Draymond knows what makes former Warrior GP2 irreplaceable


SAN FRANCISCO -- Draymond Green's love for Gary Payton II runs deep. He pushed for Payton to receive a second 10-day contract with the Warriors at the end of the 2020-21 NBA season, was all in on him getting the Warriors' final roster spot ahead of last season and was part of a long list of people within the franchise who wanted Payton back in the offseason following Golden State's latest championship. 

When Payton returned to Chase Center on Dec. 30 to receive his ring ahead of the Warriors' win over the Portland Trail Blazers, Green had the honor of giving it to his former teammate at center court with Dub Nation on its feet. 

"I love you brother, y'all show young champ some love," Green said at the end of his pregame speech after handing him his new hardware. 

But Payton was draped in a Jordan Jimenez hoodie and a San Francisco Giants hat, not a Blazers jersey. He still was recovering from offseason abdominal surgery and was yet to make his debut with his new team, one he signed a three-year contract worth over $26 million with, a number the Warriors wouldn't match. 

That time has passed now. Payton has played 14 games with Portland, and Wednesday will mark a first for him. 

This time, his outfit won't resemble the Bay Area at all. Payton will be wearing a headband, along with a sweatband on his right wrist. He'll also be in a Blazers No. 00 jersey, a sight that won't sit well with Green and the rest of the Warriors. 

"I mean, I'm not really looking forward to playing against him," Green said to NBC Sports Bay Area following the Warriors' blowout win against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night at Chase Center. "I know what he's capable of on the floor and the things that he brings to the team, so I can't quite say I'm looking forward to it.

"But any time you get to see your brothers around this league, it's always an honor. It's a privilege for any of us to be in this league, so any time you get a chance to meet up and break bread or compete against each other, that's always an honor and you can't ever take that for granted." 

There's no doubt Draymond misses Payton on the court. The Warriors had the best defense in basketball a season ago with GP2 being an anchor to that unit and a nightmare for the opposition. With him gone, Golden State's defense has been below average at best this season. 

It's what Payton brought to the locker room, the sidelines and on the outside that Green misses to this day. The two spent two years together as teammates, and wish the tenure could have been longer. His spirit is what Draymond first mentioned. "Just him!" he said as he gathered his thoughts. Payton's humor didn't go unrecognized by Green, either. 

Though he snarls and scratches his head after a poster dunk, it was hard to see Payton without a smile in a Warriors jersey. 

That same smile is sure to show up when he goes against his old team, and even Green will give it right back. 

"You ultimately miss that more than you do on the basketball court," Green said. "Basketball court, you got talent. You come in, you do what you got to do. But it's the times off the court that you ultimately end up missing.” 

What Payton does bring to the court is irreplaceable. Really, it can’t be cloned. Not by one player, or by a collection of them. The Warriors would know. 

Donte DiVincenzo has been asked to fill Payton’s role to a degree. They’re different players, though. The Warriors are beyond happy with their DiVincenzo signing. He just doesn’t seamlessly fit into Payton’s old shoes. 

Nobody does. 

Jonathan Kuminga is turning into a dangerous on-ball defender like Payton. The 6-foot-8 forward also can be used like him offensively, slashing to the basket. There’s still a difference. At 20 years old, he doesn’t know the nuances like Payton does through experience and trying to perfect an incredibly unique skill set. 

Moses Moody was expected to be a bit of a Payton replacement after earning his minutes last season in the Western Conference finals when Payton was injured and out. Not everything goes to plan. Moody has received 13 DNPs (Did Not Play) this season and has seen his spot in the rotation dwindle to nothing at times.

RELATED: Warriors still miss GP2 after discovering his true NBA value

Payton defends like a big man and plays the dunker role at 6-foot-2. His ball pressure seers into one’s soul and he has a knack for steals. Especially for a guard, his knowledge of positioning is unique and unlocks the versatility of a defense. Don’t even try to judge him off the box score. 

Through 14 games this season, Payton is averaging 3.7 points, 2.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists and 1.1 steals per game. None of those numbers are eye-popping. He set career highs last season with the Warriors in points per game (7.1), rebounds per game (3.5) and steals per game (1.4). The Warriors don’t win the title without those numbers. 

He also had a 129 offensive rating and 103 defensive rating for the champion Warriors. 

“GP’s a lot like me in his undersized-ness, if you will, if that’s a word, is his weapon,” Green explained. “Because they don’t realize how long he is. You can affect shots, you can get steals that your opponent may think, ‘Oh, that’s open,’ but then an arm goes up, an arm goes out. Those are things that you can’t teach. 

“He just has a knack for the ball, that’s why he comes up with offensive rebounds and steals. He just has a knack for the ball. Me and Loon used to call him a small five.”

His game can be indescribable. His story is about passion, work, opportunity and perseverance -- all traits Green can relate to. The one word that best describes Gary Payton II came to him in a hurry. 

“Champion!” Draymond said with the fulfillment of a proud older brother, two nights before their battle.

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