After missing Game 3 due to a one-game suspension, Draymond Green was set to come back in Game 4 — but not in the position many people expected him to return to.
Steve Kerr made the decision to start the lineup behind the Golden State Warriors’ dominant Game 3 victory over the Sacramento Kings: Steph Curry, Jordan Poole, Klay Thompson, Andrew Wiggins, and Kevon Looney. This lineup outscored the Kings by 15 points in its 19 minutes — and Green, seeing that this formula worked to near perfection — approached Kerr about the possibility of starting it again.
Draymond Green explains why he suggested to come off the bench in Game 4. He liked how GSW played without him in G3 and said he never wants to have a sense of “entitlement” to his starting spot. pic.twitter.com/ryjhwffBSt— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) April 23, 2023
Green offering to start on the bench is a noble gesture and one that is worthy of a leader such as him. The extracurriculars have been there and will continue to be there, but his worth to the organization is evergreen, both on and off the court.
In Game 4 of the Warriors’ win against the Kings, both aspects shined — but it was his on-court worth that stood out and shined bright like a diamond.
Green will never get enough praise simply because he is the antithesis of what a star is: he doesn’t score in bunches, almost always looks for the pass first, and provides most of his value on the end of the floor that doesn’t put the butts on the seats. The brash attitude, outspokenness, and #antics also don’t help him in terms of marketability.
But Green has never really been about pizzazz, flash, and family-friendliness. He’s completely content with yeoman’s work: on offense, screening for his teammates — especially Curry — and acting as a hub on the high/low post and up top in a 5-out “Delay” configuration.
On defense, he does virtually everything: from the subtlest of nuances in order to make life difficult in the halfcourt, to the more eye-catching stuff such as help-rotation contests and blocks.
However, his synergy with Curry on all sorts of two-man action is what may ultimately define Green’s tenure with the Warriors — and will forever link him to his partner in crime for nearly a decade.
(This isn’t a knock on Green’s value on the offensive end at all. It’s fair to say that Curry is the sole driver of the offense, with Green hugely benefiting from it. But Green also unlocks aspects of Curry’s game that allows his versatility on offense to shine.)
What was intriguing to me was seeing how both Curry and Green solved the problem of Davion Mitchell, an absolute hound of a defender and a pest that Curry had difficulty getting rid of. Curry’s not exactly a spring chicken anymore — a younger version had the spryness and agility to shake off even the toughest of one-on-one stoppers in isolation — so he and Green had to get creative with how to deal with the Mitchell situation.
The first instance of Curry shaking off Mitchell didn’t involve any screen between the two:
It’s a simple give-and-go, with Curry immediately diving toward the rim after the post entry. All Curry needs is half a second of inattention and relaxation from Mitchell, who falls behind on the Curry dive. Green, as always, accurately places the pass for Curry to get downhill and get the and-1.
Mitchell rarely makes mistakes like the one above and certainly wasn’t about to give up a heavy diet of off-ball Curry cuts. Putting Curry on the ball also maximizes Mitchell’s engagement level, to the point that Curry has to work extra hard and expend energy to even get a sliver of space.
A straight-up ballscreen would be too straightforward. Mitchell is an excellent screen navigator, and if he falls behind, the Kings aren’t shy with having their bigs step up to the level of the screen to meet Curry around the screen, with Mitchell recovering and turning the coverage into a virtual double.
What Curry and Green went with instead is exchanging roles in the pick-and-roll, which is often a big setting a ballscreen for the smaller ball-handling guard. When Curry has trouble trying to get past Mitchell, watch Green motion for Curry to pass him the ball:
After Curry gives Green the ball, he immediately sets the screen on Harrison Barnes in what is an inverted-ballscreen set-up. To secure the switch, Curry immediately flares out toward the wing, while Green makes a quick move to force Mitchell to pick him up.
The ball finds its way back to Curry, who finds it easier to create space and separation against Barnes.
Other defenders aren’t as daring in terms of being willing to switch a Curry inverted ballscreen. No one ever gets fired for sticking to Steph Curry (as GSOM legend Eric Apricot likes to put it), but the Warriors have always used that habit to their advantage.
Case in point:
Again, Curry gives the ball to Green and immediately sets the inverted ballscreen on Domantas Sabonis. Unlike Mitchell in the previous possession, De’Aaron Fox is noncommittal in terms of switching — instead, he takes a nonchalant poke at the ball as Green drives by and sticks to Curry.
This creates an advantage situation, with Andrew Wiggins cutting from the weak-side corner and Green trying to hit him on the lob. Sabonis desperately tries to blow up the lob, but instead fouls Wiggins.
Watching Green and Curry work together in perfect harmony is like watching a two-person jazz performance. The improvisational chops of this duo assures that defenders won’t see the same look over and over again — which makes their jobs that much more difficult than the baseline.
Another inverted ballscreen comes Mitchell and Sabonis’ way — but with an added twist to it:
Instead of switching, Sabonis ducks under the Curry screen to stick to his assignment. But Green — seeing that in the process, Sabonis has also impeded Mitchell’s direct path to Curry — immediately places the ball behind him and screens Mitchell, which gives Curry tons of breathing room to drill the shot.
While Green impact on offense in Game 4 was mostly tied to his partnership with Curry, his impact on the defensive end — save for the final possession in which he paired up with Curry — was a showcase of his individual brilliance.
The Kings attempted 16 shots at the rim in Game 4, which constituted a mere 17% of their total shot attempts. That number places them in the third percentile and is much lower than their regular season rim-attempt rate of 33.9%.
Along with Looney, Green’s fingerprints were all over the Warriors’ rim-deterrence philosophy. From guarding Fox and cutting off his driving angles:
To blowing up fastbreak situations in the face of a numbers disadvantage:
To being the absolute last line of defense — contesting a Barnes layup attempt and recovering in time to spike a Sabonis shot away:
Green put his stamp in the late game and took near-total control on the defensive end — including the last possession of the game to salvage what was almost a blown game.
He links with Curry to cut off Fox’s driving angles, prevent him from getting to his sweet spots, and force him to have to delegate the potential game winner to someone else:
With Green on Fox, Barnes comes over to set a screen in an attempt to put Curry in the action. Curry tries to hedge, but Fox draws him out and leaves him with no choice but to commit to a switch, while Barnes parks himself on the wing with Green on him.
Curry cuts off Fox’s attempt to drive to his right, leaving Fox no choice but to go the other way — with Green nearby. Green cuts off Fox and forces him to pick up his dribble. Fox has no choice but to pass to the open Barnes — who misses a shot against a decent close-out by Curry.
Green returned after his suspension and made his presence felt, one that has helped the Warriors even the series going back to Sacramento. Fortunately for the team, the imprint he left this time wasn’t a literal one.