There’s nothing particularly surprising about how opposing teams are guarding the Warriors this season. With the defending champions once again trotting out a trio of elite offensive forces, it's clear who should be left open when scheming to stop the Dubs. An open look for Steph Curry or Kevin Durant is often cause for a timeout. A wide-open three for Draymond Green is considered a won possession.
This isn’t an implicit criticism of Green. Plenty of dynamic offensive players aren’t quality shooters from beyond the arc, and Green specialized at punishing sagging defenses in previous seasons when driving downhill toward the basket. He wasn’t a complete non-threat, either, shooting 38.8% from beyond the arc in Golden State’s 73-win campaign in 2015-16.
Green made Cleveland pay for leaving him open in Game 7 of the Finals in 2016, burying five first-half threes to give Golden State a seven-point halftime lead. On a night where Curry and Klay Thompson went a combined 6-of-24 from three, Green more than held up his end of the bargain, pouring in 32 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists on 11-of-15 shooting. Even after earning a Game 5 suspension for an incident with LeBron James, Green would have been in line for Finals MVP if Golden State claimed a second Pre-Durant championship.
Still, Green wasn't mistaken for any sort of sharpshooter after one strong shooting year. Green shot 30% from three in both 2016-17 and 2017-18, about 5% below league average. Yet in previous years, he still acted as a passable threat, making over one three per game in each of the past four seasons before 2018-19. Leaving Green open on most nights was a necessary choice, but there were consequences to that decision.
Green has dropped to levels that match Thunder forward Andre Roberson in 2018-19. He’s shooting 24.6% from beyond the arc, sixth worst of all players above two attempts per game. Green is making just 0.6 threes per game, the fewest since his rookie year. His percentages were previously an eyesore on the stat sheet. His lack of volume is presently the problem.
Opposing teams’ inattention to Green from three shouldn’t sink his offensive game. Green still draws many of the same coverages from previous seasons, holding the ball at the top of the key as defenses shift to cover Curry, Durant and Thompson. It’s a common look in Golden State, often formed after a Curry-Green two-man game. Green’s options are clear when he receives an open lane from the top of the key. He can launch a three, or, as he’s often inclined to do, barrel toward the lane in order to collapse the defense.
The latter option is critical to Green’s offensive prowess. He evolved into a more controlled and skilled finisher after his first two seasons, making 48.8% of shots at the rim in 2015-16 and nearly 40% the following season. Green is also one of the headier passers in the NBA when driving to the rim, previously spoon-feeding lobs to JaVale McGee and dump-offs to a cutting Curry or Andre Iguodala. The Warriors at their best are an unwinnable game of whack-a-mole. Pay attention to Green, and watch Golden State’s trio of elite scorers take over. Cover Curry and Durant, and Green will control the action.
Green is still skilled when left open, though his verve and aggression toward the tin has wilted in 2018-19. He’s said it himself in recent weeks, most notably after Golden State’s Christmas Day loss to the Lakers. “I kind of f—ed our whole offense up and that kind of messed the game up,” Green said on the heels of his four-point effort against Los Angeles. “They was playing that gimmick defense. I was really hesitant to shoot, hesitant to make plays. I wasn’t aggressive enough.”
Green looked lost when Los Angeles opted to leave him wide open, especially after an air ball in the second quarter. More troubling than the misses, though, was Green’s hesitancy to embrace his role as a playmaker.
The most glaring error came on a kick out from Kevon Looney early in the third quarter. Four Lakers hugged the paint while Lonzo Ball stayed attached to Curry. Green sized up a triple but opted to pass on the open look, beginning his run toward the rim. But he didn’t draw significant attention from Los Angeles’s defense, instead settling for a foul-line floater before LeBron chose to challenge. The possession ended with a clank off the rim, marking another wasted possession in a nightmare Christmas performance.
Golden State still boasts the NBA’s best offense by net rating, on track to regain their title for the third time in four years after Houston’s near-historic campaign last season. Yet Green’s offensive regression could drop the Warriors from unbeatable to vulnerable. Green boasts an offensive rating of 97, the worst mark since his rookie year. As Green’s offensive game stalls out, so can the Warriors, making a fourth championship in five seasons less than a guarantee.