Let me start this article with two truths. You may not agree with these truths, which you are entitled to do, but know that you are wrong.
Truth number 1: The Golden State Warriors are championship contenders, and arguably even championship favorites when healthy.
Truth number 2: The Golden State Warriors are not going to sniff an NBA title without Draymond Green.
The former was evident for the first few months of the season, and Steve Kerr admitted the latter after Thursday’s loss to the Dallas Mavericks.
Kerr: “We desperately need Draymond” pic.twitter.com/MeJtsWXth0— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) March 4, 2022
But if you really need evidence, the numbers are telling.
Disregarding a ceremonial seven-second appearance in Klay Thompson’s return game, Green hasn’t played since a January 5 loss to the Mavs. That was the Dubs 37th game of the season. They took the L in that game, but still had the best record in the league, the second-best net rating, the best defensive rating, and the 11th-best offensive rating, per Cleaning The Glass.
In the 26 games since then, the Warriors have had the 14th-best record in the league, the 13th-best net rating, the 13th-best defensive rating, and the 17th-best offensive rating.
Green isn’t the only variable there. Andre Iguodala has missed most of those games, and the Warriors have probably taken a hit by the return of Thompson, simply because integrating him back into the system has thrown things off a bit. Andrew Wiggins has gone from All-Star to slumping to downright bad during that timeframe, and multiple players have dealt with small injuries.
But the point remains, and I wish the Warriors would stop punching us in the face with it: with Dray they’re contenders. Without Dray, they’re mediocre.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The Warriors recent slump — they’ve lost three straight games and five of their last six — is wildly frustrating, but teams tend to struggle when their second-best player is removed from the lineup, especially when said player is a clear-cut All-Star.
Let’s look at some other examples around the league. The Los Angeles Lakers are 17-20 (.460 winning percentage) when Anthony Davis plays, and 10-15 (.400) when he doesn’t (and that’s before accounting for the fact that LeBron James missed many of the games in the former category).
The Milwaukee Bucks are 33-18 (.647) when Khris Middleton plays, and 5-7 (.417) when he doesn’t. The Chicago Bulls are 32-19 (.628) with Zach LaVine and 7-5 (.583) without him. The Utah Jazz are 34-15 (.694) with Donovan Mitchell in the lineup, and 5-7 (.417) with him sidelined. And I probably don’t need to tell you how bad the Brooklyn Nets have been when operating with just one star from their fluctuating three-headed monster.
All of that is to say that the Warriors struggles without Green, while frustrating, are entirely normal and to be expected. That’s doubly true when you consider that the team’s systems on both offense and defense are tailored to take full advantage of Green’s historically-unique skillset — you could argue that more is lost in translation when he’s injured than with any other star in the league.
Which, 500 words later, brings me to my question: does it matter that the Dubs are struggling? Is it worth concerning ourselves with? The Warriors aren’t going to win a title if Green is in street clothes, so does it really matter how poorly they perform in that scenario?
Nothing Golden State does while Dray is out is going to convince us that they can win a title without him and, frankly, for as awful as these losses have been, nothing they do is going to convince us that he can’t fix their issues, either.
Yes, some more wins, and the ability to stay ahead of the Memphis Grizzlies in the standings would be nice. Yes, Klay returning to form and proving that he can be the second-best player sometimes would be cool. And sure, Wiggins looking like a bonafide All-Star, or even a quality starter rather than a byproduct of Green’s greatness would be a really great thing to see. A little effort and functionality on defense would go a long way towards games being watchable and feelings being sparkly.
But ultimately I’m not sure if it matters. When Green returns, Curry will play better, Wiggins will play better, and Klay will play better. Role players like Otto Porter Jr. and Jonathan Kuminga can slide into lesser, more comfortable roles, where they can make a bigger impact. The defense — so elite with Dray that it’s still second-best in the league despite this two-month free fall — will put the clamps on again, and the offense will once again have an option for when teams sell out on Curry and trap him 35 feet from the hoop.
It’s just a matter of if he returns in time.