Oftentimes the key for winning the NBA’s Most Improved Player of the Year award is an increase in playing time, a trade or an injury to the player ahead of them on the depth chart. Countless hours in the gym over the offseason is the one common necessity among winners. The short list for this season’s most improved candidates includes Anthony Davis, Jimmy Butler, Evan Fournier, Klay Thompson and Iman Shumpert to name a few, but one candidate that is beginning to cement his place in the discussion is Thompson’s teammate, Draymond Green.
The Warriors finished last season by going 51-31 and earning a first-round playoff matchup with the Clippers. The Warriors would go on to lose that series in seven games, signaling the end of the Mark Jackson era in Oakland. The Warriors wasted no time in firing Jackson, opting to let him go just days after the team was eliminated by the Clippers. Shortly after Jackson was let go, the Warriors brought in Steve Kerr to take over the team. The Warriors recognized that little change was needed and opted to keep much of the team’s core players as they brought in only Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa, Justin Holiday and Brandon Rush over the summer to fill out the roster.
Questions were raised prior to the season if Green would be able to elevate his game and become a significant contributor for the Warriors after the team elected to keep their core players. Taken as the fifth pick (35th overall) in the second round of the 2012 draft, Green struggled in his first season with the Warriors. He played just 13 minutes a game that season and scored less than three points on average while shooting 32 percent from the floor. Green showed gradual improvements across the board in his sophomore year, but has made drastic improvements this season, becoming a significant contributor for Kerr’s Warriors. Green has started in each of the Warriors’ first 26 games this season, filling in for the injured David Lee.
“David’s injury has meant that Draymond is playing probably twice as much as last year,” Kerr said. “My guess is that he averaged 15 minutes a game last year and he’s right around 30 [this season]. Natural evolution, progression of a player who has passion and a great work ethic. He worked on his shot all summer; that’s why he’s making threes. The guy is a winner and you give him an opportunity to play, he’s going to take advantage of it and that’s what he’s done.”
Green has improved upon his marks from last season by raising his points per game from 6.2 to 12.8, rebounds from five to 8.1 and assists from 1.9 to 3.3. His shooting percentages have jumped up to 45 percent from the floor and his percentage from three-point range is holding steady at about 34 percent, up from 20 percent during his rookie season. While his three-point shooting percentage hasn’t changed much, he is draining twice as many attempts as he did last season.
“Three-point shooting is something I’ve really worked at,” Green said to The Detroit News. “It brings another dimension to our team. You can’t just lock in on Steph or Klay, it makes another option. You can’t just sit in the paint. You have to come out and contest the shot, it opens the floor. I think I’ve improved but I can get a lot better at it.”
Despite the huge improvement, Green knows that this is just the beginning and that he still has a lot of work to put in if he wants to be considered a great player.
“I’m not surprised because I know the amount of work I put in each and every night to get better,” Green said. “People say he’s reached his ceiling. How can you tell someone they reached their ceiling if they constantly work? If you work, you got to get better at something. They’ve said it over and over again and they’ll continue to say it.
“Kevin Durant is great and LeBron James is great, and Steph Curry, who I believe is great, and [they] have stuff they can get better at, but they’re already great. So if they’re great, and I know I’m not, I know I’ve got some stuff to get better at.”
His improved season has even started to raise the question on whether the Warriors will be able to re-sign him. Given the numbers that he has put up this season, it’s expected that he’ll be in for a big pay raise when he becomes a restricted free agent this summer. The problem for the Warriors is that pay raise may come from a different team given their current financial standing. As their roster currently stands, the Warriors will have five players on the books next season that will be owed at least $11 million, including Lee, Thompson, Andrew Bogut, Andre Iguodala and Curry.
One NBA talent scout told Ric Bucher that Green is comparable to a player like Tayshaun Prince was for the Detroit Pistons and that he could command a salary of $8 million a year. It’s clear that the Warriors currently have Green at a bargain considering that he’s making just $915,243 this season so the team will really have to evaluate if they want to keep him at an increased price. Regardless of the outcome, the Warriors will continue to see success as long as Green is in the lineup and he just might earn the league’s Most Improved Player award in the process.
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