Draymond Green doesn't need to score to be one of the NBA's best players

Dan Devine
Draymond Green is fond of yelling. (Getty Images)
Draymond Green is fond of yelling. (Getty Images)

After the Golden State Warriors signed Kevin Durant this summer, many wondered how the existing All-NBA core of a 73-win team that led the league in offensive efficiency would adjust to make room for the addition of a four-time scoring champ who had just averaged 19.2 shots per game for the league’s second-most efficient offense. Despite Klay Thompson’s delightful declaration that he wasn’t “sacrificing s***,” the early returns suggest that everybody has given way a bit, with Durant, Thompson, back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player Stephen Curry, and key reserves Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston all taking one or two fewer shots per game as they figure out how to get everybody acclimated to the new normal. (So far, so good: the 8-2 Warriors again own the NBA’s No. 1 offense, averaging a blistering 112.9 points per 100 possessions.)

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Like the rest of his teammates, Draymond Green has seen his shot attempts dip a bit through the season’s opening weeks. His efficiency and point production are down, too; the fifth-year forward’s averaging 10.9 points per game on 42.2 percent shooting, both the lowest marks he’s posted since the year before he became a full-time starter. The downturn in the scoring column, though, has done little to diminish Green’s impact on the game — or, perhaps equally as important, his confidence in his impact on the game. From Chris Haynes of ESPN.com:

“I do turn down some shots, but I think that’s just basketball knowledge,” Green said to ESPN. “If I’m open and KD’s open, if you’re smart, you throw the ball to KD and let him shoot it. If I’m open and Steph’s open, if you have any type of sense, you throw the ball to him and let him shoot it. If I’m open and Klay is open, if you have any brainpower, you’ll throw the ball to him and let him shoot it. So that’s just the way I play the game of basketball.” […]

“I think I’m one of the best players in the NBA,” Green said to ESPN. “Am I going to go out and score 30 every night? Absolutely not. But I didn’t say I was one of the best scorers. I think I’m one of the best players, and I think anybody should believe that. I think if you don’t believe that, you’re failing yourself, and you’re not allowing yourself to be that … But I don’t say that in a sense of, ‘Oh, I’m one of the best. I’m better than Steph, I’m better than KD.’ Like, that isn’t me. When I just look at the game, that’s how I feel.

“But the things that I do are more self-gratifying than anything. I don’t do something to say, ‘Man, I wonder if they saw that screen I just set. I wonder if they saw what I just did to help him get that bucket.’ I don’t do that, but I’ll run down the court feeling amazing about it. That’s just kind of how I am.”

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Of course Draymond still feels he’s one of the best players in the game despite averaging 11 points a night. After all, his rise to prominence had little to do with putting the ball in the basket, and everything to do with emerging as what SB Nation’s Tom Ziller called a “situational superstar” — a jack-of-all-trades capable of guarding all five positions, clearing the defensive glass, running the fast break, operating in the pick-and-roll, spacing the floor and breaking down defenses.

Green’s versatility unlocked the terrifying small-ball “Death Lineup” that ran roughshod on the NBA for two seasons. It earned him an All-Star berth, a selection to the 2015-16 All-NBA Second Team, two All-Defensive First Team berths and consecutive second-place finishes in Defensive Player of the Year voting. It also made him a champion, a household name with national endorsements, and an exceedingly rich man.

In a year that saw Curry ostensibly redefine what was possible on a basketball court and become the first unanimous MVP in NBA history, it was Draymond, not Steph, who led the NBA in plus-minus, who led the Dubs in postseason plus-minus, whose absence (while a self-inflicted wound) laid bare just how much he means to Golden State, and who played the game of his life in Game 7 of the Finals against the Cleveland Cavaliers, only to watch it all come crashing down around him.

Even in the context of Curry rewriting the record books and Thompson turning into the flaming sword of justice every now and again, it was Green who served as the Warriors’ connective tissue and beating heart. While the on-court/off-court numbers aren’t quite as stark for this year’s model — Golden State’s outscoring opponents by 11.3 points per 100 possessions with Draymond on the court, and by 1.1-per-100 when he sits, only the fifth-best net rating on the team — the song largely remains the same.

Green leads the Warriors in rebounds, assists, steals and blocks, and ranks in the NBA’s top 10 in all four categories. He’s currently averaging more than 10 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists per game; according to Basketball-Reference.com, the only other players in NBA history to do that are Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson. In addition to his team-high 7.1 dimes per game, he’s also second in the NBA in “secondary assists” (the pass that leads to the pass that leads to the made shot), ranks seventh in the NBA in points created by assist (the only non-point guard to place higher is LeBron James), and averages 2.3 “screen assists” a night, a metric that tracks how many times a screen set by an offensive player leads directly to a made field goal by his teammate.

Opponents are shooting 49.2 percent at the rim when Draymond’s defending — down from the past two seasons, and not a great mark, but in the middle of the pack among bigs who average at least 20 minutes and face a handful of such attempts, and a tick above the likes of Marc Gasol, Andre Drummond and his former interior running buddy Andrew Bogut. And while he’s not yet among the league’s elite rim protectors — an area that still looks to remain the Warriors’ big problem this season — he’s been disruptive as all get out, ranking seventh in the league in shots contested and fourth in deflections on non-shot attempts.

Add it all up, and you’ve got a player who’s just outside the league’s top 10 in Value Over Replacement Player — right there alongside KD and Steph, a tenth-of-a-point behind LeBron and one above early-season godhead Anthony Davis — despite taking nine shots a game and only making 42 percent of them. He’s still checking every box besides the one everyone looks at first, doing it as well as if not better than ever and, thus far, doing it while coloring between the lines. For this iteration of the Warriors to reach its final form, Green doesn’t have to become a fourth Splash Brother; he needs to be everything his three sweet-shooting teammates aren’t so they can wreak havoc and bring ruckus unfettered.

It remains to be seen whether continuing to do so at this level will result in a second straight All-Star berth in a Western Conference that still features Durant, Davis, Kawhi Leonard, DeMarcus Cousins and LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as a healthy and world-breaking Blake Griffin and DeAndre Jordan from a Los Angeles Clippers club that’s laying waste to the league thus far. For his part, though, Green insists he’s not sweating that so long as he gets the chance to make right what went wrong last June.

“”I’ll remember championship rings way more than I’ll remember what city I was in for an All-Star game,” he told Haynes. “That’s something where I’ve done it, and it’s cool, but that experience and the feeling I got from that and the feeling I got from winning a championship — it’s not even half as close to as good as [winning a ring].”

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Dan Devine is an editor for Ball Don’t Lie on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at devine@yahoo-inc.com or follow him on Twitter!

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