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Veteran Foundation: Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green are expected to fill enormous shoes

The token veteran supporting role falls on the shoulders of these two offseason signings.

Portland Trail Blazers v Golden State Warriors Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images

It’s undeniable that star power is the engine that fuels a championship run. Without one or two key drivers, there will always be a ceiling on a team’s potential. In most cases, the height of that ceiling depends on the quality of the drivers themselves. Are their skill sets varied enough to lead a team to the top? Are their intangibles sufficient enough for them to thrive and survive amid adversity? In other words — do they have that “dawg” in them?

The Golden State Warriors certainly have that kind of star power — skill sets and intangibles — in spades. Stephen Curry is the main driver; Klay Thompson and Draymond Green have been the perfect secondary stars behind Curry. All three of them together is a formula yet to be broken and voided.

But for every star or group of stars that have reached the pinnacle of the NBA, behind them lies a foundation often taken for granted — or altogether ignored, for several reasons. The lack of star power and name recognition aside, this group often does the proverbial yeoman’s work: make a pass here, screen for someone there, run to the rim and crash the boards, etc. The need for them to score retains a certain level of importance, but it is mostly opportunistic and situational in nature.

Every iteration of the Warriors’ championship-winning teams has relied on this group to provide the support the core has needed: from Mo Speights, Leandro Barbosa, and Shaun Livingston; to JaVale McGee and David West; and the recent title team that had Gary Payton II, Otto Porter Jr., and Nemanja Bjelica. All of them have certainly lent credence to the notion that no man — or in this case, no championship core — is an island.

All of them have moved on, including Payton II, Porter Jr., and Bjelica. That is the nature of the NBA — key role players find greener pastures, as is their right. The Warriors are in a position of financial inflexibility; title-fueled sentimentality often has to be sacrificed for practicality, which is always a hard pill to swallow for a team that intends to contend while its core is still capable of delivering.

When one group leaves, another must take its place. It’s the job of the front office to make sure that the incoming group sustains the support that its predecessors gave the core. Precedents and standards — especially when they are set so high — are hard to meet. But if any organization has proven to consistently match or exceed such standards, it’s the Warriors.

The group that is now expected to match or exceed those standards consist of two key offseason signings in Donte DiVincenzo and JaMychal Green.

Preseason is by no means perfectly predictive of how the regular season will turn out, but both DiVincenzo and Green have had noteworthy preseason possessions that portend the kind of support they will be providing the Warriors’ extended core — termed by Kerr as the “Foundational Six.”

Donte DiVincenzo: Playmaking and high defensive IQ

DiVincenzo is often considered the Payton II replacement, but there are stark differences that set him apart from his predecessor. DiVincenzo put up an assist rate of 16.1% last season, a career high. Unlike Payton II, DiVincenzo can serve as a secondary ball-handler who can facilitate a half-court possession — including screen-and-roll actions.

The nifty after-timeout (ATO) play drawn by Kerr above places DiVincenzo in a perfect spot to facilitate: “Zipper Get” (screen for a cutter coming from the baseline to the slot) followed by “Chicago” action (pindown into a dribble handoff). Note the positioning of Jordan Poole on the weak-side wing – his defender hesitates to tag James Wiseman’s roll due to the threat of his shooting, while DiVincenzo draws two defenders around the Wiseman screen. DiVincenzo then delivers a perfectly placed bounce pass to the rolling Wiseman.

In traditional ball-screen settings, DiVincenzo has proven to be quite adept at finding his roll-man partner — whether it’s on threaded pocket passes or well-timed jump passes over swarming defenders.

Interior passing is well within his strengths as a playmaker. To have a secondary ball-handler who can initiate and facilitate is one thing; to have a secondary ball-handler who can get to the paint with both feet, attract help, and collapse defenses inward is a rare luxury.

As is expected of someone who is considered the Payton-II replacement, defensive comparisons will inevitably be made. DiVincenzo is a competent and intelligent defender, although he may never display the same level of defensive playmaking that Payton II specialized in. It’s extremely difficult to replicate Payton II’s plus-3.6 defensive estimated plus-minus (d-EPM) — better than everyone in the league last season except for one man: his now-former teammate, Draymond Green (plus-5.0 d-EPM).

