The hidden power of Draymond Green's offense, and Stephen Curry's defense
As Warriors reach back towards pinnacle of success, Green and Curry's importance extends to both ends of the court
It all started in the 2015 NBA Finals. The Cleveland Cavaliers knew that Stephen Curry was the driving force of the Warriors offense, so they hounded him. Throwing two, or even three defenders at the younger, slimmer Curry, the Cavaliers thought they had solved the Golden State conundrum - and so did NBA legend, Phil Jackson, who fired off this pithy tweet in the second round of those playoffs after watching the Warriors struggle against a stout Memphis Grizzlies defense:
Oddly, it was veteran David Lee that twisted that nasty defense into an origami crane and handed it back to Draymond Green. Such a simple-looking little thing, what Lee demonstrated was something that’s at the core of the Warriors success: how to help Curry out of pressure by being a relief valve for a pass, and then attacking the 4-on-3 leftovers.
In that third game of the 2015 Finals, Lee only played 13 minutes (after getting zero minutes in the first two games), but his 11 points, 4 rebounds and 2 assists were transformative. It was a singular moment that unlocked a solution that Golden State is still leaning on against teams that over-commit to stopping Curry:
Use anticipation as a weapon.
"Steph and I had run so many successful pick-and-rolls, just as Draymond and he do now," Lee says. "We've seen [the trap] so many times, and it was something we'd had so many conversations about.
'All right, what are we going to do when it happens?' Does Steph try to dribble through and split the double-team? Do we not run pick-and-rolls? Do we put Steph off the ball and let Andre be point guard and run Steph off of pin-downs and things like that?
And really the answer was, 'Steph, you get rid of the ball and you have four-on-three on the back side.' And once you burn them two or three times, then the team is like, This isn't worth it anymore."
True enough, the Cavs call off the dogs on the next possession and opt to switch on future pick-and-rolls involving Curry.
Now, it’s a hallmark of the Warriors system. Green has adopted that lesson as one of the defining characteristics of his offensive philosophy. Curry had gone 5-for-23 Game 2 and was 4-for-11 prior to that Lee insertion in Game 3.
Green, now leans heavily into his identity as a split savior. Averaging a career-best 8.4 assists per game, the ball handling forward has become more than just a safety valve, he’s a defining feature of the Warriors offense.
Quite a feat for a guy that averages just 5.5 points per contest. With Green on the court, the Warriors’ collective effective shooting percentage jumps by 60 points; the offensive rating, and assist percentage also see significant jumps.
So go ahead, try hard to take Steph away. Green and the rest of the Warriors are trained for this.
Warriors don’t win without the elite defense
In last night’s 111-107 win over the Indiana Pacers, Curry was limited to just 24 point on 21 shots; he missed 10 of his 11 threes. Curry, bruised and battered all night, had one of those games that was just… a struggle.
This was the sort of night that could easily lead to a Warriors loss. Even with Green’s highest scoring night (12 points) of the season, there’s no way that Golden State gets past that Pacers team last night without an extremely stout defense.
As the wise sage, Steve Kerr foretold, the Warriors defense has reached a higher state of existence.
But Kerr wants to be sure that credit is given to the Warriors offensive super star. As he said in his post game comments last night, “I think Steph’s defense this year has been totally overlooked because everyone’s locked in on his scoring and shooting. But his defense has been fantastic.”
Anthony Slater transcribed a longer quote from Green, discussing how a newly strengthened Curry has eliminated one of the team’s only defensive soft spots
He used to fall asleep and give up a backdoor layup almost once a game. Sometimes twice a game. Then he’d stand there like ahhhh (face-palming). Now he’s not giving up that stuff off the ball. He’s locked in off the ball, he’s engaged, he’s chipping down on the big, he’s getting back to the elbow and rebounding, he’s coming in and getting big-boy rebounds.”
“He would always get to the position and reach or lunge forward and take himself out of position. He’s not doing that anymore. A part of that is he’s so much stronger than he’s ever been. Due to that, he’s able to put up a fight with anyone. Guys who used to be able to back him down or take him off the dribble and bump him off, they can’t anymore.”
I really enjoy how Green and Curry have helped each other address the holes in their respective games. As they chase greatness, it’s not just about covering up each other’s deficiencies, there’s an active process that both are going through in order to bridge the gaps in their games.