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Draymond Green and compromise are unacquainted, which is why his decline in production this season is cause for concern.
With Green, who’s wired to compete with frenzied intensity, it’s difficult to tie diminished effectiveness to the explanations that make sense for the rest of the Golden State Warriors. For them, it’s fine to say four years of deep playoff runs and a verified belief in switch-flipping justify an unengaged week here or a rote road stretch there.
Head coach Steve Kerr spent much of the 2017-18 season describing the malaise that sets in when teams win this much for this long.
“You feel it after a number of years,” Kerr told reporters last fall, when the Warriors were gearing up to defend their 2016-17 title. “The team has a different vibe around it, and you’ve gotta fight through that. When I got here three years ago, these guys were bouncing off the walls every night. They couldn’t wait to play. They had lost in the first round [to the Clippers] the previous year. They had this hunger, this motivation.”
Kerr’s analysis was rational then, and it still applies whenever the Warriors look mortal. Tired players who know they don’t have to prove anything until June tend to coast.
Green, though, made himself into the player he is by never relenting. He didn’t shrug off his second-round draft position, seize former All-Star David Lee‘s starting job, turn “tweener” from a pejorative to a compliment or excel as a 6’7″ center in the highest-stakes situations by adopting perspective. He didn’t do it by relaxing when he had the chance.
He did it by playing every second as if the fate of the universe hinged on denying an entry pass, on back-tapping a rebound to a teammate, on materializing in the right place sooner than anyone else could.
Maximum intensity doesn’t describe the way Green plays. It describes what he is.
Right now, he’s something different. And so are the Warriors.
Golden State lost its 10th game of the season on Dec. 12, the earliest it had reached that number of defeats since the dynasty began in 2014-15. Last season, the one so obviously plagued by fatigue, didn’t feature loss No. 10 until Jan. 20. In 2015-16, that 10th loss never came at all.
There are other troubling signs.
The Warriors rank 13th in defensive efficiency. If that holds, it’ll easily be their worst finish in a half-decade.
As for Green himself, his average points per shot attempt is lower than it’s been since his rookie year. He’s turning the ball over more often than ever. After peaking at 38.8 percent from deep in 2015-16, he’s at a career-low 20.6 percent this year—and that’s on a diet of almost exclusively catch-and-shoot attempts, which generally produce higher conversion rates than any other type of long-range look.
Green has never hunted shots, but his hesitancy is now jarring. His release looks hitchy, even physically uncomfortable. The aesthetics may be attributable to a shoulder injury he sustained in October 2017 that nagged him throughout the season. It matters little now, but if Green can’t at least be a threat out there in the playoffs, life will get more difficult for Golden State.
Shooting issues aside, Green’s defensive metrics are also lagging in ways that suggest athletic decline. His block rate is lower than it’s been since his rookie year, and opponents are converting 65.0 percent of their shots inside six feet when he’s been designated as the primary defender. Last year, that figure was 53.9 percent. The season before, 48.8 percent.
|Draymond Green DFG% Inside 6 Feet|
Shot-blocking has never been Green’s greatest strength, but he’s always been an elite shot-alterer with the quickness to get into prime position and the discipline to elevate without fouling. Though the sample is still somewhat small, Green isn’t deterring scorers nearly as well as he used to.
For a player who’s defined his career by playing with life-and-death intensity at all times, there is no dialing it back by design. Green doesn’t purposely throttle down. If he isn’t doing something he used to do, the only logical conclusion isn’t that he’s choosing not to. It’s that he can’t.
And if Green can’t be himself, the Warriors can’t be themselves, either.
However, there are reasons to hope Green’s current limitations are temporary.
He’s already missed 14 games after averaging 4.2 absences per year for his career and never missing more than a dozen in a season. His toe injury cost him 11 of those contests, and his comments suggested the extended layoff was team-mandated. He would have been back sooner if it were up to him.
Layoffs are new to Green, and you could sell yourself on the idea that his relatively poor play owes to conditioning and a lack of rhythm. Both should improve as the season progresses.
Even amid this disappointing individual season, Green’s impact remains profound. The Warriors allow 100.8 points per 100 possessions when Green is on the floor and 110.2 when he isn’t. The former figure would lead the league. The latter would fall in the bottom third.
His uncommon speed and ball-handling in transition still creates havoc for defenders, who have to stop the ball while also accounting for as many as three star snipers filling lanes and spacing out to the arc.
But then, we shouldn’t have to highlight Green’s obvious value. This look at his importance to the team wouldn’t mean anything if he weren’t integral to its success, and everyone associated with the organization lauds Green’s big-picture value whenever it’s questioned.
“We’re not hanging any banners without him,” head coach Steve Kerr told the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Bruce Jenkins in November, shortly after Green’s most notable moment of the year: a public in-game blowup at Kevin Durant, whom Green reportedly called “a b—h” while questioning the two-time Finals MVP’s handling of his impending free agency.
If there’s a way to put a positive spin on that incident, it’s to say Green, emotionally and vocally, is still the same unyielding force he’s always been. Maybe that’s all that matters. Maybe Green’s body (and production) will have no choice but to fall in line if his mentality is as on-the-edge as ever.
Is this slow start just another opportunity for Green to quiet doubters when it counts? The Warriors had better hope so.
Everyone around the team has used similar verbiage to describe Green for as long as he has been in a prominent role. He’s the heart, the soul, the fire. For a team that often approaches stretches of the season with a cool detachment, Green is the one who can heat things up.
In the best-case scenario, think of him as a pilot light burning inconspicuously now, but still aglow, waiting to ignite the whole team whenever it’s ready.
With an alarmingly deep West that’ll produce serious challenges from the opening round on, and with Finals threats rising in Milwaukee, Boston and Toronto, Green’s ability to spark his team has never been more important.
If he can find that fire, the Warriors will do what they’ve done for the past four seasons.
They’ll burn the league down.