Draymond Green is the key to Warriors’ recent surge, but relying on him is a risky proposition


Draymond Green is the key to Warriors’ recent surge, but relying on him is a risky proposition

SAN FRANCISCO — Here it was. The moment we’d all been expecting, for better or for worse.

After weeks of abiding by the rules, biting his tongue and suppressing his urges, Draymond Green was met with a fork in the road as he and Phoenix Suns center Jusuf Nurkic battled, both physically and verbally, for multiple trips down the court. Down one road was retaliation, aggression, intimidation — we know where that road leads, to a suspension even longer than the most recent one he served. Down the other road: inaction, humility, pacifism — the road most Golden State Warriors fans were probably hoping Green would take.

True to everything we know about the man, the basketball player and the competitor, Draymond Green chose to dismiss both paths, instead carving his own road right down the middle.

Green walked the proverbial line that the Warriors organization continually references when it comes to their emotional leader — getting in Nurkic’s face but not taking a swing. Dishing out trash talk without earning a technical (he would later receive one for arguing with the refs, not Nurkic). Going at the Suns center without taking himself or his team out of the game. It was a masterclass in what Green needs to be, both as a player and a leader, in order for Golden State to be successful.

“We did not want him to be Mr. Goody Two Shoes. We wanted him to be himself, but not go over the line,” Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said of Green. “We want him to be on the officials, but not yell profanity at the official. That’s what he’s doing. He’s himself, but he’s not crossing the line.”

Green’s behavior is so important moving forward because of how essential he’s been to the Warriors’ recent resurgence. Since Kerr inserted Green as the starting center at the end of January, Golden State has gone 8-3 with a net rating of plus-8.6 — fourth in the NBA over that stretch.

The offense, dead in the water at times during the season, has been revitalized by Green’s energy and playmaking. It’s no coincidence that Stephen Curry’s best shooting stretch of the season has come with his longtime teammate alongside him. The synergy they’ve developed over 12 seasons is evident the second they step on the basketball court. Green ranks in the 94th percentile in offense including assists, according to Synergy Sports, and the eye test backs up the numbers with the way he orchestrates action and finds teammates.

Watch here as Green reads Curry’s off ball movement, dribbling toward him to create a passing angle before subtly blocking Vince Williams Jr.’s lane to defend Curry’s shot.

“Nobody understands how to get shooters shots better than Draymond Green,” Suns coach Frank Vogel said. “Whether it’s bullet passes to the corner playing the [dribble hand-off] game with these guys. … One of the best ever do it.”

The uncharacteristically slow Warriors pace to start the season has skyrocketed with Green at center. Prior to Jan. 27, Golden State played at a pace of 99.7 possessions per game — 13th in the league. Green has ratcheted that up to 102.4 (fifth in the NBA) over the last 11 games.

His presence has also unlocked the forward pairing of Andrew Wiggins and emerging star Jonathan Kuminga. On paper the Wiggins-Kuminga duo seems ideal, presenting long rangy defenders who can also score in a multitude of ways, but prior to Green’s return from suspension lineups featuring Wiggins and Kuminga had a catastrophic net rating of minus-25 in 171 minutes. In the 13 games since Green came back, when he’s on the floor with Wiggins and Kuminga the Warriors have a plus-18.3 net rating. It’s hard to overstate how crucial Green has been to allowing Golden State to play the way they want to play, with athleticism and force.

Defensively, Green’s work speaks for itself. His communication, positioning, verticality, switchability — those traits make him one of the greatest defenders in NBA history, so it’s no surprise that Golden State’s defense has gone from 24th to seventh since his return from suspension.

Put it all together, and the Warriors have a top-five offense and a top-five defense over the past 11 games — much closer to what Kerr expected than the mediocre start to the season. Chris Paul is on his way back, Klay Thompson thrived in his first game off the bench and rookie Brandin Podziemski has shined as a starter. All of those things help, but for Warriors to continue their momentum through the stretch run and into the playoffs, Green — because he’s so invaluable on the court — must continue to gracefully walk the line between passion and chaos.

In the past, Green has been able to do it — and the result is four titles. But the frequency of his indiscretions over the past couple of years has to at least have the Warriors questioning whether Green can be trusted to keep his cool when the next tussle presents itself.

“It’s been a delicate situation and he’s trying to figure that out and not let it spill over, because we can’t have that and he knows that — can’t afford to let it get out of control,” Curry said of Green. “But it fuels him because he lives for those moments … and you’ve seen that in the best of moments, for sure. So I want to encourage him to keep doing that.”

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