The definition of what a star or superstar is in the NBA is typically that of a lead ball handler who pretty much controls every aspect of a half-court offense, which mostly involves scoring or passing to a teammate left open off of a self-created advantage.
Everything else that doesn’t involve all of those skills are considered a rung or two below the role hierarchy — often considered what people call “role players.” But good role players who have deemed themselves essential usually do warrant minutes and positions that place them well above the “average” complementary personnel.
Horford got the extension in the middle of a season where his contract was about to expire. Granted, the Celtics do have a history of extending players mid-season — something the Warriors usually don’t do. If anything, they give extensions to players before a season starts, as evidenced by the offers they gave out to Jordan Poole and Andrew Wiggins.
When the Warriors chose not to offer a similar package to Draymond Green, many wondered if that signaled Green’s last dance with the organization that drafted and cultivated him for the better part of a decade. Considering what happened during the NBA Finals and the offseason — a decline in offensive production and the drama surrounding Green and Poole — that possibility was becoming more and more of a not-so-distant reality.
When many considered Green to be the unthinkable — disposable and replaceable — Green did what he has always done when faced with doubt: prove everyone extremely wrong.
If Horford — a good basketball player but historically considered a couple of tiers below Green in terms of caliber — is deemed worthy of a new contract, then what’s stopping the Warriors from extending Green the same gesture?
Of course, the answer to that is much more complicated. The Warriors are in the quagmire that is the luxury tax, with penalties that exponentially increase with each passing season. Paying Green what he would want — definitely much more than what Horford received and deservedly so — would make an already exorbitant tax bill even more untenable.
But consider all the things Horford does above that got him his extension, and also consider the fact that — with the exception of spacing — Green does everything Horford does at a much-higher level.
Green is more than just a scheme-versatile defender — he is the Warriors’ defensive scheme.
Much of what the Warriors are able to do on defense banks on Green’s versatility and intelligence. When holes are continuously being created in an attempt to sink the boat, he has been consistently there to plug them one after another.
It’s to no one’s absolute surprise that the Warriors have been 5.8 points per 100 possessions better on defense with Green on the floor. They’ve been the best in the league in terms of opponent rim rate, and Green has been a huge part of their excellence at walling off the paint and sending back attempts to score up close.
His understanding of positioning and verticality is a rare trait in the NBA, but it’s often an underappreciated ability. In a league where the line between a legal contest and a foul is becoming more and more blurred, Green’s defensive reputation and skill set is a highly valuable commodity.
When you consider his body of work over the past decade, Green has a pretty loud argument to be considered the best defender of this generation — which often overshadows how irreplaceable he has been on offense, despite not being the traditional high-scoring player that defines what an NBA star should be.
Green hasn’t averaged double digits in points since the 2017-18 season, which has been a huge point of contention in terms of his offensive “decline.” During the Kevin Durant era, his drop in scoring was justified in the sense that he didn’t need to score as much; he had Durant, Stephen Curry, and Klay Thompson to do that for him.
But in this post-Durant era, the need for Green to act as a supplementary scoring threat has re-taken center stage. When it looked like father time was catching up to him — athleticism present during his 20s that seemed to have taken a hit as he entered his 30s — Green keeps showing that he finds ways to make himself an offensive centerpiece.
Most of which have come on classic short-roll looks against disadvantaged opponents:
Passing is the Warriors’ main offensive currency. More specifically, passing in the context of bridging the gap between playmaking/decision-making and scoring is what makes their offense tick.
Most offenses make use of the terms “passing hub” and “connector” loosely; Green is arguably the ultimate manifestation of what those terms truly mean. Without him, the off-ball movement and flow that have become Warriors trademarks simply cannot exist.
Being able to organize his teammates on both ends of the floor — coupled with the passing and high-level decision making — is what has allowed Green to salvage a second unit that was on the verge of collapse. The lineup involving him with Poole, Donte DiVincenzo, Andrew Wiggins, and Anthony Lamb has outscored opponents by 4.5 points per 100 possessions in 44 recorded possessions; replacing Wiggins with Jonathan Kuminga has been even more effective, outscoring opponents by a whopping 72.7 points per 100 possessions, albeit on an extremely small sample size of 22 possessions.
It was once unthinkable for Green to be separated from Curry in terms of minutes, but Green is now keeping the team afloat whenever Curry is sitting on the bench. Eliminating low-leverage situations (i.e., gargabe time), Green has spent 61 total minutes without Curry alongside him — the Warriors have outscored opponents by 11.2 points per 100 possessions during those minutes.
While his value on some level will continue to be tied to that of his partnership with Curry, Green is making an ironclad case as an invaluable part of the Warriors’ success. Without him, the team will be hard-pressed to find a suitable replacement. One could argue that there will never be a suitable replacement for what Green can bring, either from within the organization through youth development or by acquiring someone through trade or free agency.
If that isn’t the definition of what a “star” is, I don’t know what is. Green simply cannot be replaced — it may be time to start paying him what he wants so that the Warriors won’t have to.