As Draymond Green has ascended from unheralded second-round pick to All-Star, NBA champion and Defensive Player of the Year, the Warriors’ forward has regularly found his style of play turned into fodder for critics. How valuable would Green be—the thinking goes—if he wasn’t surrounded by Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and, now, Kevin Durant? After all, he’s never averaged 15 PPG, he’s a career 33% three-point shooter and his passing stats are directly impacted by his MVP-caliber teammates. How good could any team be, critics wonder, if Green was the No. 1 scoring option?
The Warriors soundly defeated the Spurs 99-91 in Game 5 on Tuesday, closing out their first-round series victory and advancing to face the Pelicans in the Western Conference semis. During the game broadcast, TNT commentator Chris Webber took the aforementioned line of Green criticism one step further, suggesting that the three-time All-Star power forward might not start for some teams in the league.
“This is the impact Draymond Green has,” Webber said, as Green delivered a drive-and-dish for a hoop. “Yes, if he was on other teams and expected to score, he might not be in the starting lineup on some teams. But on this team, he’s one of their most valuable players because he keeps the system going, he’s unselfish, he locks down on defense, and he’ll get you an easy bucket.”
To be blunt, Webber’s statement is nonsensical. No team that had Green on its roster would build its offense around his scoring, just as no team would build its offense around Ben Simmons’s outside shooting or its defense around Lou Williams’s physicality.
When asked about Webber’s comments, Green argued that there are more ways to value players than by their scoring average, while also getting in a little good-humored chest-thumping at the end.
“I don’t care,” he said. “I’ve done some great things in this league. I’ve been an All-Star twice, averaging like 11 points or 10 points, I don’t need to score. However, I don’t think he could find many GMs or coaches who would say I wouldn’t start on their teams. I’m fine without scoring the ball. I think I’ve created a new lane for guys in this league to where you don’t have to score 20 points to be an All-Star. That’s fine, and my jewelry fit well. I’m doing pretty good.”
Let’s try to answer this emphatically: Would Green start for all 30 NBA teams? Exploring that claim by running through some of the most interesting examples only highlights Green’s unique package of skills and his ability to defend multiple positions at an All-Defensive Team level.
Perhaps the toughest place to imagine him starting is in New Orleans when both Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins are healthy. Green brings tremendous value at both the four and the five, and the Pelicans are the only team that sports legit All-Stars at both spots. Nevertheless, Green could slide down to the three, forming an excellent defensive trio with Davis and Jrue Holiday without taking touches away from Davis and Cousins.
He’d be asked to mostly space the court in that alignment, but Green can do that, serve as a playmaker to the stars and cover the ground needed to play perimeter defense for stretches. Starting Davis, Cousins and Green together would be unorthodox, but their collective talent would require opponents to adjust. In addition, Green’s presence would allow a coach to stagger Davis and Cousins, thereby capitalizing fully on their respective offensive abilities.
Philadelphia is another good case study. Their starting lineup is huge, athletic and versatile thanks to Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, Ben Simmons and Robert Covington. Even so, Green would easily get the nod over Saric. Turning loose Embiid, Green, Covington and Simmons would guarantee a No. 1 ranked defense and a brutal, physical night for their opponents. Like in Golden State, Green would chip in as needed offensively while letting Simmons and Embiid do the heavy lifting.
In Detroit, Blake Griffin and Andre Drummond have been paired together as a newly-formed All-Star frontcourt tandem. Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy could either go with a jumbo alignment featuring Drummond, Griffin and Green to get his best players onto the court early, or he could make the hard choices between the three.
Green is a better interior defender than both Griffin and Drummond, he’s a better pure play-maker than both, he could be paired with either of them effectively, and he could be deployed as a pick-and-roll partner with Reggie Jackson. Given that the Drummond/Griffin pairing only posted a +3 net rating together with a mediocre offensive rating this season, it’s hard to envision any coach clinging to that group. If anything, the smart move would be to stagger their scoring, perhaps by starting Green over Drummond at the five.
Running through Green’s fit on most of the other playoff teams is a straightforward process. He would be a better version of Paul Millsap for the Nuggets. Ditto for Serge Ibaka and the Raptors. Ditto (again) for Derrick Favors and the Jazz. Ditto (yet again) for Markieff Morris and the Wizards. He’d be a way, way better fit than Carmelo Anthony in Oklahoma City. He’s the exact player that Portland has needed for most of Damian Lillard’s career. Milwaukee would kill to have Green save their defense.
Green would start alongside Kevin Love and LeBron James in Cleveland, solving so many of the Cavaliers’ defensive problems without encroaching on James’s ball dominance. Although Taj Gibson is underappreciated, Green would be an even more ideal partner for Karl-Anthony Towns, a primarily one-way talent. With or without Kawhi Leonard, San Antonio could start Green alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, allowing Green to absorb the toughest defensive assignments. In Boston, he would make perhaps the most versatile four/five pairing in the league with Al Horford, one that would surely produce a top-three defense without clogging up the paint for Kyrie Irving.
Even in Houston, where maximum spacing is a way of life, Green’s passable shooting, secondary playmaking and defensive impact would lead to him starting at the four over the likes of P.J. Tucker. What’s more, the Rockets’ small lineups would be even scarier than they are now if Green was their five.
For Webber and Green’s other critics, the takeaway should be obvious: Positional versatility and two-way contributions are attributes that have made the Warriors champions, twice over, and some of the most highly-coveted and hardest-to-find skills. Even the worst offenses in the league wouldn’t deploy Green as a go-to scorer; they’d build their game plans around his ferocious defense and surround him with players that can make use of his basketball IQ and distribution skills.
Consider this final case: Dropping Green onto the Suns, the NBA’s worst offense, wouldn’t be an instant fix. However, Green’s value would show through in myriad of ways: making life easier for Devin Booker on offense, standing in as a point forward to compensate for their weak point guard rotation, covering up for Marquese Chriss’s endless mistakes, and setting a more professional tone overall. Green’s Suns might not be a playoff team, but there’s no way they finish with the league’s worst defense, as they did this year. More importantly, they wouldn’t be the laughingstock they are now.
The last key ingredient in Green’s value is that he knows precisely who he is and who he isn’t.
“I don’t have a scorer’s mentality especially for the team that I play on,” Green said Tuesday. “If I did have a scorer’s mentality, it would throw all of this off and it wouldn’t work out. There are times in the game where I probably need to score more, but it’s hard to turn a scorer’s mentality on and off. I’ve had that once before in my life, you don’t just click that on and off. Nonetheless, I do know when I need to be more aggressive and that helps my team out.”
After spending four seasons playing a central role in Golden State’s dominance, he’s well past needing shots or touches that he hasn’t earned. And for those wondering whether Green has lost a step from a year or two ago, Golden State spent the first round flipping the switch defensively, posting a league-best 100.3 defensive rating through Tuesday’s games in the playoffs. Green, meanwhile, is a +44 in 188 minutes over five games, putting him tied for seventh among all postseason performers.
It’s fair to wonder how Green’s career would have gone without Curry, Thompson and Durant, but the reverse is true too. The Warriors, as the league has come to know them, simply wouldn’t be the Warriors without Green. Meanwhile, the last coach that used Green as a reserve, Mark Jackson, is now in the booth calling games, just like Webber.