A sudden Draymond Green decline could change course of Warriors' dynasty

Written By Joe Morgan
(Getty Images)

The ferocity. The intensity. The trash-talking. It's all helped mold Draymond Green into the emotional leader of the Warriors' dynasty.

But none of that can silence the questions around Green this season. As the Warriors have sluggishly played their way through nearly 40 games — a less engaged Golden State team still holds the second-best record in the West — the criticism of Green has gone past his fiery personality to his on-court performance.

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Green has always been the team's defensive leader, and that hasn't changed much in 2018-19. The Warriors allow 101.4 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor (an elite rating), but that number nosedives to 110.3 with Green on the bench (a bottom-10 defense), per NBA.com stats. He's fourth in the league in Real Defensive Plus-Minus, which measures a player's impact on team defensive performance.

However, it’s his offense that has raised a few eyebrows in the Bay Area.

When Golden State won a record 73 games in 2015-16, Green shot a career-best 38.8 percent from 3-point range. His ability to knock down open shots made the Warriors' offense nearly unstoppable. He also averaged a career-high 7.4 assists per game, regularly driving and kicking to open shooters or dropping off bounce passes to flashing cutters.

This season has been different. There's no other way to say it — Green’s shooting has been atrocious. He is down to 40.6 percent from the field and a putrid 24.6 percent from beyond the arc.

Defenses are completely ignoring him around the perimeter. Take this possession from the Warriors' Christmas Day blowout loss to the Lakers.

Green is left all alone for a wide-open shot at the top of the arc, but he’s unwilling to take it. Not a single Lakers defender has any thought of running him off the 3-point line. This leaves the Warriors with a clogged lane and a 4-on-5 situation. Green winds up with an awkward floater, which is a bad shot considering his lack of success in that area.

The strategy only became more obvious in a home-and-home set against the Trail Blazers.

Letting Green beat you as a scorer has always been the best option for opposing coaches, but Green never quite received this level of Ben Simmons treatment. Even his teammates have noticed the difference.

"We want Draymond to be aggressive — I hate when he hesitates," Kevin Durant recently told reporters (via NBC Sports Bay Area). "I hate when he’s looking to pass when he should shoot. I tell him that all the time. That’s hard to figure that out as a player — especially when your game is facilitating and getting everybody involved, when to turn that on and think about yourself.

"It's not selfishness — it's just that we need that in order for us to be good. It's really unselfishness when you go out there and be the best player that you can be scoring the basketball sometimes."

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This shouldn't change any time soon. Defenses will give Durant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson tremendous respect. A cold spell from Thompson won't suddenly stop defenders from chasing him around screens. Green hasn't earned that respect, as his career year now looks like an anomaly on his stats page.

How much of an issue could Green’s willingness to take (and ability to make) these open looks become for Golden State? It probably won't matter when it comes to the regular season. The Warriors are second in the NBA in terms of offensive rating behind the Bucks, and their mark is basically the same with Green on or off the floor (111.9 on vs. 111.1 off).

But if Green’s struggles spill over into postseason play, it could become a major problem. Coaches are prepared to hammer the same matchups and advantages every possession if necessary.

There are ways to work around Green's shooting. He could focus on screening and cutting to open areas when the defense forgets about him, similar to what Thunder forward Andre Roberson has done in the past playoff series.

Regardless of what coach Steve Kerr draws up, it's on Green to be more decisive and aggressive on offense. His playoff performance will be key if the Warriors hope to three-peat.

The concern over Green’s decline goes beyond this season, though. The Warriors' front office has some difficult decisions to make in the very near future. Re-signing Durant is No. 1 on the list this offseason. Thompson is in a contract year and will warrant the max (or at least something close to it). There is only so much money to go around.

Green took a pay cut on his last contract, but don’t expect him to do the Warriors any favors this time around. Green could be eligible for the supermax in the summer of 2020, but that seems unlikely considering he needs to earn another All-NBA honor or win the Defensive Player of the Year award. Still, he won't come cheap.

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With how Green has looked so far, Golden State can't shell out the kind of money that he wants. There is also something to be said about the wear and tear that a player of Green’s stature has to endure. He will turn 29 this season, so the Warriors would be paying top dollar for Green as he leaves his prime.

Green’s passionate nature is a paradox, often lauded as the reason for his team's success and declared an unpredictable threat to destroy a dynasty. But if it comes down to keeping Durant on the team and in a positive place after the infamous verbal altercation back in November, Golden State has a simple choice.

There’s no reason for Warriors fans to panic about Green right now. But if his play continues to deteriorate, it could cost the Warriors later — and ultimately send Green down a path away from Golden State.

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