Warriors-Rockets Part II: The Draymond Renaissance
The Warriors outlasted the Rockets in Game 2 of the Western Conference Semifinals on Tuesday night, taking a commanding 2-0 series lead. Game 1 was controversial due to its (terrible) officiating. Game 2 was uneventful in comparison – despite Stephen Curry dislocating a finger and James Harden suffering a laceration above his left eye.
Those hiccups aside – not to downplay Harden’s eye, which could be an issue moving forward – the story was pretty simple: The two teams were even for about 38 minutes, but Golden State was dominant in the first 10, getting out to an early 12-point lead and never relinquishing control.
Houston threatened on multiple occasions, getting within one possession in the final frame, but it was ultimately too little too late. The Warriors won 115-to-109.
Thanks in large part to solid officiating, the words “landing space” will not appear again in this post (thank God). But speaking of referees, the same player who is as demonstrative with officials as anyone else – to the tune of a league-leading 31 technicals over the last two seasons – has reemerged as one of the NBA’s most unique and unlikely superstars: Draymond Green.
Draymond is an enigma. When he’s at his best, he’s the Warriors’ second most important player – behind either Steph or Kevin Durant (although KD has DEFINITELY been top dog lately). When he’s at his worst, he’s as cancerous as anyone in the league; missing wide open jumpers, turning the ball over, and destroying his team’s morale by constantly belittling the refs.
His fiery on court personality is easier to stomach when he’s performing at his peak, but that hasn’t been the case this season. Green averaged just 7.4 points in 2018-19, his lowest total since 2014, and shot 29% from three – his worst mark since his rookie campaign.
This was a concerning continuation of Draymond’s downward trend since Golden State’s 73-win squad in 2016. Green averaged a career high in basically everything that season – points, rebounds, assists, field goal percentage – but he was especially impressive from deep, shooting a blistering 39%.
That last number has proven to be quite the anomaly. Since 2016, Green’s shooting just 30% from three.
His shooting was never thought to be a strong suit, so his return to earth from beyond the arc isn’t particularly alarming. Draymond’s jumper was just icing on the cake – his real value lies in his defense, rebounding and playmaking.
But the former Defensive Player of the Year’s offense was especially anemic this season. Green was second to last on his team in points per 100 possessions (a putrid 10.9), and he averaged just 1.05 points per shot attempt, according to Cleaning the Glass. That last number places him in the league’s 15th percentile – not exactly All-Star territory.
The playoffs have been a different story. Green is over 16 points per 100 possessions – a respectable figure – and he’s averaging a solid 1.16 points per attempt. He still can’t hit a three to save his life – he’s just 3-for-21 this postseason – but that’s okay. If Draymond is even passable as a scorer it’s a win thanks to his brilliance in every other facet of the game. That is, when he’s locked in.
And boy, has he been locked in so far this postseason.
After coasting through the first five games of Golden State’s opening round matchup with the surprisingly feisty Clippers, he was dominant in their Game 6, series-clinching win. That victory, coupled with his first two outings against Houston, has seen the Draymond of old return in full force to the tune of 15 points, 12 rebounds, 9 assists, 2 blocks and a steal per game. Not to mention he’s shooting a blistering 64% from the field.
His stat-sheet stuffing amounts to impressive eye candy. It doesn’t even tell half the story.
Green has been the Warriors’ most important player not named Kevin Durant through the first couple games of the second round. The reason is pretty simple: he’s just as effective when he’s a man up as when he’s a man down. This probably doesn’t make sense yet, so bear with me as I further confuse you: the exact thing that makes Draymond so valuable on offense – especially against Houston – is what he’s elite at stopping on defense.
Offensively, Green is the Warriors’ most prolific playmaker. He’s adept at attacking defenses that are overly focused on Golden State’s historically elite marksmen.
In this upcoming clip, Draymond runs a high screen and roll with Steph Curry. Steph is, as you may know, the greatest shooter ever, so he garners a lot of attention – even 40 feet from the basket.
Gerald Green – guarding Curry – and Harden – guarding Draymond – switch the pick, as Houston always does on screens. But Gerald Green has to linger on Curry for a moment too long as Harden slides over. Steph makes a slick pass to Draymond who attacks the defense immediately, leading to this easy lob pass to Iguodala:
Earlier I mentioned that Green was elite at playing with a “man up.” This sort of play is what I was referring to.
After receiving the pass from Steph, Draymond acts decisively and his man doesn’t have a chance to get back into the play. PJ Tucker and Chris Paul are stuck on the weak side wing (the side without the ball) guarding two all-world shooters – Thompson and Durant – so they won’t be much help, and it comes down to Draymond and Iguodala against a single defender: Eric Gordon.
Gordon can either step up here and concede a lob, or hang back and give up a drive. He chooses the former, and Draymond makes him pay with a nifty alley-oop to Iguodala, converting on what amounts to a two-on-one half court fast break. Green is assisting on 27.3% of his teammates’ made field goals when he’s on the floor. That figure places him in elite company.
This is all incredibly impressive, but here’s where Draymond goes from “yeah, he’s pretty good” to “oh my God there’s no one like this dude.”
Remember earlier how I said Draymond is elite at stopping on defense what he’s good at doing on offense? This last play is exactly what I mean, because Green often excels when placed in Eric Gordon’s exact position.
The Warriors switch everything on defense. When they deploy their “Hampton 5” lineup – Draymond, Steph, KD, Klay, Iguodala – this is largely doable thanks to the lineup’s versatility. They do have a weak link, though: Steph Curry.
As I mentioned in my last piece, the Rockets hunt down a switch onto the two-time MVP on virtually every possession. With all due respect to the greatest shooter ever, he gets beat A LOT.
When the Warriors play the Hampton 5, Draymond is often guarding the opposing center – Clint Capela in this case, one of the best lob-finishers in the NBA. And when the inevitable happens, and Steph’s man beats him, Green is in the same position Eric Gordon was in above, on the wrong end of a two-on-one advantage.
I’ll allow the best NBA writer on the planet, Zach Lowe, to summarize why this isn’t the worst thing in the world:
You can see that sort of trickery in this next clip. Gordon beats Curry and has a two-on-one with Capela against Green. Draymond inches ever-so-slightly towards Gordon, goading him into the lob to Capela, but he recovers in time to get a hand on the pass. Something he did routinely this past season, as he was top-ten in the NBA in deflections.
The degree of difficulty here is subtle, but there’s really no other defender in the NBA who consistently makes these sorts of plays:
If you watch the clip to the end, you’ll see that Draymond gets a dunk after rolling to the rim following a ball screen for Klay. Similar to with Steph, Thompson attracts two defenders. Nobody steps up this time.
On one end, Green’s a man down and forces a tough pass. On the other, he’s a man up and gets an easy bucket.
It’s not always pretty, but it sure is effective. Draymond has his imprints all over this series through two games.