The Warriors are doubling down on their original foundation. By agreeing to a four-year, $100 million extension with Draymond Green on Saturday, they now have their Big Three of Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, and Green under contract until 2022. The Splash Brothers’ historic shooting ability makes them good bets to play at a high level for a long time. Paying an undersized big man with a streaky jumper like Draymond through his 30s is a much bigger gamble. The hope is that Green’s basketball IQ will allow him to hold off the aging process and make everyone around him better even as he slows down.
Draymond will have more responsibility next season than ever before. The days of the Warriors being overwhelming title favorites are over. Kevin Durant, Andre Iguodala, and Shaun Livingston are gone, while Thompson will be out until at least the All-Star break with a torn ACL, an injury that usually takes 12 to 18 months to fully recover from. All that is left to start the 2019-20 season will be Steph, Draymond, and a bunch of younger players trying to resurrect their careers.
Green won’t be able to fade into the background like he did last season. He missed the All-Star Game for the first time in four seasons and made more headlines for feuding with Durant than for anything he did on the court. All the miles that he put on his body over the course of making four straight NBA Finals might have caught up with him. Draymond missed a month with a right toe sprain, struggled through a number of lingering injuries, and seemed to be on his own version of a load management program even when he was on the floor. As even he admitted, he didn’t come into the season in great shape.
But ramping up slowly clearly helped him the playoffs. Green had plenty of gas left in the tank when it mattered, raising his average in every major statistical category.
Draymond Green 2018-19 Stats
Few players can impact the game like a fully engaged version of Draymond. At 6-foot-7 and 230 pounds with a 7-foot-1 wingspan, he’s a former Defensive Player of the Year who can hold his own in the post against bigger players and switch screens and stay in front of smaller players on the perimeter. His defensive versatility is the key to Golden State’s ability to play small and run bigger teams off the floor. He is just as important to its offense, even with his poor outside shooting (28.5 percent from 3 on 2.5 attempts per game last season). Green can play as a point forward and find cutters all over the floor, which allows the Splash Brothers to threaten the defense while moving off the ball.
His on-court/off-court numbers from the playoffs show his value. The Warriors went from having the no. 1 offense in the postseason when Draymond was on the floor (116.2 in 850 minutes) to no. 12 without him (103.7 in 216 minutes). Their defensive rating dropped from no. 9 with him (109.6) to no. 13 without him (115.6). The difference between their net rating with Draymond and without him (plus-18.5) was greater than it was for Steph (plus-14.3), KD (plus-10.8), or Klay (minus-9.3).
The Warriors need that version of Green to show up in October. They are transitioning from one of the oldest and most experienced teams in the NBA to a full-fledged youth movement. Look at the ages of their healthy players on opening night:
PG: Steph Curry (31)
SG: D’Angelo Russell (23), Alec Burks (28), Jordan Poole (20)
SF: Alfonzo McKinnie (27), Glenn Robinson III (25), Jacob Evans (22), Damion Lee (27)
PF: Draymond Green (29), Eric Paschall (22), Omari Spellman (22), Alan Smailagic (19)
C: Willie Cauley-Stein (26), Kevon Looney (23)
The most important newcomer is Russell, whom Golden State signed to a four-year, $117 million contract in a double sign-and-trade with Brooklyn for Durant. Russell is coming off his first All-Star Game appearance, but he’s far from a finished product. He’s an inconsistent defender who settled for too many midrange jumpers last season, and he was terrible in the playoffs. Russell couldn’t do much against an elite 76ers defense in the Nets’ first-round loss: He was wildly inefficient (19.4 points per game on 35.9 percent shooting) and stopped making plays for others (3.6 assists on 2.8 turnovers).
The Warriors are also counting on Cauley-Stein, another lottery pick from the 2015 draft who has yet to live up to his potential. He’s an über-athletic 7-footer who can run and jump with any player in the league, but he struggled with consistency in four seasons with the Kings. Cauley-Stein doesn’t protect the rim well (career average of 0.8 blocks per game) for a player with his athletic gifts, and he spends too much time on offense trying to prove that he’s a unicorn instead of focusing on his strengths as a rim-runner.
Both Russell and Cauley-Stein at least have the draft pedigree to inspire optimism about how they will perform in the best situation of their young NBA careers. The bigger question for the Warriors is what will happen at small forward. McKinnie, who got his first consistent playing time last season, will likely get the first crack. At 6-foot-8 and 215 pounds, he’s the biggest of their wings, but he’s a limited offensive player whose confidence comes and goes. He will be pushed by Burks, a big-time scorer who fell out of favor in Utah and was traded twice last season, and Robinson, who is on his fifth team in six seasons despite having the tools to be a solid 3-and-D wing. Their two most recent first-round picks—Evans (no. 28 in 2018) and Poole (no. 28 in 2019)—will also be in the mix.
Golden State needs the two remaining pillars of its dynasty to carry the newcomers. Curry has to make them better on offense, and Draymond has to make them better on defense. Curry is a one-man offense; he can score from all over the floor and carry lineups without any scoring punch around him, while his shooting ability draws so much defensive attention that it creates openings for everyone else. Draymond’s impact isn’t as obvious, but it is just as important.
Everything starts with Green’s basketball IQ. He is one of the best help-side defenders in the NBA. He is usually in the right spot at the right time to make a play, and he directs traffic and makes sure one of his teammates can make the correct rotation when he can’t. It should be much easier for the young Warriors to play good defense when a five-time All-Defensive team selection like Draymond is cleaning up penetration and covering up for their mistakes.
But there are two concerns with leaning too heavily on Draymond. The biggest is injuries. Part of his success on defense comes from his willingness to play with reckless abandon and throw his body around. The Warriors don’t have the depth to survive without him if he misses much time, and they have to be worried that all of the nicks and bruises that he accumulates will sap his athleticism over the last few years of his extension. He’s a good but not great athlete. He doesn’t have much of a margin for error.
Nor has he always been the most stable presence off the court. With Iguodala and Livingston gone, Green is now one of the oldest players in Golden State. There will be times when he gets frustrated. He’s no longer playing with savvy veterans who can anticipate what the offense will do and play on a string without saying anything. He will have to control his temper when their younger players make mental mistakes. He can’t rack up technical fouls, and he has to walk a fine line in holding his new teammates to a high standard without hurting their confidence. For all their talent, there is a reason that Cauley-Stein is on his second team in the NBA and Russell is on his third. They could go in the tank if Draymond explodes at them.
Draymond is entering a new stage of his career. He can no longer be the young hothead with a chip on his shoulder. He is now an elder statesman. He has nothing more to accomplish individually—he would be a lock for the Hall of Fame if he retired tomorrow. The next step for him will be to use his experience to mentor the next generation of players.
Green and the Warriors have to rely on youth going forward. They won’t have any salary cap room with Curry, Green, Russell, and Thompson on max contracts, and they will have more competition for ring-chasing veterans now that both Los Angeles franchises are legitimate title contenders. Where they can separate themselves from their rivals is going back to their roots as a franchise that develops young talent.
It has been a long time since Golden State discovered its original Big Three in the draft. Kevon Looney, the no. 30 selection in 2015, is the only draft pick it has developed since it started winning NBA championships. One of the hardest parts about sustaining a dynasty is building for the future without sacrificing the present. The Warriors have to do both to stay on top of a Western Conference that is more competitive than ever. They can’t do it without Draymond. His rise from second-round pick to All-Star helped them get to the mountaintop. He needs to lead some young players on the same journey for the Warriors to stay there.