Draymond Green may have made some enemies and lost a few friends during these playoffs, but let’s face the facts: the NBA would probably be a better place if more players were like him.
In Green, the league has seen the emergence of a superstar from an unlikely source — a doughy, undersized forward who didn’t become a full-time starter until his junior year in college.
Somewhere between then and now, 34 players were deemed more valuable. He went from playing for a minimum salary and backing up David Lee to earning nearly a maximum salary and being a linchpin on one of the greatest NBA teams in history.
I have no problem admitting when I am wrong. And I was wrong about Green — he’s one of the greatest players I have ever seen.
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What makes pro sports and arguments around them so compelling and so worthwhile is the degree to which subjectivity enters the equation.
What does it truly mean to be “better” than another player? Do we use common statistics? Advanced statistics? Wins? Championship rings?
How easy it is to quantify greatness? Is it quantifiable?
After watching Green over the past two years, it has become obvious that he’s worth his weight in gold; there is no way that the Golden State Warriors become champions without him.
One of the greatest things about professional basketball is that, unlike many of the other professional sports that we watch, the degree to which there is position specialization is minimal. In football, a quarterback who can’t run quickly won’t hinder an offense so long as he makes quick decisions and has a capable offensive line. In baseball, a pitcher doesn’t need to be able to hit a lick so long as he can throw a 95 mile per hour fastball. In hockey, soccer and most other team sports, position specialization is key. In pro basketball? Not so much.
In the past, many NBA teams have failed to win big because the approach at the front office level was built on a farce. You can’t outsource hustle. You can’t outsource heart and you can’t outsource work ethic. Any team that is built around a “superstar” who isn’t the first one in the building and the last one to leave is doomed to fail. At least partially, the failure to galvanize and fuel teammates by leading by example can tell the story as to why Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson and Carmelo Anthony haven’t been able to get it done.
So as to not go off on a complete tangent, the point in this is simple: Draymond Green has taken the idea of “position-less basketball” to a new stratosphere. He’s a leader in every sense of the word. He doesn’t take shortcuts. He doesn’t give up on any play, and at the end of the day, in an NBA dominated by entourages and fraternizing, Green doesn’t give a damn about your team or friendship. All Draymond cares about is winning, and he’ll do whatever it takes to ensure that his team does.
When Kevin Garnett entered the league back in 1995, the world marveled at the things that the 18-year-old seven-footer was able to do. Garnett had the length of a center, but the nimbleness and vision of a guard. Dirk Nowitzki would eventually prove to have similar DNA before Kevin Durant turned the idea of size limitations on its head. Between these paradigm-shifters were other players who muddied those lines, most notably Lamar Odom. Odom never lived up to this true potential, but his legacy will always be one of a player whose rare combination of versatility and size made him a matchup nightmare.
As the NBA has seen its game revolutionize, position-less basketball has become the norm. Out of necessity, teams employ “stretch fours” and run motion offenses to keep pace with the quicker pace and free-flowing ball movement that has become synonymous with winning.
In the end, in order to succeed in today’s NBA, every team needs front court players who are capable of dominating games in a plethora of ways.
Someway, somehow, each general manager needs to find the basketball equivalent of a unicorn — a player with enough size and strength to guard a center but light-footed enough to stay in front of an opposing guard. The unicorn has to be able to handle the basketball, run the floor, make the right pass and hit the three-point shot. And above all, he has to be willing to adapt his game and his output at a moment’s notice, depending on what the current situation requires.
Most importantly, he has to do so without his ego getting in the way and without allowing the want of personal accolades and flashing lights to blind him to the chase of the team’s goal.
Indeed, every general manager and every franchise is searching for the basketball unicorn.
Only the Golden State Warriors have managed to find him.
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Stephen Curry slowly dribbles the ball up the floor. He stops at the top of the key long enough for Green to get in position to run the team’s well-renowned “1-4” pick-and-roll. When the defender goes under the screen, Curry launches a three-pointer from the parking lot and drills it.
The next time, the defenders decide to stay at home, but Curry’s defender gets hammered by a picture-perfect screen set by the rock solid Green. As Curry makes his beeline to the basket and the defense predictably collapses, Curry finds a wide-open Harrison Barnes in the corner for a three-pointer.
The next time Green and Curry execute their pick-and-roll, the defenders decide to blitz and trap Curry. He easily gets the ball to Green who makes his own beeline to the basket. When the rotation arrives late, Green converts a layup while drawing a foul.
Three different scenarios and three different situations — Green is never out of sorts.
On the defensive side of the basketball, Green — who barely stands at 6’8 — routinely outworks and out-hustles opponents to whom he yields up to six inches in height. At the same time, a part of what makes the Warriors defense nearly impregnable is his ability to switch out on smaller, quicker, opposing offensive players and harass them on the perimeter.
In terms of on-court attributes, it’s difficult to argue that Green has any weakness. Emotionally, perhaps he is unstable. Maybe he complains a bit too much, and his recent altercation with LeBron James will keep him off the court in Game 5. But that type of player will never have trouble finding work in the National Basketball Association. And he will seldom have trouble winning.
