Even if the Golden State Warriors were facing a severely limited Oklahoma City Thunder — a matchup that doesn’t really get the motivational juices flowing — Draymond Green had something extra going on against them.
Perhaps he was motivated by his alma mater’s huge victory against their intrastate archrivals. Michigan State beating Michigan is exactly the kind of motivation that can light a fire under Green.
“You just feel good, coming into (the game),” Green said. “To start the day like that, you just feel good the rest of the day. I definitely feed off some of that energy.”
It typically doesn’t take much for Green to get energized (or inflamed, provoked, or pissed, if such motivation goes too far toward the extreme end of the spectrum). But more often than not, his natural intensity and passion has benefited the Warriors on several occasions.
Green put up a near triple-double against the Thunder: 14 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists. When Green is at his Swiss-Army-knife best, he does a little of everything — not excessively so, but just enough to make a glaring impact, especially on the offensive end.
Green is not especially known for being an athletic downhill force. He has freight train acceleration, but little vertical burst. It may have played a part in his apparent lack of rim aggression last season — Green put up a rim shot frequency of 42.1%, per PBP Stats; the season before that was even lower: 28.5%, a career low.
Those numbers are a far cry from his peak rim-pressuring days that reached its zenith during the 2015-16 season, when he put up a career-high rim frequency of 52%. Those days saw Green attacking the rim with more force and determination, buoyed by the interior spacing afforded him through the presence of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson. Being at his athletic and physical peak was also a significant factor.
Green may have a lost a step or two nowadays — but provided he stays healthy and in shape, he still has enough playmaking equity and savvy to know when to pick his spots to attack, instead of being hesitant and pulling the string short on his shots, which reduces his value by a significant amount.
That fact is not lost on Green, and so far during this young season, he has renewed his rim aggression to levels that approach his 2015-16 peak, putting up a rim shot frequency of 51.3% — on track to become the second-highest mark of his career, should he maintain that level of rim pressure.
More importantly, he’s been finishing shots at the rim (16-of-20 at the rim, 80% — on track to be a career high).
“You kind of see (opposing defenses) figuring out what to do,” Green said. “I noticed that quite a bit when I am attacking the rim, defenses trying to figure out what to do, whether to play the pass. I just need to make sure I continue to do that.”
What Green means by “playing the pass” most likely refers to his partnership with Curry on dribble hand-offs (DHO). Green’s mutualistic partnership with Curry — one organically built over the years they have played together, hardships endured, and championships won — is encapsulated by the numerous amount of two-man actions they have been involved in.
Defenses are hard-pressed to decide whether to stick to Curry over a Green hand-off, or to be wary of a “keep” action by Green — in other words, a fake hand-off — that could send him all the way to the rim.
If given the pick-your-poison scenario of having to live with a Green fake hand-off or a Curry three off of an actual hand-off, defenses would most certainly choose to take their chances with Green diving to the rim. But that would put an enormous amount of pressure on backline defenses — often disadvantaged positionally and numerically — to stop Green from either scoring or dumping off to a roamer in the dunker spot or a shooter parked on the weak side.
Even without the ball in his hands, it seems like Green has been doing more to punish defenses who are sagging off of him. His lack of pull on the perimeter is well chronicled, to the point where he is often ignored. His man often prefers to roam other parts of the floor, ready to help on other actions and focusing their attention toward more immediate offensive threats.
There are numerous ways to take advantage of defenses treating someone as an offensive pariah, most notably through off-ball movement. Green has been active as an off-ball cutter; when Curry or anyone else with offensive pull creates an advantage situation, Green has been adept at recognizing open cutting lanes and making himself available.
Green’s offensive value skyrockets whenever he sets a ball-screen for Curry. Most defensive schemes nowadays call for aggressive coverages with the ball in Curry’s hands — traps, blitzes, hard hedges, etc. — that aim to limit Curry’s ability to create shots for himself. Green is the perfect foil to such plans; his unparalleled decision-making in short-roll 4-on-3 situations is legendary.
But most teams have come to expect such short-roll possessions and are more keen on staying home on cutters, shooters, and roamers. This has cut off several of Green’s passing options in the short roll, which puts the onus on him to take his rolls all the way to the rim.
To Green’s credit, he has been more willing to take matters into his own hands. Willingness is one part of the equation; combining it with adept finishing makes Green’s resurgence as a rim threat all the more welcome to an offense that needs more of it.
We’ve even seen some nifty actions that have resulted in Green rim finishes. Leveraging Curry’s willingness to set screens, the Warriors are fond of having their superstar set an inverted ball-screen for Green that gets him all the way to the rim.
The potency of such an action is magnified when you consider that Green’s defender — usually a 4 or a 5 — isn’t accustomed to being the on-ball defender in the pick-and-roll, nor do they expect a small guard to blindside them with a rock-solid screen.
While Green is usually the decision-maker up top, especially on 5-out “Delay” actions that involve a plethora of hand-offs and off-ball screening actions, he can also be a screener while someone else handles passing duties.
Being a screener for the likes of Curry and Jordan Poole provides Green with opportunities to slip and dive to the rim. Here is one such instance, wherein the Warriors run their pet “Ram” screen action:
Green is at the forefront of the Warriors’ increased emphasis on rim-pressure. As a whole, 34.5% of the team’s shots are at the rim, third-most frequent in the league — and are making them at a respectable 66.2%, 11th in the league, per PBP stats.
An aggressive and assertive Draymond Green can only mean good things for the Warriors offense. His intensity on defense has been an ever-present commodity; extending that passion to the offensive end, finding his own offensive groove, and maintaining it throughout the season will, in several ways, act as a pressure release of sorts that will shift some of the burden away from Curry’s shoulders.
The season is young, and some of the numbers could normalize or regress. But Green — averaging 9.3 points, 8.7 rebounds, and 7.0 assists, on 59% shooting from the field and a career-high 59.1% True Shooting — is off to an encouraging start.