(Photo credit: USA Today)
“He’s a basketball player. I think you’re doing a crime by putting a label on him as far as a position is concerned. He can do anything you ask him to do on the floor. That’s his position. Every successful team needs a Draymond Green. You can’t put a price on what he does.” – Mark Jackson
The casual fan doesn’t know this. They simply watch the ball, whoever has it and wherever it moves during the game, so it’s not really their fault.
They’ve become inebriated with Steph Curry’s offensive brilliance and so brainwashed by the endless stream of his mouth-watering ESPN Top Ten highlights into thinking that the current NBA MVP has been the most important element in the Golden State Warriors’ phenomenal season.
Well, I have news for you.
Don’t get me wrong, Stephen Curry’s amazing play this year has been a major factor in the resurgence of a franchise that is seeking its first NBA title since 1975. His offensive brilliance is undeniably breathtaking.
The 40-point rampage, while connecting on seven of his nine three-point attempts, along with the seven assists and five rebounds against the Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference Finals was a perfect illustration of why, if you love basketball, you should never miss a game that Curry plays in.
He’s already on his way to being considered the greatest shooter in the history of the NBA. He’s the 2014-2015 league MVP, an honor he’s earned against a backdrop of phenomenal seasons in their own right by LeBron, James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davis.
With that being said, this next sentence is going to confound many basketball fans who think they understand this beautiful game, but really don’t. Stephen Curry may be the NBA’s MVP this year, but the Golden State Warriors’ most valuable player has undeniably been the third-year forward from Michigan State, Draymond Green.
The seeds of the Warriors amazing 67-win regular season campaign and dash to the precipice of the NBA Finals took place when David Lee’s hamstring woes forced him to miss the season’s opening two months.
Head Coach Steve Kerr decided to insert Green into the starting lineup, and the team proceeded to rip off 22 wins in their first 25 games. If you’re into metrics and statistics, you won’t be able to quantify Green’s true worth. But if your sensory perception is truly tuned into the hidden nuance and texture of the game, you’ll see that the reason why Golden State plays with such confounding inventiveness has everything to do Green being utterly indispensable on both ends of the floor.
He’s a playmaker and a shot-maker, a rebounder and facilitator whose pick-and-roll prowess with Curry produced more damage to the foundation of every other NBA franchise since cocaine in the 1970’s. He’s an exceptional two-way beast that also happens to be the league’s best and most remarkable defensive player, a force of nature that can guard James Harden one minute, and Dwight Howard the next.
He provides the much needed balance and toughness that ESPN highlights can never convey.
In Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, the pundits lauded Curry’s 34 points and two free throws in the closing seconds to seal a critical 110-106 victory at home.
But when you dig deeper, you saw a Warriors team getting smoked by 16 points in the second quarter, until Kerr slid Green over to the center position in place of Andrew Bogut.
Green’s diverse skills allow the Warriors’ offense to play exceptional basketball without a traditional big man. His vision, passing and scoring skills from deep, in the post, and mid-range stretches opposing teams out, confounding their sense of where the ball is going next. He allows Golden State to take advantage of their extraordinary collective long-range marksmanship, which also opens up clear lanes to attack the basket, in ways that are diabolical.
Golden State finished that first half of Game 1 on a 21-4 run. Every one of Green’s shoulder bumps on the pick and roll, defensive stops, ball denials, screens, box-outs, along with each of his 13 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists were situationally significant, the very thing his team needed at the exact moment that they needed it.
Stephen Curry is the franchise’s pretty face, but Draymond Green is its unquantifiable heartbeat. He can take over a game and swing the momentum in ways that are both subtle and pronounced.
If your eyes are simply watching the ball during a game, you’ll never see it. He’s the most important and critical piece of the Warriors’ championship puzzle. It’s not about stats or eye-popping highlights, his brilliance is embedded in the game’s minute details.
He allows his team to go small and play with a unit that can all space the floor, shoot 3’s, handle the rock and craft the most beautiful team choreography in the fast break this side of Magic’s Showtime Lakers. He can switch defensively on any and every ball screen, a luxury that not many coaches can boast.
Steph Curry is the best offensive player on the league’s best offense. But Green is the best defensive player, the anchor of the league’s best defensive unit.
Offense is pretty, but defense wins championships.
And if Golden State wins this year’s title, it will be because of Draymond Green. But most of you won’t know it, because you’ll be too mesmerized by Curry to appreciate the Warriors’ real MVP.