I’ll admit it, a few years back I thought Warriors forward Draymond Green was just OK. This was back when he was cramping David Lee’s style and we were getting into early talk of contract extension and playing time and starting or not starting, etc.
Yes, you saw he was going to be productive in stretches but was he going to be able to be productive over 36 minutes? He could do it in a limited role — 6-8 minutes at a time, but he was still undersized and still essentially a tweener.
So, yeah, I never thought he’d turn into the greatest defensive player in NBA history. OK, if not the greatest, the second-greatest. Or the greatest of this era. That’s not coming from me. That’s coming from someone who played with and against Bill Russell, considered the greatest defensive player in league history.
But back to Green. Back then he couldn’t shoot well, and was not much of a threat facing the basket in an attack position on the perimeter. He was a defensive-minded, active and … let’s face it, really benefiting from having some really good players around him.
Over time, the 6-foot-7 Green has answered every question about his game, and he’s been able to answer everyone of them with an emphatic “YES.” Can he consistently guard bigger players? Yes. Can he defend point guards on high screen-and-rolls? Yes. Can he defend scoring wings on the perimeter if he gets isolated? Yes.
Is he as a team defender? Yes. Can he block shots? Yes. Does he take charges? Yes. He also anticipates like so few players, gets in the passing lanes and is just so constantly involved at that end. You get it, right?
It’s not just that he gets steals and he gets blocks, it’s that he can guard almost anyone on the floor and be AT AN ADVANTAGE. There’s no player in the NBA that defends point guards through centers better than Green. Yes, point guards.
Now, of course I’m not saying he could shut down a John Wall; I’m saying in today’s NBA, when so much of the offensive focus is creating an individual mismatch, you really can’t do that against Green. I’m saying there’s nobody Green’s size in the NBA who could get switched out on Wall and do as well as him consistently.
Not only can’t you and shouldn’t you go at Green, you have to be aware of him when he’s not guarding the ball. Switching is the name of the defensive game in the NBA right now and there’s no better “big” in the league at defending a “small” than Draymond Green. There’s also no better “small” at defending a “big” than Draymond Green.
The thing about Green is he can do absolutely everything on that end of the floor. Nobody is as versatile — anything you ask him to do, he can not only do but he can likely do it better than most players in the league at their own positions.
Green can protect the rim, he can pressure out on the perimeter, he can defend in the low-block, he can take strip guards and centers, alike, everything. Green might be the only player in the league who can pick a point guards pocket if the guy’s not careful and next time down block a shot at the rim by the other team’s center.
That’s enough praise by me. Take it from someone who knows way better than me: Jim Barnett, Warriors television analyst. Barnett was a rookie in 1966-67 when he played with Russell in Boston. Barnett went on to have an 11-year, NBA career, playing over 700 games and averaging 11.7 points per game. In other words, he knows.
“Russell was a better shot-blocker, without question,” Barnett said. “He changed shots, changed decision-making on drives to the basket. He could go out on the perimeter and was pretty good at that, too. But Draymond can defend 1-through-5 and he is the best help defender I’ve ever seen. He anticipates what the offense is going to do (or should do) and gets a jump on them.
“He defends early in the play even when the play is right in his lap. He’s intensely competitive and does things WHILE ON THE FLOOR that Russell never did. Takes advantage immediately if the offensive player even begins to expose the ball. He is a ball hawk in the paint. Russell had the advantage of waiting on a player to commit in the air, and then he would go for the shot and cover a huge area. Different, eras.”
Different eras, yes. But greatness in each.