Heading into the 2012 NBA Draft, two of the five first team All-Americans were lottery picks. Kentucky’s Anthony Davis headlined the draft class, going first overall to then New Orleans Hornets. Joining him in the top 10 were Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (pick 5 to Sacramento). Jared Sullinger, a once projected first round pick, slid due to concerns about his back, to pick 21, where he was selected by the Boston Celtics. Doug McDermott opted to stay at Creighton for two more seasons, before also becoming a lottery pick in the 2014 draft (pick 11).
“Although it’s clear that he has limitations, he is just a basketball player – the type of glue guy that helps good teams win and stays in the league far longer than anyone expects.”
Who was the fifth player on the first-team? He was a second round pick, drafted 35th overall by the Golden State Warriors. His name is Draymond Green.
That’s just how life has been for the fourth-year forward out of Michigan State, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. You would have been forgiven for thinking Davis would be the first player out of that quintet to taste the championship champagne. However, Davis was merely a footnote on Green and the Warriors’ march to the 2015 NBA title.
Green’s statline for the Spartans in that 2011-12 season reads: 16.2 points, 10.6 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game, while shooting a respectable 45 percent from the field including 39 percent from downtown. Despite his impressive statline, Green was not considered a lottery prospect. Heck, he wasn’t even the Warriors first or second pick in the 2012 draft, with Golden State selecting Harrison Barnes (7th overall) and Festus Ezeli (3oth overall) before him.
However, ESPN’s draft guru Chad Ford foresaw what we are all seeing now, years ago. “Although it’s clear that he has limitations, he is just a basketball player – the type of glue guy that helps good teams win and stays in the league far longer than anyone expects,” Ford wrote.
Only, Green has become far more than just the glue guy for the Warriors. He is an indispensable cog in a machine that has destroyed all before it this season.
Analysing Green’s game through a cursory glance at the box score on any given night is doing him an incredible disservice. It’s not that his numbers aren’t impressive (we’ll get to them later), it’s that his numbers do not show how important he is to this team.
With reigning league MVP Stephen Curry going haywire early in the season, a large part of the Warriors’ offense is predicated on the Curry and Green pick and roll. Due to Curry’s excellent shooting, teams have resorted to often sending the big man on the pick and roll at Curry, forcing him to give up the ball. Here, in Game 4 of last year’s NBA Finals, The Cavaliers send Tristan Thompson along with Matthew Dellavedova at Curry.
Green is then able to catch the ball and he has three options: either to finish with a floater as he does on this occasion, to drive to the rim, or to pass out to one of his team mates spotting up on the wings as the defense sags in on him.
On another occasion, this time later on in the same game, the Cavaliers’ defense sags off of Green following the pass from Curry, allowing him to sink the mid-range jumper.
Green is also an excellent passer for his size and his position, and here, in Game 5 of the finals, with the Cavs defense closing in on him after the same pick and roll action with Curry, he makes the pass out to Leandro Barbosa who has an open three point shot.
While it is the sheer gravity of Curry that gives Green so much space on the floor, he is able to make the right decision more often than not.
When this same pick and roll action happens at the top of the arc, Green has shown an increased ability to hit the straight-on three pointer. Green shot just 21 percent on threes in his rookie season, and has increased his three-point percentage every season he has been in the league. This season, Green is shooting a staggering 43.9 percent on threes, a percentage that is a hair better than Curry (43.8 percent).
As aforementioned, Green is an excellent passer for his size and has developed that side of his game over time. Like his three-point field goals, Greens assists per game have risen from 0.7 per game in his rookie season to 6.7 this season. Green’s improvement in passing sees him lead all forwards in assists, a category that LeBron James has lead for seven consecutive seasons.
Green’s rebounds per game have also improved throughout his four seasons in the NBA, from 3.3 in his rookie season to 8.2 rebounds per game in 2014-15. In his time on the floor last season, Green grabbed 14 percent of all rebounds available.
The offensive numbers, whilst already impressive, become even more impressive when Green’s usage is considered. Amazingly, despite being arguably the Warriors’ second best player, Green ranks just tenth out of the Warriors 14 used players this season with a usage of 16.9 percent. The Warriors’ team high is unsurprisingly Curry at 33.9 percent.
However, where Green makes his money is on the defensive side of the ball. Green has developed a reputation of being one of the premier defenders in the NBA with the ability to guard any position due to his unique combination of strength and quickness. Green is an excellent one-on-one defender in the post and also an excellent help defender. Green lead the Warriors in defensive win shares last season with 5.2 and was unlucky not to win the Defensive Player of the Year award, losing out to Kawhi Leonard.
Per nba.com, Green has held his direct opponents to an average of just 37 percent, down from their average of 45.2 percent. He is an especially proficient post defender, holding opponents to a field goal of just 44.2 percent within 6ft of the basket. Green’s effectiveness decreases the further away he is from the basket, however he still holds opponents to 0.8 percent less than their usual field goal percentages from greater than 15 ft. Green has also had a defensive rating below 100 for three of his four seasons in the league. After missing out on the DPOY last year, it is highly likely that Green adds that to his trophy cabinet at the end of this season.
While Curry and Klay Thompson epitomise the glitz and glamorous side of the Golden State Warriors, Green is the indispensable cog in the machine that is often ignored and without him, the reigning World Champions would regress greatly on both sides of the ball.
Ford may have been right calling Green a glue guy, but he remains the most elite glue guy in the NBA.
For now, he also remains on the most elite team in the league.
Unless stated, all stats are courtesy of Basketball Reference.