After this win against the Philadelphia 76ers — in which the Golden State Warriors outscored the Sixers by 18 points in Draymond Green’s 29 minutes of time on the floor — the Warriors have now outscored opponents by a cumulative 83 points in the five games since Green returned from suspension.
A heavy dose of those minutes involved Green as the small-ball center — a role he has always excelled in, and one that has helped uplift the Warriors to dynasty status over the past decade. Much has been said about Steph Curry making the engine go, but Green’s ability to not only upsize but upsize effectively has unlocked the full potential of a squad that has historically been undersized relative to other teams.
What makes Green’s job as the center easier, however, is the presence of multiple like-sized wings who collectively increase the versatility and mobility of a small-ball lineup. By his lonesome, Green makes it possible to unlock plenty of coverage options to choose from: drop, soft/hard hedge, blitz/trap, or switching. Other switchable assets on the floor next to him makes switching everything or almost everything possible and increases the overall interchangeability of the unit.
Not to mention, the collective speed, agility, and length of the defensive unit makes it possible to commit to aggressive decisions and also recovering off of said aggression to plug holes created on the backline. Green’s ability to wear many hats on defense — most especially as a roamer — allows that aggression to happen and makes full use of his teammates’ athletic and physical gifts.
Traits that Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga both have — but have only begun to truly blossom with the addition of Green to their pairing.
In that same five-game period since Green’s return, the Warriors have outscored opponents by 50 points in the 85 minutes that the Green-Wiggins-Kuminga trio has spent on the floor. Converted into per-100 possession metrics:
- 128.2 offensive rating
- 98.4 defensive rating
- 29.8 net rating
All of which would be the equivalent of the best in their respective categories.
That is a far cry from when Wiggins and Kuminga were paired together without Green (155 minutes):
- 102.1 offensive rating
- 133.4 defensive rating
- minus-31.4 net rating
The change in defensive intensity, tenacity, communication, and connectivity is palpable with Green on the floor, especially with both Wiggins and Kuminga, who both profile as excellent on-ball defenders and ball-pressure specialists but need guidance in terms of team defense. Green has been the glue they’ve needed all season long in order to coexist together:
The double on Joel Embiid by Wiggins and Kuminga is bold — but made possible because of the trust they both have in Green behind them to hold the fort in the backline. That trust is ultimately warranted; the recoveries are on time, the rotations on a string crisp, and ultimately, Green’s contest on the Tobias Harris drive is effective enough to garner a stop.
Another effect of Green being there to plug holes, decide coverages on the fly, and take command on defense has been allowing Wiggins and Kuminga to do what they do best as defenders: put heavy full-court/three-fourths pressure on the ball, bleed the shot clock, and delay opponents’ half-court sets:
Everyone is fully aware (or I would like to think so) of Green’s value on defense, but it’s arguably equally matched by his ability to organize and direct on the other end of the floor. It allows Curry to be at his off-ball best and lessens the burden on him as an on-ball decision maker — while also making it easier for him to get open while handling the ball due to the little things that Green does to open things up.
Such as setting a screen in transition to create an open three-point look:
But his knowledge of how to dissect a defense that is putting heavy focus on denying Curry from getting the ball is what also makes Green indispensable on offense. No other player on this roster sees potential gaps that can be exploited in a prescient manner — such as when a single zone-man on the weak side is created off of a box-and-one on Curry:
Green is responsible for creating a virtual two-on-one on the weak side — he tells Wiggins to cut diagonally (“45” cut) to draw his defender in and away, leaving a sole Sixer defending both Dario Šarić and Lester Quiñones. When Green kicks out to Šarić, the lone defender makes the decision to close out toward Šarić, who then makes the easy decision to make the extra swing pass to Quiñones for an open corner three.
The Warriors also cannot take full advantage of their inverted alignments if Green isn’t at the forefront of such setups. A 5-out “Delay” set, for example — in which a big is at the top of the arc handling the ball and making decisions with action happening on both sides — doesn’t hit the same if it was Kevon Looney or Šarić handling the ball up top, despite their ability to hold the fort in that regard.
Green is no mere fort-holder — he is the quintessential “Delay” big that almost always makes the good decision with the ball on his hands, such as on this possession, where he finds Wiggins cutting inside off of a Curry backscreen, knowing that Curry’s man would most likely not be keen to switch off of him:
Instructs Brandin Podziemski to set a pindown screen for Curry after seeing Embiid cross-matched onto Curry. With Embiid’s mobility compromised due to an ailing knee and dropping deep in the paint in transition, Green deduces that a Podziemski screen would free up Curry for an open look — a deduction proven to be true:
And places a perfect pass to Kuminga on this sideline out-of-bounds set (called “WTF”), where a Quiñones backscreen forces the switch and causing Furkan Korkmaz to be on the wrong end of the switch, allowing Kuminga to get the pass that was designed for him and only him to reach for it — of course, because of Green:
Getting stops in transition, pushing the pace, and getting easy sources of offense against a defense scrambling to get back has always been the Warriors’ bread and butter. They’ve shied away from that identity due to a variety of factors; per Inpredictable, they are a mere 23rd in terms of how quick they can get a shot off after hauling in a defensive rebound (10.1 seconds).
With Green surrounded by Wiggins and Kuminga — stoppers who can play more freely under his watchful eye — the Warriors are more empowered to run off of forced misses, with Kuminga (1.359 points per possession in transition, per Synergy) filling lanes in and getting a massive head-start on leak-outs:
After the game, Steve Kerr emphasized the importance of having Green to make the Wiggins-Kuminga pairing work.
“Draymond really changed things with his return because he connects those guys on both ends of the floor just with his communication defensively and the way he helps get us organized offensively. Great to see (Wiggins) and (Kuminga) both playing so well together.”