By: Patrick Hayes
Draymond Green’s potential is limitless. That’s an admittedly hyperbolic statement to make about a second round draft pick with no clear position in the NBA, but after closely following Green’s high school and college careers, I’ve realized the futility in trying to accurately predict a ceiling for Green.
The first time I watched Green play, he was a high school senior who had already led his Saginaw High team to one state championship. The team — which Green’s coach, Lou Dawkins, referred to as ‘the most powerful high school in the country’ — was heavily favored to win another. I was covering high school sports for a small daily paper in Flint, Mich., at the time and a Flint area team got matched up with Green’s Saginaw team in an early round playoff game. I was new to sports writing and rarely got to cover teams that were actually good at sports, so I was pretty excited about the opportunity to watch an out-of-the-coverage-area team like Saginaw up close.
When I arrived at the gym, I was immediately disappointed … this was the supposed high school basketball juggernaut? This team that started four guys who were about six feet tall? This guy, Green, a pudgy, 6-foot-5ish brute, was supposedly one of the most skilled high school players in Michigan? I didn’t buy it — until the game started. Green was essentially a point-center, running Saginaw’s offense with his great decision-making, passing and ability to create his own shot and then effectively guarding the opposing team’s biggest player on defense. He was unbelievable — a perfect mix of the nimble craftiness necessary for intelligent guard play and the strength and fundamentals necessary to guard post players. I’d never had more fun watching a high school player and ended up going to three more Saginaw playoff games on my own time that year as they cruised to another state championship just to watch him.
As impressed as I was with Green’s superior basketball IQ and instincts as a high school player, his physical limitations were bound to catch up with him as a Big Ten player at Michigan State. He’d be a solid role player, but his average athleticism, average physique and less than ideal size for a forward would surely limit his effectiveness. His freshman year at MSU, that certainly looked like a possibility. He didn’t solidify himself in the rotation until late that season and although his contributions on the court were largely positive, they were minimal.
As his college career progressed, though, it became obvious that Green was both a highly talented and highly unique player. As a sophomore, a noticeably more svelte Green became an important player on a good team and his improvement, both statistically and with his aggressiveness in looking for his own offense, was dramatic. So dramatic, that I wondered in a story I wrote at the time whether Green had a NBA future if he continued improving at such a drastic rate. Here was the jist:
It’s fair to say that he’s improved significantly in just one year at MSU, especially when you look at his shooting numbers. He’s taking more field goals and free throws and shooting better than he did last year. Normally, the opposite happens — guys’ roles expand, their shot attempts go up and their percentages and efficiency go down a tad.
Now, when I wrote that post, it was pretty roundly mocked by friends, other local media colleagues and coaches. Green wasn’t even a regular starter at Michigan State at the time, and though he was certainly in better shape, he was still on the heavy side and still had the same physical limitations that had always caused people to doubt whether there was a position he could play in the NBA.
We all know how the story ends, of course. Green’s superior work ethic and unique skill-set that gave hints as a sophomore about how special a player he could be did indeed materialize by the time he was a senior. He became one of the most productive players in the country, displayed a unique skill-set that included being a dominant rebounder as well as a fantastic passer, led a Michigan State team thought to be retooling to a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and, for a while, appeared to be a late first round lock.
Coaches love Green because he is the embodiment of every coaching cliché about ‘hard work trumping talent’ out there. He wasn’t originally a primary recruiting target of Michigan State. He wasn’t supposed to be a good perimeter shooter, but he made 37 and 39 percent of his 3-pointers his final two years of college. He wasn’t supposed to be an elite college talent, but arguably no college player had a greater statistical impact on his team than Green this past season. He wasn’t supposed to be a NBA player, but here we are.
I’m certainly not going to make some outlandish prediction that Green is destined to be a great NBA player, but if I’ve picked up anything from watching him, it’s that I won’t predict against him accomplishing the unlikely, either. He has too rich a history of proving every talent evaluator who has ever tried to put a limitation on what was realistic for him to accomplish wrong. The Golden State Warriors picked a player in the second round who will work to get absolutely every ounce of production out of the talent he was given to work with. So far, that has been plenty.