After watching Green closely over the past two seasons, he has helped me rethink my definition of a “great” player.
A great player isn’t one who accrues numbers and statistics. In fact, a truly great player may need to find a way to emotionally separate himself from caring about his statistical production altogether.
A great player isn’t one who, as I once thought, needed to be able to score 25 points per night or lead a lottery team to the playoffs.
Instead, a truly great player is one who manages to have a tremendous amount of “game impact.” A great player is one who brings energy and effort every single night and doesn’t allow a lack of touches on the offensive end or his number not being called to impact his work ethic.
Deflections, box outs, hard picks, “hockey” assists and drawing fouls — these are but a few ways that one can impact a game without their true contribution being reflected in the box score. And if there is one thing we can safely say about Draymond Green, over the course of the past two seasons, he has had as great of a game impact as any other player I’ve ever seen.
You simply can’t put a price on that.
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The Warriors have emerged as one of the all-time great basketball teams. The beauty in their ascent is the cooperative effort that it required. The 73 regular season wins didn’t happen because Stephen Curry scored 50 points per night, and they didn’t occur because Steve Kerr out-coached every single one of his opponents.
Those 73 wins came as a result of camaraderie, interchangeability and an overall lack of concern over who should receive the most credit.
Both figuratively and literally, Draymond Green has been in the center of it all and it’s something that one could only understand if they have had the opportunity to watch him closely.
Fortunately, for me, I have.
Neither in dollars nor in box scores is greatness quantifiable. Draymond Green taught me that, and if you’ve been watching closely, he would have also taught you what it means to be a fearless competitor and a winner in today’s NBA. He may have made a few enemies and lost a few friends, but winning comes at a cost.
Make no mistake about it, in blood, sweat and tears, Green always has and probably always will be willing to pay that price.
And only a great player is willing to do that.
Dejounte Murray: The Spurs’ Latest Steal
The Spurs have a history of drafting talented players late in the draft. Dejounte Murray is emerging as their most recent steal, writes David Yapkowitz.
It seems like almost every NBA season, the San Antonio Spurs end up selecting a player late in the draft who unexpectedly goes on to become a valuable contributor, sometimes even a star. The entire draft in itself can often be a crapshoot, but the lower the pick, the lower the chances of a team finding a solid rotation player. But with the Spurs, it’s as if they hit far more often than they miss.
Their pick from a year ago is shaping up to be no exception as the injury to starting point guard Tony Parker has opened up a huge opportunity for Dejounte Murray; one that he is taking advantage of.
There is a lot of preparation by analysts leading up to the NBA draft. Several mock drafts are created up until draft night itself. Murray was often projected to be a high first-round pick, possibly even a lottery pick. He had a solid freshman season at the University of Washington where he averaged 16.1 points per game, six rebounds, and 4.4 assists.
Draft night arrived and he ended up slipping to the bottom of the first round (29th overall), far later than he had anticipated. Following his selection, LeBron James himself, who is represented by the same sports agency as Murray, tweeted out some words of encouragement for the young rookie. He let Murray know that he may not have been drafted where he wanted to, but that he was with the best organization in the league.
Murray pretty much rode the bench last season as a rookie, which is not at all uncommon for a first-year player on a veteran team with championship aspirations. He was inactive for most of the final two months of the season. In the first round of the playoffs against the Memphis Grizzlies, and most of the second round against the Houston Rockets, he was relegated to garbage time duty. Perhaps if he’d been drafted as high as initially projected, he might have had a bigger opportunity at getting minutes right away.
That all changed, however, against Houston in Game 2 when Parker went down with the injury that he is still recuperating from. Murray was thrust into the starting lineup and he responded as well as an inexperienced rookie under the bright lights of the playoffs could. In Game 4, although the Spurs lost, he had eight points on 50 percent shooting along with three assists. He actually didn’t play in Game 5, but in the Spurs closeout Game 6 win, he poured in 11 points, ten rebounds, five assists and two steals while shooting 50 percent from the field.
Even though the Spurs were ultimately swept in the Western Conference Finals against the Golden State Warriors, Murray continued his steady play with 8.3 points, 3.8 assists, and three steals.
At the start of this season, Murray has taken his momentum from the end of last season and carried it over. He was given the starting point guard spot in place of Parker on opening night against the Minnesota Timberwolves. He responded on national television with 16 points on 7-8 shooting from the field, five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
It’s still too early to tell, but it’s highly possible that the Spurs have found their starting point guard of the future once Parker eventually decides to hang it up. At 6-foot-5, Murray is a tall point guard and his length gives him the potential to develop into an elite defensive player. He can score the basketball and he is improving his court vision and playmaking.
One area he could improve in is his outside shooting. Although he did shoot 39.1 percent from the three-point line last season, he only took 0.6 attempts. In his lone college season, he shot 28.8 percent from downtown. If he can improve his range and really begin to put together his entire package of skills, we’ll be talking yet again about how the Spurs bamboozled the rest of the league and found a draft-day gem.
