As the season progresses and the Golden State Warriors try to get themselves out of an early season muck, one thing is becoming more and more clear.
The Warriors may have to give Draymond Green what he wants.
Of course, that’s largely out of their hands. Green has an upcoming player option worth approximately $27.6 million; it’s up to him whether he wants to take that money or become an unrestricted free agent an offseason earlier than expected. It’s one outcome the Warriors can only pray to the basketball gods to favor them.
Green is in complete control of his destiny — but in some ways, his options are limited. For the entirety of his 11-year career with the Warriors, he’s been entrenched in an ecosystem that has brought out the best of his talents.
Green’s passing and vision are at a high enough of a baseline level to be considered elite, but no one can deny that having an offensive partner in Stephen Curry elevates those skill sets to a stratospheric level. Coupled with a system built around Curry’s all-time-great offense and catered to his ability to be the ultimate connector and hub, Green has known nothing but success throughout the decade he’s worn a Warriors jersey.
One can bank on the fact that Green may never mesh well on other teams, at least in terms of offensive fit. The other side of that coin is that there are a couple of teams out there with similar personnel who can approximate the kind of environment Green has thrived in — namely, the Portland Trail Blazers with Damian Lillard as a Curry doppelganger.
But that scenario is far off into the future; in the present, Green is showing — as he always has — that his value to the Warriors never really wavered or disappeared altogether, even while being at the center of several controversies that have alienated even his own fanbase and have threatened to tear apart the team’s camaraderie and culture.
The most recent example of Green’s value to the team: his insertion as a second-unit stabilizer. Before the game against the Los Angeles Clippers, Steve Kerr made clear his intention of injecting Green’s energy and impact to give his struggling bench units life.
Steve Kerr said he will keep Draymond Green in that start of second quarter, start of fourth quarter non-Curry unit tonight vs Clippers. Helped against the Rockets. Gives Warriors’ younger players more organization/passing. pic.twitter.com/MiF8DuyS9W— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 24, 2022
Five-man lineups that don’t have all five of the Warriors’ starters on the floor together have mightily struggled. They’ve been outscored by a combined 8.9 points per 100 possessions, with offensive and defensive efficiency marks that fall well below league averages, per Cleaning the Glass.
Part of that problem has been the lack of a “grown-up” in second-unit configurations, particularly those that start out the second and fourth quarters. An offense banking on players who act as the figurative connective tissue that keeps it all together has had a dearth of it whenever Curry and Green both sit down.
Those expected to act as those connectors and hubs haven’t lived up to expectations. JaMychal Green has largely disappointed; Donte DiVincenzo, while impressive in spots, hasn’t been enough; Jonathan Kuminga is yet to develop into that kind of player; James Wiseman is in the G League trying to prove he can be an NBA-level player.
As such, Kerr made the executive decision to deploy his best connector to salvage his substitutes — and the effects were immediately felt.
Draymond in the 2nd unit, you say? pic.twitter.com/cHjO3Q5A1O— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 24, 2022
The one thing apparent with Green as the second-unit stabilizer is how much the ball pops. Stagnancy is the death of Warriors basketball, and the second unit has had plenty of moments where possessions died with a whimper. Green serves as that EpiPen injection it sorely needs; the ball never stops moving, but more importantly, the players don’t stop moving.
Advantages are created — just like in the instance above, where a slipped screen by Andrew Wiggins creates a layup, with Green as the facilitator responsible for its completion.
Even on chaotic possessions without rhyme nor reason, Green’s presence gives the bench mob plenty of chances to generate high quality looks.
Draymond on the floor with this 2nd unit = ball pops MUCH better pic.twitter.com/FowIjqHzGP— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 24, 2022
It’s Green’s effort on the boards and the headiness to kick it out immediately toward the perimeter — cognizant of a defense that isn’t in any condition to rotate in an organized manner — that leads to the Wiggins three above.
Even the most subtle of nuances are noticed and fully taken advantage of when Green’s on the floor. Only someone of his playmaking caliber can notice as something as subtle as Jordan Poole setting a sneaky pin-in screen, generating an open three that Wiggins — shooting 43.5% on 6.8 attempts per game — calmly knocks down.
