Not satisfied with breaking the record for most consecutive wins to start an undefeated season, and unabashed by the pressure that hits hard when all manner of NBA league observers expect you to win 73 (or more?) games in a season, the Golden State Warriors are now forcing us to talk up their individual exploits.
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Not whether Stephen Curry will defend his MVP crown, as that seems like a given even just one month into the season. And we’re not even pondering the idea that Luke Walton and Steve Kerr could eventually split Coach of the Year honors. Nah, we’re wondering if Draymond Green – never an All-Star, not even a starter until 13 months ago – is one of the top 10 players in the NBA.
He didn’t say it. I didn’t say it. Luke Walton and Steph Curry didn’t mention it.
Jerry West brought it up, and that’s why we listen. From Rusty Simmons at the San Francisco Chronicle:
Warriors executive board member Jerry West, who averaged 25.8 points and a league-leading 9.7 assists on the 71-72 Lakers’ team, doesn’t think its 33-game win streak is in jeopardy. But he left open the possibility.
“We have two of the top-10 players in the league,” West told KNBR on Wednesday, knowing he didn’t need to explain Curry. “Draymond Green is the second one. He’s the most underrated player in the NBA, period. There are very few players I think anyone in our organization would trade for him. He’s just a remarkable player.
“If he’s not a top-10 player in this league, I don’t know who is.”
Hmm. I mean … hmm. This might not be all that crazy.
West might be a part of the Golden State front office, but he’s also a dogged competitor that no doubt wants to preserve the impact of his 1972 Lakers’ NBA record 33 straight wins, a mark the Warriors would still need another 38 days (and 18 wins) to break. The mere idea that someone like Mr. West is even tolerating these questions (and that’s not a shot at the Chronicle and Rusty Simmons, who is great!) speaks to how legitimately brilliant these Warriors are.
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Currently, Bovada betting lines give the Warriors 10/1 odds to top 33 wins in a row, and 5/1 odds to break Chicago’s record for wins in a season. This is all very do-able.
Is Draymond Green a top 10 player, though?
Even in a team sport that relies heavy on individual play, ranking players is a bit silly – and this is coming from someone that often has to do it for a living. Green, however, is averaging 12.7 points on 48 percent shooting (he’s 14th in Effective Field Goal percentage, quite nice for a defense-first guy), with 7.8 rebounds, 6.6 assists from the power forward (and sometimes center) position, and a combined 2.5 steals/blocks in just 33 minutes a night. His 18.6 Player Efficiency Rating is darn good, but hardly at the same levels that you see from the usual top 10 suspects (he’s only tied for third on the Warriors).
PER inventor John Hollinger, however, will be the first to tell you that his metric hardly accounts for individual or team defense. Green is the lead dog on what is currently the NBA’s fourth-best defense, and he had the same role on last season’s top-ranked defense. His ability to not only switch on all comers, to some, leaves him a notch above reigning Defensive Player of the Year Kawhi Leonard – a fabulous defender that you still wouldn’t want to play at center during crunch time.
Offensively, Green tilts things in ways that aren’t usually picked up by box score stats, and that’s even considering his 6.6 assists per game. His assist rate would rank 11th in the NBA amongst point guards, and his seemingly pell-mell drives to the hoop rarely end in a charge and turnover. He’ll find a teammate, find a floater, or find himself whipping around what turns into a hockey assist.
Of course, it would be appropriate to point out that Green is often left open as the seas part offensively due to the fact that opposing defenses have to pay so much attention to Stephen Curry as he handles the ball, or initiates a screen and roll. Even if Green isn’t involved in that two-man game, he’s often the beneficiary of a pass from a crowded Curry, allowed to do as he sees fit with the ball. It’s a fluid, lovely thing, these Warriors.
All of which confounds, as we attempt to disassociate the tentacles from the monster.
There are other players that are not unlike Draymond Green, as Boris Diaw and Paul Millsap (one of the rare players in NBA history to contend for steals per game leadership at power forward) remain fascinating two-way talents. The “system player” tag dogged Green for most of 2014-15 and throughout his free agent turn last summer, and many NBA fans and analysts would be loath to hand over a top 10 tag to a player averaging less than 13 points per game.
At the end of this particular NBA day, most will still favor usage over versatility, which is why the big scorers will always get the big nods when it comes time to make those silly lists. That’s just fine. Draymond Green probably isn’t a top 10 player, behind all those scorers, and you can be damn sure 30 out of 30 NBA general managers would take 15 or perhaps 25 more traditional franchise player (read: scoring machine) types before picking Draymond to start a team with.
The fact that a unique player like Draymond – without even sniffing the league leader rankings in a box score stat as some other specialists have done in the past – can be considered in this argument is telling, though. For him to be in the discussion merely by doing everything damn well is a credit to him more than it is the undefeated Golden State Warriors, and the supposed “system.”
To have the man whose silhouette acts as the NBA’s logo construct this argument also tends to say quite a bit.
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