Dichotomy of dimes: the strengths and weaknesses of Draymond Green's offense
In an evolving league, the Warriors point forward is challenging traditional definitions of success
When people say, “Draymond Green’s offense is a problem,” it’s not clear right away if the sentiment will be followed by a huffing emoji, or a sad face. Like the player himself, Green’s offense is complicated.
Persistently ranking at the very top of players at his position in assists, the Golden State Warriors offense is clearly better with him in it. According to Cleaning the Glass, the Warriors are +11.1 points per 100 possessions better with him on the court rather than off - the second-highest such impact of his career. Golden State’s effective field goal percentage rises by just over 7%, which is a 98th percentile impact. It’s not just about the assists, everything really does run smoother and work better when Green’s on the court. And that’s just talking about his offense!
But the offense is not a complete package; and while the positives vastly outweigh the negatives, there may be an emerging design consideration that the team will need to consider.
When things go right
Under the best case scenario, none of those career lows listed above matter all that much. Just as we forgive Stephen Curry for not averaging more blocked shots per game, so too is there ample leeway for some holes in Green’s game.
With Stephen Curry, the Warriors are faced with an unusual predicament where they have to balance the value of having the ball in their primary creator’s hands, against the desire to play Curry off of the ball to maximize his catch-and-shoot opportunities. Without another primary ball handler in the rotation, this wouldn’t be possible. And while the mental image most of us conjure when thinking of a primary ball handler is probably a little guy, or someone with a super deft handle, Green has been extremely effective in this role.
It’s this secondary support role that makes Green such a critical player in the Warriors system. Especially when teamed up alongside Curry, Green fills a lot of gaps. Defensively, he’s an anchor (in a good way), but his offensive support role is equally important.
Green, averaging 8.1 assists per game this season, has bumped that all the way up to 10.5 in February on the strength of some big nights, including two nights of 15 assists, and another where he set a new career-high with 16 assists.
Green allows the Warriors to play with a sort of unstable equilibrium, as his most glaring weaknesses are the most well-covered by Curry (and vice versa).
Remember the early struggles this season, and how pivotal a role Green played in righting the ship? Curry is too entrenched, too important to the scoring load to survive without someone like Green knowing when and how to get him the ball. Likewise, Green’s vocal leadership and role modelled excellence are a critical training tool for new Warriors like Kelly Oubre and James Wiseman to figure out where they live within the complicated ecosystem that is the Warriors offense.
When things don’t go right though…
It’s not just the recent ejection for arguing a call, Green’s high profile importance with the Warriors also means that he will draw a lot of attention on and off the court. And to be fair, some of the bad moments are indeed very bad.
Green’s ability to continue making the balance of his on court impacts lean in a positive direction will be at the heart of the Warriors chances over the next few years. As he ages (and assuming the scoring doesn’t come back), Green will have to evolve as a player and a leader.
He said as much yesterday, when he gave an extended quote in response to questions:
I’m a completely different person at 25 than I am at 30. So, when I look at the person who I am today, that should never happen. So, in saying that, I can admit my faults and when I’m wrong and I was wrong. And I have to do what I have to do to make that up to my teammates…I told the guys I appreciate the support of me, but that action does not warrant support.
With the support of teammates comes responsibility and I let that responsibility go. To think, just because they are my teammates and I have their support don’t necessarily mean I was deserving of it in that situation because I wasn’t.
Like many within the Warriors organization, I’m not especially troubled by Green’s volatility. It seems to be a core part of what drives him to play so fully dialed in so often, so I’m willing to accept that a fire burning that hot will occasionally flare up in a harmful way.
No, for me, the long-term trend that I worry about is his shooting and scoring. I know that I just spent half this article talking about how much of a non-problem all that is, but I’d like to split the hair and talk about how it isn’t necessarily helping, either.
Green’s growth in other aspects of offense are more than covering up for it, but Green has steadily become an incredibly bad scorer.
Some of it is associated with the transition into a facilitator role, as seen in this graphic from Rusty Simmons excellent article, “Could Draymond Green surpass Steph Curry atop Warriors' career assist list?”
[spoiler: nah. He’s going to need 11 more seasons at the current rate, putting him at 41 years old]
Green is averaging 6.4 points per 36 minutes, the lowest scoring rate of his career. His .433 TS% is also within sniffing distance of his worst ever, saved from the ignominy only by the perverse grace of a dismal mark of .404 in his rookie year. According to Cleaning the Glass, his shooting efficiency is in the bottom 1% of the NBA this season.
Shooting just 22.5% from deep, and 54% at the rim, Green’s current year slump looks depressingly like a pattern. That one year his threes were falling? An elite mark of 55.1% effective field goal percentage - the 70th percentile.
It’s not been a pretty picture since then.
Here’s his entire career of shooting in one table, via Cleaning the Glass; and remember, the colors represent the percentile rank, blue is bad. Green’s marks this season: bottom one percent overall, bottom 15% at the rim, and bottom 4% from deep.
This is the most divisive part of the analysis, and one that I’m personally still a bit cloudy on. How much does Green’s poor scoring matter?
I keep thinking back to Tony Allen, a very solid defensive player that was basically ignored by the Warriors’ defense to great advantage in the playoffs. It was seen as the launching pad for the Warriors’ run to greatness, but Golden State fans may never be able to properly appreciate what that solution plot did to torpedo the Grizzlies.
There’s already weirdness happening. You can see it when Green flings a pass into a teammate from point blank range rather than putting up the layup himself; you can see it in the overpassing that happens on the perimeter when he cedes an open look. Warriors great Don Nelson used to say “a shot that is created must be taken,” and I hear that in the back of my mind a lot when Green is overly hesitant.
Compounding the issue, this isn’t a critical path problem. Green is so skilled in other ways, and surrounded by the scoring brilliance of the Splash Brothers, he has the wiggle room to get away with not being a scorer. But there are levels to “not a scorer” and Green is quickly descending to the lower tier - which could become a more significant problem.
He’ll never be stuck as a useless offensive appendage, yelling “first team all-defense” while getting mostly ignored by defenders - there are plenty of ways to punish a defense. But Green will need to improve at some point. Being an unwilling shooter is one thing, being unable to score at a reasonable efficiency is the sort of thing that can quickly turn into a game-breaking bug if left unaddressed.