Ever since Draymond Green returned to the Golden State Warriors lineup, Steve Kerr has been touting him as the “best defensive player in the world.” Kerr is a pretty strong manager and motivator, so I’m not going to make any guarantees as to why he would pour such high praise on Green, but if I had to guess it’s because ... he thinks Green is the best defensive player in the world.
The numbers paint a similar picture.
In the Warriors first five games, which featured four contests without Green, and one where he was primarily on a minutes restriction, they allowed 116.1 points per 100 possessions (garbage time excluded, per Cleaning The Glass), 27th in the league.
In the six games since then — when Green has been playing without much of a minutes restriction — that number has shrunk by more than 10 points, to 106.0 points per 100 possessions, good for sixth in the league.
There are many reasons for that. Green is most of those reasons.
And that was on full display against the Indiana Pacers on Tuesday, when Green did one of the most difficult things in basketball: stop a three-on-one.
Now, let’s be fair. The Pacers deserve their fair share of credit for bungling this. On the broadcast, Bob Fitzgerald reminded viewers of something Jim Barnett always preached: a three-on-one should become a two-on-one. It’s too easy for the spacing to get messed up with the third offensive player there.
Still, that’s a battle the offense should win, even when not crisp, and Green not only stopped the easy transition bucket, but forced a turnover out of it.
There were a lot of tricks that Green employed to stop Indiana’s transition offense, but the biggest reason for his success on that play was that he stayed balanced and never overcommitted. Often defenders on transition plays sell out to stop the ballhandler, and force them to make the right pass, ceding an easy bucket in the process if that pass is made.
Green didn’t do that. He never committed too strongly to one player, and most importantly, never moved forward. He forced Edmond Sumner to give up the rock, but look at where Green is when Sumner starts to make the pass.
He’s fully balanced, and ready to shift to another offensive player. He’s upright, with a wide stance, and not moving forward, so he’s not vulnerable.
The pass goes to Malcolm Brogdon, who sends it right back to Sumner, because Green has cut off the drive. Look at Green’s positioning as that pass second pass is made.
It’s the same thing. He’s balanced and upright, ready to defend in any direction. He never moves forward to stop Brogdon at the expense of the two other players.
When Sumner gets the ball back, Green leaves him be, ceding a mediocre shot. Had Green closed out on Sumner to force a hard shot, the point guard would have either had an easy pass to Brogdon or Domantas Sabonis, or taken a tough shot with two offensive teammates waiting for easy put backs.
Green stays close enough to keep Sumner from approaching the basket, while eliminating Brogdon and Sabonis from the equation.
Sumner, unwilling to let a mediocre shot be the fruit of a three-on-one, tries to force a pass and throws the ball away.
Even with how Green defended, the Pacers should have scored, but Green made sure they never had an easy shot. Had they scored it would have been on Sumner taking that six-foot baseline floater, or Brogdon stopping and popping from 12 feet, or someone extending out to the mid range or three-point line. Not the ultra efficient looks you expect out of a fast break situation.
The beauty of Green’s defense — not just on this play, but on most plays — is that he understands that the goal on any given possession is not to take away the shot, but to limit the quality of the shot (which in this case did take away the shot). Too often defenders sell out in the pursuit of not allowing a shot, and give up a high-quality look as a result.
But a series of low quality looks makes for an elite defense, and the Warriors look headed in that direction, thanks largely to their defensive superstar.