The praise is for Steph Curry, the respect for Mark Jackson. The hope for Andrew Bogut, expectations for Harrison Barnes and the reputation is back for Oracle.
Winning a playoff series can drastically altar the direction of an entire organization and individuals career. You haven’t proven anything in the NBA until you’ve enjoyed some measure of postseason success, so once you do your place in the league has been remarkably strengthened.
It means different things for different people, but like with any accomplishment the central characters garner the most attention. Ater last night, Curry’s a star, Jackson is established, Bogut’s a rehabilitated cog and Barnes is an ascending commodity. Oracle is, well, Playoff Oracle – it never went away, just took a break.
Golden State’s first round achievement may be most directly related to influence gleaned from the above, but that hardly means they did it alone. Carl Landry, Klay Thompson and even Festus Ezeli certainly had their moments against Denver, too, and were invaluable in their own unique ways. But the player who gained the most from the past two weeks is Draymond Green.
He made a career.
It’s no secret Green struggled throughout the regular season. His defensive versatility was a surprise and Jackson’s affinity for his rookie’s playing style was obvious, but that didn’t necessarily manifest itself into obvious positive impact; 33% overall shooting and a proclivity for 3-point attempts made Green’s regular season value negligible at best on the surface. We’ve profiled Green’s worth to Golden State before, remarking on what his position-less nature does for a Warriors roster lacking players of such utility. So it’s not necessarily a surprise he proved valuable against a team like the Nuggets that creates so much defensive havoc, especially once David Lee was lost to injury.
What nobody counted on, obviously, was Green’s sizable impact on the other end of the floor. He averaged 7.3 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in 16.8 minutes in the first round, major improvements on his season-long marks 2.9 points and 3.3 rebounds in just three fewer minutes. So the production was definitely there, which is surprising, but not half as much as the efficiency with which he compiled it.
Green shot 59.3% from the field against the Nuggets and connected on six of his 12 attempts from beyond the arc. His per 36 minute numbers of 16 points, 10 rebounds, three assists and two steals do his play even better justice. Simply, Green suddenly went from barely playable defensive wildcard in the regular season to essential all-around bench performer in the span of several days. This type of playoff turnaround is something rarely enjoyed at all, let alone by a rookie second-rounder that showed little hope in terms of offensive effectiveness the entire regular season.
The effect of Green’s ambush on this series, then, can’t be overstated; the Nuggets game-planned to leave him alone offensively, and once he made them consistently pay everything had to change. Who knows how many times the presence of an efficient Green factored into Denver defensive breakdowns and missed rotations? Combined with the shot-making, rebounding, intensity and awesome extra-passes, it’s easily arguable Green was Golden State’s most impactful reserve piece in the first round. For a player most assumed would be riding the playoff pine and likely would have been if not for Lee’s absence, such a meteoric rise deserves our attention and adulation.
And while Green won’t receive his due praise publicly, he certainly will behind closed-doors. Jackson, the Warriors coaching staff and his teammates know of Green’s playoff worth thus far, and the rest of the league knows he’s capable of such an impact now, too; that means a long, lucrative career is suddenly and assuredly in his future.
Green didn’t just help his team in the first round, he helped himself immeasurably in the process, too. It’s not stardom or even a starting role, but based on his recent turnaround not even the former should be out of the question.
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