The notion of the “small-ball four,” as a subset of so-called “positionless” basketball, is not a new one in the NBA. The desire to accumulate players (and in particular wings) capable of featuring at, and defending, multiple positions has existed for some time now. Perhaps more so than any other organization, the Golden State Warriors have championed concepts of hybrid, flexible lineups, often exhibiting undersized and/or guard-heavy units to challenge orthodox opponents.
Rarely, however, is such a player deployed in an unconventional lineup for defensive purposes. The Warriors’ Draymond Green is one exception to this.
With a True Shooting percentage of 49.1% and a turnover percentage of 16.5%, Green is scarcely implemented into games as a result of his attacking prowess.
Heading into the matchup with the Indiana Pacers, Green was averaging 19.6 minutes per contest this season. This represents a significant increase from last season’s tally (13.4) due to his own individual improvements, the offseason departure of Carl Landry, and ongoing health troubles for fellow front-liners Festus Ezeli and Jermaine O’Neal.
The Michigander has displayed a marked uptick in his defensive efficiency, and has generated a greater volume of both steals and blocks on a per-36 minute basis.
Green’s girth (230 lbs.) and “Inspector Gadget”-like arms (wingspan listed at 7’1.25”, according to Draft Express) have helped him carve out a niche role in the rotation as a handy, adaptable defender both when guarding smaller post players, and on the perimeter.
His valued capacity to defend larger, more cumbersome forwards shines through in the available data, too: Draymond Green presently ranks in the top fifteen in the NBA for defending opposition field goals at the rim (of players contesting min. 3.0 shots within five feet of the basket per game).
At 47.0 percent, his efficiency in limiting the successes of opponents in close is comparable to the marks of highly regarded interior defenders such as Tim Duncan (46.7 percent), Dwight Howard (47.2 percent), and Andre Drummond (48.1 percent). Although the players listed at the peak of this category don’t all contest the same number of attempts per outing, there is ample SportVU player tracking data to suggest that Green’s influence on the defensive end is palpable.
The Dubs’ sophomore forward has neatly polished his defensive output in 2013-14, yet as the figures below indicate, the outlook was promising in the aftermath of his rookie campaign. Here are Golden State’s splits with Green both on and off the floor in 2012-13, courtesy of Basketball-Reference.com:
There are a few key indicators amongst this table that illustrate Green’s tendency to exert his will and impact the opponent’s offensive efficiency. With the former Michigan State Spartan on the court, Warriors opponents were 3.8 points per 100 possessions worse off, whilst also suffering a decline (of 1.5 percent) in their rebounding percentages, and “effective Field Goal” (eFG) percentages.
Exactly how, and under what circumstances, Green’s versatility has been utilized is also of note.
Draymond Green’s minutes shared with starting players, despite being restricted in many cases, offer further insight into the worth of his play. According to NBA.com/stats, he is regularly featured among some of Golden State’s most efficient three-man units (min. 25 game appearances together).
For example, the three combinations of Green/Stephen Curry/David Lee, Green/Klay Thompson/David Lee, and Green/Andre Iguodala/David Lee all hold net ratings of at least 24.0. The latter group, however, has shared just 107 total minutes together on the season.
To date, the five-man lineup that Green has generated the most time as a part of (21 games, 61 total minutes) has been one alongside Harrison Barnes, Stephen Curry, David Lee, and Klay Thompson.
Despite the defensive shortcomings of some of the other players in this particular group, Green’s aplomb – in a restricted window – contributed towards a respectable defensive rating of 99.5 points conceded per 100 possessions.
At very least, it’s intriguing to assess the way in which Mark Jackson has elected to apply the 6’7” second-year man’s skills to the team’s nightly rotations.
Given the starkly apparent nature of Green’s presence on D and the scorching offensive patterns of the Warriors’ starters and heavy-minute contributors, don’t be surprised to see the per-game average of 19.6 minutes progressively lift over the remainder of the season, and Green to be more prominently plugged-in adjacent to the likes of Curry, Thompson, and Andre Iguodala.
Even with a 12-4 record over the last month of play and recent additions to the roster, the Warriors’ brass are surely cognizant of Draymond Green having warranted further reps as a result of his 2014 demonstrations.
With the benefit of a healthy, freshly padded squad, and over 130 regular season and playoff games by Golden State’s 2012 second-round pick, the statistical (and practical) rationale hints that a stable Warriors rotation is in need of meaningful and authentic minutes from Green.
In this instance, the prospect of rich, balanced defensive rewards should greatly outweigh any risk associated with bolstering Draymond Green’s importance to the team.
By Angus Crawford