Here’s a bit of a statistical anomaly for you: per PBP Stats, the Golden State Warriors have been nearly 3 points per 100 possessions worse during Draymond Green’s 633 minutes on the floor this season.
An even stranger statistic: they’ve been approximately 4 points per 100 possessions stingier on defense with Green on the bench.
Does that mean that Green is, all of a sudden, not as great of a defender as he previously was? Can that be looked at as Green losing his status as the team’s undisputed best defender? Has Green truly become too limited offensively, to the point that it has become a severe detriment?
The obvious answer to all of these questions is no. Green still maintains an important role within this team. He has quite clearly been the second-most important player to the current success of this franchise, a close second behind Stephen Curry. Just like Curry’s presence on offense, Green is the engine that makes the Warriors’ complicated machinery run seamlessly on defense.
Green did not have the best of outings during the Warriors’ first meeting against the Phoenix Suns. His opportunities to attack were few and far in between, mostly due to his own hesitance and unwillingness to find his own offense. During those few windows where he found an opportunity to be aggressive, he was largely unsuccessful.
That was the old Green of recent years, the one who deferred too much, who looked for the pass when the pass wasn’t there, who didn’t take the shot when it was there for the taking, and who botched open shots that an NBA player of his caliber should be making. It was a jarring sight to see, especially since so far this season, that iteration of Green has largely disappeared.
It has largely disappeared because Green is having the best shooting season of his career. He’s shooting a career-high 55.6% from the field, including a 59.6% clip on two-point shots — also a career high.
A slight uptick in rim aggression has been seen from him: including attempts that resulted in fouls, 55% of his shots this season have been at the rim, compared to 46% last season. More importantly, he has been a much-improved finisher, making 77% of his shots at the rim — 88th percentile among bigs in the league, per Cleaning The Glass.
The element of defenders not expecting Green to look for his own shots will always be there. They will help off of him on the perimeter in order to pay heed to more immediate offensive threats. His mindset of looking for cutters and spacers is admirable, but it can be used against him by teams who possess a clear insight as to how he operates as a playmaker.
It’s absolutely imperative for him to prove such notions wrong by being aggressive:
Green’s three-point shot still leaves a lot to be desired. He attempts one three-pointer per game — on track to be the lowest attempt rate of his career since his rookie season. His 35.0% success rate has been a significant improvement from last season (albeit skewed by the overall reduction in volume and attempts), but still not enough for defenses to respect his outside shot.
But there have been flashes of Green’s shot being mechanically better, especially during catch-and-shoot situations. When given enough time to set his shot — but not taking too long to get his shot off to the point of overthinking it — Green has shown that he can occasionally make defenses pay for sagging off of him.
Green is also setting career highs in a couple of advanced shooting and scoring efficiency metrics. His effective field-goal percentage (eFG%) of 58.5% is a career high, a testament to how successful he has been with putting the ball in the hoop. His 59.8% True Shooting — also on track to be a career high — speaks to how efficient his scoring has been this season.
In several ways, his improved offensive performance so far has highlighted how much of a defensive maestro he has been, which should come as to no surprise. He’s the anchor of the league’s best defensive unit, and continues to display why is he is arguably its best defender.
But Green is by no means perfect. He won’t be able to put a defensive imprint on some games like he usually does. Some teams and players slip through the cracks — and Deandre Ayton was one such player. Scoring 24 points on 11-of-19 shooting during the first matchup, Ayton could not be stopped on deep seals, rolls, and duck-ins toward the rim. Not even Green could account for the size disparity and the ease with which Ayton was able to get to his spots.
The second round proved to be much different. Ayton was made to work harder for his shots; as a result, he was made to be slightly less efficient: 23 points on 7-of-16 shots. It is a testament to Ayton’s quality as a player that he was still able to score a respectable number of points — but the Warriors made him bleed for it.
Green was especially unforgiving:
Pushing Ayton out of his low-post comfort zone, a timely weak-side help rotation as the low man on one of Ayton’s rolls, and forcing Ayton to become a jump shooter — Green was more able to disrupt Ayton’s rhythm the second time around.
More than Green’s efforts against a singular force, it was his ability to wreck well-laid offensive plans and dictate the tempo and cadence of the Suns’ offense — as opposed to the Suns dictating terms — that was a sight to behold.
Green baited out pocket passes as the roll-man defender in an effort to intercept them. He displayed technical expertise in drop defense, exquisitely navigating the middle ground between the roll man and the ball handler by cutting off potential release valves to the roller and suffocating the ball handler into an untenable position. He was masterful at switching onto perimeter players, and used his deceptive footspeed and fluidity to hound and pound.
Defense is all too often a thankless job, due to it being more blue-collar in nature than it is flash and pizazz. That may be why Green’s value on that end has unfortunately been underappreciated by some.
“He is what Steph is offensively, it’s just not sexy,” Juan Toscano-Anderson said of Green. “The average viewer doesn’t understand angles and being up to touch on a ball screen or sliding over and being the most important guy defensively trapping the ball. They don’t see that. That doesn’t show up in the statistics. I watch him all the time and I’m just, ‘Damn, that’s impressive.’ Kudos to Draymond. Hall of Famer for a reason.”
In terms of two-way proficiency, this has arguably been the best version of Green we’ve seen since the peak of the dynasty years. His revival on the offensive end has been noticeable, while his historically elite defensive acumen has brought the Warriors from a highly respectable top-five defense last season to becoming the stingiest unit the league has seen so far.
“He’s the best defender in the world,” Steve Kerr said of Green. “He does everything for us defensively. He captains the defense, he’s the one directing traffic. He guards guards on switches, he’ll guard Deandre Ayton and everybody in between, and he’s all over the place with his help. I thought Draymond was brilliant tonight.”