NBA Saturday: Jabari Bird Experiences The NBA Whirlwind
Jabari Bird entered a hostile environment Friday night after being on his couch just three days before.
When Gordon Hayward suffered a season-ending injury six minutes into the Boston Celtics’ season on Wednesday, he wasn’t the only player who saw his season changed in the blink of an eye.
“I was at home in California watching the game as a fan,” Jabari Bird said.
Bird was the 56th overall pick in last June’s NBA Draft. After playing his college ball at the University of California, the Celtics gave the 6-foot-6 swingman a shot to continue his career. After impressing throughout the preseason, Bird was signed to a two-way contract with Boston and returned home to the west coast.
That didn’t last long.
“After the game was over my phone was going off that I had to get on the quickest flight to Boston,” Bird said about opening night. “Got in 7:30 the next morning, suited up against Milwaukee, now I’m here in Philly.”
With the massive hole Hayward left in Boston’s roster due to his injury, the Celtics are going to have to turn to some unlikely performers throughout the season to pick up the slack. Bird didn’t light up the scoreboard or stuff his stat sheet, posting just three points and one rebound in 13 minutes of play. But down the stretch in a close game against the Philadelphia 76ers Friday night, Bird came up big on defense.
As the Celtics trailed the Sixers 61-53 with six minutes remaining in the third quarter, Bird subbed in for Jaylen Brown and was tasked with guarding J.J. Redick, who was in the midst of carrying Philadelphia with his lights out shooting.
After wiping away the Sixers lead and gaining an 86-84 advantage in the fourth quarter, the Celtics still had Bird sticking Redick. The Sixers’ shooting guard — and highest paid player — rose up for another three-point attempt which would’ve given Philadelphia a late lead and a momentum shift at home with a raucous crowd behind them. Only this time, Bird’s hand was in his face and the shot attempt didn’t find the back of the net.
In a big-time moment on the road, for a team facing a potential three-game losing streak to start the season, the unlikely rookie answered the call.
“Like I said before, he’s one of the best shooters in the NBA, really good perimeter scorer,” Bird said of Redick. “For the team to trust me with that responsibility, with us being down on the road needing to get a win, I was hyped up and ready to go. I was ready for the challenge.”
Placing such a responsibility like guarding Redick on a night where it seemed like the Sixers marksman couldn’t miss on a player who was sitting on his couch three nights ago seems like a bold strategy. Head coach Brad Stevens, however, knew what he was doing.
“All the way through preseason and training camp I felt like he was one of our better perimeter defenders,” Stevens said. “I think he has huge upside. His rebounding spoke for itself in preseason practices. His ability to guard off the ball, especially shooters coming off screens is just really good. He’s not afraid, and you knew he’d step up.”
Going from the couch to a red-eye flight from California to Boston, to the bench in Milwaukee, to the court in Philadelphia is nothing short of a whirlwind experience. With such a series of events, it’s hard to be coached into that moment. As a player, sometimes you have to just go out and play.
“I wasn’t prepared at all for tonight. Mentally I just had to lock into the game,” Bird said. “Coach just looked at me and said ‘Bird get Jaylen.’ ‘Alright.’ So that’s what I did.”
After signing Hayward to $127 million contract this summer, the Celtics were expecting the small forward to provide an elite scoring 1-2 scoring punch with Kyrie Irving. Obviously, at least for this season, Boston will need to move forward without that possibility. An opening night loss, followed by another defeat to Milwaukee the following night, had the Celtics 0-2 heading into Philadelphia and searching for answers a lot sooner than they may have anticipated just a week ago.
Bird’s journey during his first week in professional basketball represents how quickly things can change, and how the ripple effects of injuries and other moves have far outreaching waves.
“I was already packed, I was ready to go to the G-League,” Bird said. “We had training camp coming up. My bags were already packed, I was ready to get out the house. Then I got the call to go to Boston and I was like alright I’m ready to go, just gimmie a flight. And that’s what happened.”
All-star point guard, and Bird’s new teammate, Kyrie Irving doesn’t foresee the rookie leaving the clubhouse anytime soon. With the adversity the Boston Celtics have felt in the first week of the 2017-18 season, Bird’s addition and impact are a prime example of being ready when your number is called, and the culture this team is looking to create.
“Jabari is now probably gonna be on every trip with us,” Irving said. “Guys are gonna be called up and called upon to be ready to play. We just have to have that expectation that when we come into the game we’re gonna be able to play, and we trust one another and have each other’s backs.”
Mavs Guard Devin Harris on Personal Leave from Team
Guard Devin Harris will take an indefinite leave from the Dallas Mavericks after the tragic death of his brother, Bruce.
“I was with him yesterday and just encouraged him that when he’s ready to come on back,” coach Rick Carlisle said. “I don’t know when that will be. He can take as long as he needs.”
Source: Tim MacMahon of ESPN