Draymond Green’s passing unlocking new levels for Warriors’ offense

AP Photo/Craig Mitchelldyer
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Stephen Curry recalls Draymond Green coming to him excited before the season.

Green had been watching film, and he noticed numerous opportunities – especially on pick-and-rolls with Curry – where his passing ability could help the Warriors’ already-excellent offense.

“That just boosted his confidence,” Curry said. “…Now, that confidence has built into, he’ll get a rebound and just push in transition and become a point guard.”

Is Green a forward? That’s where he’s listed. Is he a center? That’s where he makes the greatest impact. The debate matters for All-NBA voting. Green would likely be a second-team forward behind LeBron James, Kevin Durant and Kawhi Leonard. He could be a first-team center.

But it’s worth asking another question: How much is Green actually a point guard?

It’s not at all unusual to see him bring the ball up court, initiate the offense and make the decisive pass. Often, he does at least one of the three.

Not only does Green lead big men (power forwards and centers) in assists per game this season…

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…his 7.5 assists per game would rank third all-time among bigs, behind only a couple Wilt Chamberlain seasons:

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Curry – the reigning MVP – has established himself as a dark-horse Most Improved Player candidate largely based on his improved scoring. His points per game (23.8 to 30.0), 2-point percentage (52.8 to 55.9), 3-point percentage (44.3 to 45.6) and free-throw attempts per 36 minutes (4.6 to 5.4) are all up.

But Curry’s bigger individual numbers have come at a cost.  His assists per game are down (7.7 to 6.7) as he hunts his own shot. Why hasn’t that harmed Golden State’s offense one bit?

Green.

Essentially, Green has assumed some of Curry’s playmaking duties, allowing Curry to look for his own shot more often. Accordingly, Green’s assist numbers have soared – to the point he, not Curry, leads Golden State.

“At the end of the day, if I get them the ball, it’s up to them to knock it down,” Green said. “And our guys on our team is pretty good at that.”

They are.

The Warriors lead the NBA in shots made per game (42.6), and the rate is even higher per 48 minutes when Green is on the floor. But don’t confuse Green’s assists as merely a byproduct of Golden State’s shot-making. He does plenty to put his teammates in favorable positions.

Like Curry said, Green grabs rebounds and pushes the ball up court himself:

On the plays he studied closely over the summer, Green often sets a ball screen Curry or Thompson. As two defenders must guard those deadly shooters, Green gets the ball with a 4-on-3 advantage and picks it apart:

Green runs pick-and-rolls himself:

He posts up and finds spot-up shooters and cutters:

He throws superb entry passes:

He drives and dishes:

He stands on the perimeter and watches as the Warriors run action in front of him. Like a quarterback surveying the field, he identifies the best target and then delivers a pinpoint pass:

Those plays often feature Curry and Thompson screening for each other.

Curry is the best shooter in the NBA, and Thompson might be No. 2. Definitely, nobody can match their combination. But other teams also have two good shooters, and few can come close to replicating what the Warriors do.

When Curry and Thompson screen for each other away from the ball, it leaves defenses in impossible situations. It’s just too difficult to stick with both shooters.

But how many teams have a third player capable of delivering the pass to the open of the two shooters – at least without comprising the defense?

Green can.

He’s been training for this role for a long time.

Lou Dawkins, who coached Green at Saginaw High in Michigan, grew up a Magic Johnson fan. So, Dawkins laughed at the mention of Green’s “DrayMagic” nickname.

“Ah, you could’ve called him that too 10 years ago when he was in middle school,” Dawkins said.

By the time Green reached high school, Dawkins wanted to run the offense through the center-sized Green as much as possible.

“The old-timers – the guys that sit up in the stands and coach – they used to think that I was crazy,” said Dawkins, who’s now a Northern Illinois assistant.

Then, Green led Saginaw to two straight state titles. He advanced to Michigan State, which also made good use of his passing ability.

As much flack as Dawkins got for using Green as a point-center, Green never questioned his coach. Green bought in for a simple reason, Dawkins said:

“He sees himself as a point guard.”