DiVincenzo’s approach to defense has some notable differences. Whereas Payton II took several risks and was extremely handsy, DiVincenzo is more conservative, but not to the point where it hinders his ability to get stops. He seems to apply just the right amount of pressure to hound opponents, with a motor that is highly infectious.

DiVincenzo’s less-handsy approach is reflected in his foul rate last season: 2.5 fouls per 75 possessions, significantly fewer than Payton II’s 4 fouls per 75 possessions.

Another thing to like about DiVincenzo’s brand of defense is his overall IQ and know-how. His recognition of sets allows him to calculate and plan his approach.

When the Washington Wizards run “Floppy” (baseline staggered screens on one side and a single pindown on the opposite side), Corey Kispert chooses to curl around the staggered screens. DiVincenzo recognizes the set — instead of locking and trailing (i.e., following Kispert and staying close to his hip), he opts to shoot the gap and take a shortcut, successfully denying and cutting off Kispert from the passer. The set subsequently falls apart.

JaMychal Green: Board man, spacer, and big-man connector

Whereas DiVincenzo aims to approximate what Payton II produced for the Warriors last season, Green is expected to step into the shoes of Porter Jr. and Bjelica — a power wing who could effectively space the floor and crash the boards, and a playmaking big who could serve as a capable play-connector and passing hub.

Porter Jr.’s effort on the offensive boards prolonged possessions for the Warriors. It was a common sight for him to come out of nowhere, time his leaps perfectly, and snatch away defensive rebounds from opponents, as if he was always at the right place at the right time. Having such a nose for the ball isn’t a talent that readily grows on trees.

When Porter Jr. decided to sign with the Toronto Raptors, Green was signed by the Warriors to replace the tenacity on the boards that Porter Jr. took with him. When comparing offensive rebounding rates, Porter Jr. (2.5 offensive rebounds per 75 possessions, 6.9 OREB%) and Green (2.8 offensive rebounds per 75 possessions, 8.6 OREB%) are remarkably similar in that aspect.

Where the numbers show a considerable divergence is in three-point shooting marks. Porter Jr. is a career 40% marksman on 3.3 attempts for his career; Green, on the other hand, shoots 36.6% on 2.2 attempts from beyond the arc for his career.

Despite the downgrade from a low-volume-high-percentage outside shooter to a low-volume-league-average outside shooter, Green still presents as a reasonable knockdown catch-and-shoot operator who should receive a considerable number of open looks. He won’t be tasked to create; instead, he will be a beneficiary of creation and advantage generation.

What stood out in particular about Green, however, wasn’t just his ability to finish possessions off of generated advantages; it was his willingness to participate in the process of advantage creation.

The Warriors offense provides plenty of opportunities for someone to create advantages without being its primary source; setting screens and cutting into space are examples of such. In Green’s case, one particular possession against the Portland Trail Blazers displayed his recognition of an opportunity and subsequently acting upon it:

In terms of being a big-man connector, Green may not warrant the same kind of opportunities as Bjelica garnered last season, where he was used in high/low-post actions and as a top-of-the-key distributor in 5-Out “Delay.” In a pinch, however, Green can be a decent passer in “Delay” — whether it’s finding off-ball targets curling around screens, or cutters taking advantage of overplays/top-locks.

Four preseason games are an extremely small sample size, but it is by no means non-indicative. It remains to be seen whether Green and DiVincenzo can live up to the lofty expectations that are often expected of Warriors veteran role-players, but the stuff we’ve seen from them so far suggests that they will play important rotation minutes in the regular season and perhaps the playoffs.

The quality of their upcoming performances is by no means a make-or-break indicator when it comes to championship prospects. An intact core will always be what determines this team’s chances of repeating. But having veterans who outperform their contracts only serves to raise such chances even higher — and like their predecessors before them, Green and DiVincenzo should be motivated to play their hearts out in search of the next big payday.

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