Again, only someone like Draymond sees something so subtle as Poole setting a pin-in for Andrew Wiggins. pic.twitter.com/2Fu6kl0ajQ— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 24, 2022
This goes without saying, but the benefits of having Green on the floor with bench units includes the defensive end of the floor. With him as the small-ball five, the ability to switch and keep things flattened, keep the ball in front, and prevent all sorts of advantage creation is amplified.
Another benefit of Draymond in the second unit: defense (duh). Highly switchable, half-court possessions stay flat. Draymond diagnoses the final switch onto Norm Powell and gets a good contest in that forces the miss. pic.twitter.com/Z1lg8Mp6c3— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 24, 2022
In Green’s seven-minute stint with the second unit to begin the second quarter, the Warriors outscored the Clippers by four points; during his fourth-quarter stint prior to Curry’s reinsertion at the 7:10 mark, the Warriors outscored the Clippers by five points — clearly providing an easy solution for Kerr and the woes he’s had to deal with in terms of bench combinations.
In a macro sense, Green’s value and impact have always been necessities for the Warriors. Being able to unlock what makes Curry so great as an offensive player — and also being able to unlock what makes the Warriors a potent offensive team — is well within his wheelhouse.
For example: the ability to push the pace in transition and catch a backpedaling defense unawares is made possible because of Green’s ball handling, speed, and rapid processing.
Green has arguably the highest level of situational awareness in the league. His connection with Curry is near telepathic; when defenses key in on Curry, Green knows how to take full advantage.
Draymond's man is showing early help at the nail, so Draymond takes advantage by 45-cutting to the rim. pic.twitter.com/paus1r4MqT— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 24, 2022
But the thing that has arguably impressed me the most about Green this season is his aggression and willingness to finish advantage situations. The Clippers are as well coached of a defense as any team in the league — there’s a reason why they’re currently the second stingiest defensive squad in the league, with only the Milwaukee Bucks ahead of them.
Of all people, Ty Lue knows that to send two bodies toward Curry around ball screens is asking to be sliced up in the short roll.
When it’s Green as the short-roll decision maker, Lue made sure to tell his players to sit on Green’s several passing options, knowing full well that Green would prefer to pass instead of finishing the possession himself.
Green, however, has amped up his aggression level:
Full-court pick up by Terance Mann on Steph. Draymond sets a high step-up screen to relieve pressure, Clippers focus on Steph on the ball. Pocket pass to Draymond, Clippers sit on his passing options but Draymond completes the finish. Love seeing him be aggressive like this. pic.twitter.com/C2xxDEboEC— Joe Viray (@JoeVirayNBA) November 24, 2022
Green put up a trademark stat line against the Clippers: 9 points, 7 rebounds, and 12 assists. The Warriors outscored the Clippers by 21 points during his 33 minutes on the floor, including the crucial bench-unit stretch where he captained and stabilized a previously scuffling unit.
The Warriors are outscoring opponents by 9.6 points per 100 possessions in 459 non-low-leverage minutes Green has played in this season. A majority of that has been due to being paired with Curry on the floor; before tonight, Kerr has been largely reluctant to separate the duo.
With Green starting second and fourth quarters, the on/off numbers may not be as stratospheric as it would be when partnered with Curry — but as Green said after the game, that may not be what his job as a bench stabilizer requires of him.
Draymond Green has taken over the non-Curry minutes for the Warriors’ new second unit. Here is a full rundown from Draymond on what that means. pic.twitter.com/HcHPwMGssX— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) November 24, 2022
Green’s value has never been about the raw counting stats, nor has the box score truly captured his impact. Being considered overrated in some circles has had the ironic effect of actually making him one of the more underrated players of this generation.
The numbers haven’t really mattered with Green — until they finally will, when contract talks start to emerge. By then, the matter of which numbers truly matter — that of ownership’s bottom line, or that of Green’s — will have been decided.