To be clear, this is not a knock on Draymond Green, who is an exceptional player and deserves more credit than he has been given outside of the Golden State Warriors fandom.
Rather, this is a knock on the construction of this roster, how precarious its chemistry is, and how one or two pieces being sidelined makes it all go awry. In this instance, that one piece being sidelined happens to be the most important one of all in Steph Curry.
Green had an exceptional game against the Los Angeles Lakers: 12 points, seven rebounds, and 10 assists with three “stocks” (steals plus blocks). The Warriors outscored the Lakers by 10 points during his 34 minutes of time on the floor, one of only two players on the team with a positive plus-minus (the other being Andrew Wiggins with a plus-three).
Green has been the perfect point forward for the Warriors, with the vision, precision passing, and intelligence to make himself the ultimate central hub and decision maker. His ability to play off of the Warriors’ deadly movement shooters has been the bread and butter of the dynasty’s offense. It allows the likes of Curry, Klay Thompson, and Jordan Poole to wreak havoc off the ball in order to create a multitude of advantages.
But it has been Green’s defense that has made him quite indispensable. Much like how Curry makes their offensive engine hum like an exceptionally composed piece of music, Green has been the keystone that holds together their defensive wall. Take it away, and the entire structure crumbles.
He cleans up mistakes on the back end. He is the last line of defense, figuratively and literally:
When both Poole and Wiggins are disadvantaged on the ball-screen action — Wiggins having to engage Dennis Schröder due to screen-navigation difficulties by Poole — Green is there to rotate into the paint and get the stop on Jarred Vanderbilt via a clean vertical contest.
Defensive possessions don’t readily catch eyes as much as offensive ones do. To appreciate a good defensive play — those other than rejections and pilfers, at least — is to dive deep into the nuance of each possession. Why is this action difficult to defend? What did the defense do to stop it?
In this particular instance, Green blows up a simple but effective screen-and-roll variant:
Going back to the questions posted above — why is this action difficult to defend?
Since the corner is emptied out, there is no strong-side “tagger” to help on Anthony Davis. The onus is on Green to defend two players at once: the ball handler and the roller, especially with Thompson falling a bit behind trying to stay on Austin Reaves’ hip.
If there’s a defender in the league you could count on to perfectly navigate that precarious middle space, it’s Green. His ability to move his hips to engage Davis after the pass is evidence of his high-level defensive talent. He’s on time and contests Davis without fouling. That is extremely difficult to execute, but it’s exactly why he’s arguably the best defender of this generation.
Green did his job on the defensive end. When the Warriors went small to close the game, he naturally took the Davis assignment and — as he has mostly done throughout their battles against each other — Green gave Davis hell:
But the risk of having Green on the floor comes not on defense, but in half-court situations on offense. Without Curry there to garner lots of defensive attention, there are only two offensive threats off the ball left for defenses to worry about.
Most of the time, two is enough. But two is also easier to scheme for. Green is at his best when he has a bird’s-eye view of the situation, usually at the top of the arc where he can find movers running off of screens or cutters taking advantage of multiple defenders jumping out toward shooting threats.
But what happens if defenses perfectly account for everything? What if they switch every screening action and top-lock shooters to deny them movement and breathing space?
Most of all: What if Green’s defender sags way off of him to park himself at the paint to clean up any mistake and discourage attempts at the rim?
A baseline out-of-bounds (BLOB) set for Poole that involves two screens is blown up when Schröder fights over and sticks to Poole. Green then looks for the next option and tries to hit Thompson on the other side, but Reaves perfectly jumps out to deny the option. The Lakers would much rather have Donte DiVincenzo take an off-the-dribble mid-range jumper — a choice that works in their favor.
Peep at how Davis was unbothered with Green out on the perimeter:
This virtually makes this possession a five-on-four, with Davis comfortably stationed at the paint as a roamer and helper. For all of Green’s talent as a passer and decision maker, he’s not a threat out on the perimeter. Drive inside and Davis will be there to meet him at the rim.
Could the Warriors have done a better job scheming ways to unlock Green as a hub down the stretch? Perhaps. Thompson was too stationary in the possession above and could’ve moved quicker to give Green a viable option on a dribble handoff. With Davis dropping back and the rest of the Lakers distracted by the screens for Poole, Thompson could’ve gotten himself an open look, even with Reaves’ ability to navigate screens adeptly.
To be fair to Green, it wasn’t only him who was ignored by the Lakers on the perimeter. They came into the game with a plan that involved copious top-locking, ball denial, and banking on the Warriors’ negative spacers to miss their shots when left wide open, which left the Lakers’ rim protectors free to patrol and erase potential backline excursions.
LA's defensive game plan was to overplay & top lock off-screen actions + sag off non-shooters to take away cuts.— Cranjis McBasketball (@Tim_NBA) February 12, 2023
The Warriors had 19 total points on off-screen & cut plays, down from 40.0 per game the past 3 games. pic.twitter.com/5tFkOL6jS8
The Warriors’ inability to string together scoring possessions has been a problem throughout the season, even when Curry was on the floor. Lack of proper execution, force, and energy has haunted them in the clutch.
They were held scoreless from the 5:01 mark of the fourth quarter up till the 1:34 mark, where the Lakers outscored them by seven points. Their 98.2 offensive rating in clutch period was fourth worst in the league prior to the game; only the San Antonio Spurs, Houston Rockets, and Milwaukee Bucks have had more trouble generating offense in the clutch.
They’re now 28-28. We’ve seen too many instances of the Warriors being a middling team this season even with their core fully intact, which makes their .500 record extremely apropos.
Maybe this is exactly who they are: a play-in team plagued by a lack of motivation and verve, sprinkled with roster-construction problems that aren’t doing them any favors in getting them to where they want to be after the regular season.