, resulting in a turnover.


His quick hands

Green is also a basketball thief extraordinaire, with the uncanny ability to pilfer the ball from defenders. He is able to jump passing lanes through excellent anticipation, and his quick hands allow him to cleanly strip the ball from opponents.

Green is aware of where the ball is at all times, but most importantly, he is also cognizant of where the ball is going to be, a skill that has helped him steal the ball due to passes that were carelessly thrown in his general direction.

In this particular sequence, Green shows his ability to disrupt the offense on two straight possessions, which ultimately leads to a foul and two shots for him.


His statistical impact on defense

Using statistics to measure defensive competence is not as clear-cut as it is with offense. There are many intangibles that come with being a good defender; some of those intangibles cannot be empirically translated to numbers.

For example, Klay Thompson is widely considered a top defender in the league, but defensive metrics generally do not favor him, which would make someone who solely relies on such metrics think that he is a terrible defender. Metrics such as individual defensive rating, defensive box plus/minus (DBPM), and defensive win shares (DWS) are heavily dependent on empirical box score statistics.

Green had favorable numbers during the 2016-17 season, which certainly helped him in being crowned the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year. He led the league in steals (2.0 per game), DBPM (5.0), and was second in defensive rating (99.1) and DWS (5.4). He also had considerable influence in the Warriors posting a team defensive rating of 104.0, which was second in the league.

In the 2016-17 regular season, Green’s presence on the floor boosted the Warriors’ defense; opponents had an offensive rating of 102.4 with him on the floor, as opposed to a rating of 107.4 with him off the floor (the higher the opponent’s offensive rating, the worse it is for the team on defense).

Basketball-Reference

The difference was even more staggering during the 2017 playoffs. With Green on the floor, opponents had an offensive rating of 102.3; with him off the floor, that number skyrocketed to 116.3. Opponents were better by fourteen points while he was on the bench.

Basketball-Reference

Green’s defensive metrics during the 2017-18 regular season — while still reasonably good — did not reach the levels that they did the previous season. It was clear throughout the regular season that the team was cruising their way to the playoffs, and Green was one of the more noticeable players on the team who was on cruise control. Despite this, he was still included in the NBA’s All-Defensive Second Team.


Hate him or love him, Draymond Green has proven to be a defensive beast for the Warriors, a floor general who leads both by example and verbal motivation. Yes, he is a highly expressive player, and he will rack up the technical fouls through his many “disagreements” with officiating, to put it mildly. But the Warriors chose to accept him for who he is, for his many pros outweigh his cons.

For those detractors and haters who target Green on a consistent basis, it simply boils down to one simple fact: he is not on their team, and therefore, they choose to hate what they don’t and cannot have. For you can be as sure as hell that they’d be singing his praises if he was on their team.

Haters gonna hate.

Golden State Warriors Victory Parade Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images