Take this for data: Heading into tonight’s game against the Utah Jazz, the Golden State Warriors had Draymond Green on the floor for 1,458 possessions — which is less than half of the number of possessions Steph Curry has been on the floor this season (3,281). You have the suspensions to thank (or curse) for that.
In those 1.458 possessions — with garbage time eliminated from the equation — the Warriors have held opponents to 114.9 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 10th in the league, per Cleaning The Glass. Zeroing in on half-court possessions with Green on the floor, the Warriors hold opponents to 97.6 points per 100 half-court possessions, equivalent to 10th in the league.
In short, with Green available and playing on the floor this season, the Warriors have been a top-10 defense — which is pretty much the most “duh” conclusion you can garner from the data above.
But a better indicator of how important Green has been to the Warriors’ defense this season is how different they have been when he’s off the floor — whether due to resting on the bench or missing games altogether. The eye test is pretty glaring; communication is nearly non-existent, rotations aren’t as crisp, accountability is absent, and collective IQ suffers a drastic drop-off.
The numbers are the clincher: In 3,439 possessions without Green, the Warriors allow opponents to score 118.2 points per 100 possessions, which would rank 22nd in the league with garbage time eliminated. In the half court, the Warriors allow 101.0 points per 100 half-court possessions — equivalent to 20th in the league. I would say those are some pretty significant drop-offs.
Having Green on the floor allows him to make big time plays while also doing all of the subtle stuff that typically flies over most people’s heads: barking at his teammates to match up and stay close to the nearest man; giving confidence to point-of-attack defenders by assuring them that he’s behind them, ready to rotate and pick them up should their assignments get past them; eliminating mismatches by directing off-ball switches to bump off a small from a big or wing; and many other things on defense that don’t necessarily show up on the stat sheet.
Green’s demeanor and attitude (the positive, team-contributing ones, at least) are infectious. They show up on possessions where the entire defense executes to near perfection. This one stood out to me during the game against the Jazz:
The Jazz try to have Jordan Clarkson isolate against Curry by having him set a screen for Curry’s man to trigger the switch. Clarkson sets the screen on Moses Moody, after which Curry willingly comes over to switch — not an ideal matchup.
But hear the other players on the floor — particularly Brandin Podziemski — communicate to Moody to come over and double from the top. This is called “hitting” the switch, otherwise known as a switch-to-blitz or switch-to-double coverage: when a switch happens and the matchup isn’t favorable, the person who switches off immediately comes over to double or trap the ball, which is what Moody does above.
This puts Clarkson in a bind with the baseline behind him. He’s forced to give up the ball and make a desperation pass, which is intercepted by Podziemski. The possession is rendered moot because of a shot-clock violation.
Green wasn’t directly involved in this stop, nor was he even his usual loud self. In his stead was Podziemski, egging Moody to go over and help Curry with Clarkson. Defense is all about communication and talking with one another; Green is the walking and yelling embodiment of that philosophy, something that Podziemski and the others have fully embraced.
Which is a stark contrast to their situation a month ago, when Steve Kerr drilled the importance of having guys on the team who kept others accountable on defense.
“One of the coaches on the way down said we’re the quietest team ever,” Kerr said after a Warriors loss against the New Orleans Pelicans on January 10. “I think without Draymond and Chris (Paul) it’s really exposed (that) there’s not much chatter defensively. We do have a very quiet group of guys with this particular team that’s out there now. We probably need a pick-me-up. We need Draymond, we need guys who can kind of rally the troops right now.”
STEVE KERR: "One of the coaches on the way down said we're the quietest team ever. Without Draymond and Chris [Paul} it's really exposed. We do have a very quiet group of guys... we need guys who can kind of rally the troops right now." pic.twitter.com/AUfkEy5qgm— KNBR (@KNBR) January 11, 2024
Green did plenty of rallying, alright. Again, take this for data — since Green returned from a 16-game absence (a combination of serving his suspension and ramping up to game shape) on January 15, the Warriors have limited opponents to 110.9 points per 100 possessions — fifth in the league over that timeframe.
More noteworthy, Green’s return has had a rejuvenating effect on Andrew Wiggins and Jonathan Kuminga. Wiggins has been defending much better at the point of attack and in terms of navigating around screens in lock-and-trail situations, while Kuminga has become a rim-attacking force and scoring menace in the paint. A duo that was once damaging to the Warriors — prior to Green’s return, the team was outscored by a whopping 106 points in 171 minutes of the Wiggins-Kuminga pairing — is now outscoring opponents by 99 points since January 15.
The uneven and debilitating start by Wiggins to the season had him included in endless theoretical trade packages prior to the trade deadline — some involving the Jazz’s Lauri Markkanen, a perfect fit on paper with the Warriors. Wiggins had some head-turning reps on Markkanen tonight, who was “limited” to 19 points on 17 shots.
Markkanen is a 7-foot unicorn who is comfortable coming off staggered screens and wide pindowns — playtypes typically reserved for shooting wings and guards. Wiggins read the scouting report and made it difficult for Markkanen to get clean looks around off-ball screens:
Wiggins fighting over the screen to stay in front of Markkanen and stifle him at the elbow wasn’t the only highlight above. It was a team effort — from Gary Payton II picking up full court and pressuring the ball, to Wiggins being able to navigate and stay in front, and Podziemski helping at the “nail” (the term for the area approximating the middle of the free-throw line) by plugging the gap and stunting at Markkanen, after which he recovers back to his assignment after forcing the ball out of Markkanen’s hands, staying in front of Collin Sexton, and forcing the tough shot.
The only boo-boo on this possession was by Green, who was penalized with his third foul in the first quarter. But Green did a good job the rest of the way treading the thin line he was given. He stayed physical without fouling, protected the rim against drives, and plugged gaps the way someone of his defensive pedigree has been able to do throughout his career.
Green as the five allows him to shuffle between coverages, see the floor with a wide lens, and respond accordingly. He has been the ultimate backline anchor for a team that was struggling to keep the ball out of their own hoop:
This was perhaps my favorite defensive possession from Green against the Jazz. He sags off of Walker Kessler, who is handling the ball — flashing his knowledge of the rule stating that the defensive three-second countdown doesn’t apply when actively guarding the ball handler. Once he sees his teammate caught up on a screen and unable to stick to Clarkson, he immediately steps up to where Clarkson is going to be around the handoff to close the space, after which he defends Clarkson in isolation, cuts off his drive, and forces a miss:
Everything on defense has worked better with Green around. Even Klay Thompson, who had a 26-point night on 19 shots, flashed vintage reps on defense:
While rookie Trayce Jackson-Davis made his case as Green’s backup at the five, courtesy of rim-protecting reps that make you scratch your head as to why he isn’t getting more minutes:
Defense is a collective effort. The teams who are the best at it are the ones who trim off the fat and compensate for the remaining amount through communication, cohesion, and trust.
Green was once on the verge of losing the trust he built as this team’s defensive linchpin. He has regained it and is now once again the keystone of a defense that was previously freefalling to an uncontrollable degree.
The only question remains is if it will be enough to salvage the season, or if the hole that they dug for themselves at the beginning may be too deep to climb out of.