Steph Curry isn’t the only Golden State Warriors star to reaffirm his greatness over the past few days.
The Dubs entered the season with the tall task of finding their identity on the fly. Only four active players remain from the 2019 Finals squad, and the disastrous 2020 campaign was more like an extended training camp where rookies and castoffs auditioned for the following year. Two of the five current starters joined the organization this past offseason, one of them only a month before Opening Night.
We’re only seven games in, and there are still a thousand questions to answer as the season unfolds and the sample size grows. But one thing is already certain to anyone who watched the last two wins, whether as a reminder of something they’d unwisely forgotten or as a confirmation of what they’d already known for years: Draymond Green makes his team significantly better on both sides of the ball, and still has a star-level impact on the game.
The Warriors’ first two contests of the season were ugly against a pair of playoff contenders, with an offense that had no idea what it was trying to do and couldn’t hit a shot from anywhere. In their next two games they found the basket enough to beat weaker competition, with one of those wins coming in the final two seconds, and the defense showed flashes of promise. However, any cautious optimism was largely dashed after being blown out by Portland on New Year’s Day.
Then Green returned to action. He actually debuted in that loss to the Trail Blazers, but it was his first game in almost a year and he only played 17 minutes. Two nights later they faced Portland again, and the Draymond Effect was back on full display.
For 28 minutes he put on a defensive clinic, a vintage performance in which he was somehow everywhere at once while coaxing the best out of all his teammates around him. That D led into offense, where he resumed his point-forward role and dished out a team-high eight assists with just one turnover.
Even when he wasn’t directly involved in a play, or when a nifty pass turned into a missed shot, it was still obvious that we were watching a vastly improved offensive flow. Curry exploded for a career-high 62 points, out of the team’s season-high 137, and it’s not a coincidence that it happened right as his longtime trusty quarterback returned alongside him. Per Connor Letourneau of the S.F. Chronicle:
“Draymond obviously has helped a lot in terms of getting us organized, especially when I get off the ball,” Curry said. “You see the pictures a little clearer and understand spacing.”
What makes Green so key to unlocking Curry’s potential is not the passing itself, given that most of Green’s feeds to Curry have been quite routine. It’s Green’s ability to anticipate — not only what Curry is about to do, but how the defense will react — that allows him to hit Curry at the exact right moment.
The next night was deja vu. The Warriors played the Sacramento Kings, who are probably at least decent, and demolished them so thoroughly that it was over after three quarters. The Kings’ offense looked as inept as the Dubs’ had in their first two games of the season, and in just 21 minutes Draymond collected two steals and drew two charges — and that’s just the stuff that shows up in the play-by-play. After the game, coach Steve Kerr called him “the best defensive player in the world.”
The offense was incredible again as well. Green only had time to rack up five assists (to one turnover), but the Warriors shot well over 50% for the second straight night and went 23-of-43 (53.5%) from deep. Even Kelly Oubre broke out of his ghastly shooting slump, drilling four three-pointers to triple his season total after finally being unlocked the night before against the Blazers. If there’s any question where the energy, tempo, and direction are coming from, this clip should clear it up.
None of this is to say that the Warriors are now a finished product by any means, nor suddenly vaulted into championship contention. There’s still a long way to go both in the season and the overall process itself, and we have little idea how good (or not) they’ll end up being. Furthermore, some improvement from those opening games was inevitable even without Green, as everyone had rust to shake off since their last game in March.
Rather, the point is we’re finally at least beginning to watch the actual 2021 Warriors, featuring both of their top healthy stars — Steph with his historic shooting and scoring, and Draymond with all of the the elite defense, playmaking, and leadership that he just showed he still possesses. They looked incomplete before because they weren’t complete. Now they have everyone they’re supposed to have, and it’s been magnificent so far.
Even despite topping the team in assists each of the last five seasons, and posting 24 career triple-doubles (and a 5-by-5), and earning a Defensive Player of the Year award, it’s still easy to overlook Draymond’s contributions if you only check the basic box score. Through three games his averages are nearly invisible — 2 points, 4 rebounds, 6 assists. They’ll go up as his minutes increase toward a normal starter’s workload, but even his career rates of 9/7/5 don’t jump off the page. When you think of a superstar, they’re usually boasting 25 points or a dozen dimes or stacks of boards and blocks.
But the Warriors are simply a different team when Draymond is on the floor, just as they have been for the last several years and three championships. He makes plenty of his own plays on both ends, while also elevating everyone around him to their absolute best, and it all gets accounted for in the team totals and the win column. The national narrative has doubted him more and more the last couple years, but the early returns of 2021 are clear: He’s back.