SAN FRANCISCO -- Draymond Green’s much-relished opportunity to take Karl-Anthony Towns to NBA postseason school died an unsurprising death Friday night. Instead, the Warriors’ professor gets a much tougher task.
He has to tangle with a trio of frisky young Memphis Grizzlies.
After five games with the gargantuan job of being the primary defender against Nuggets center Nikola Jokić, the reigning NBA MVP, Draymond now returns to the role he enjoys most: Defending his assignment while also being a factor all over the court.
Call it freelancing. Call it free safety. Call it center field, as coach Steve Kerr did on Friday.
“That’s what Draymond does,” Kerr said. “He’s maybe the best rogue defender I’ve ever seen.”
That’s quite the mouthful insofar as Kerr played with Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Dennis Rodman and Tim Duncan -- and against Gary “The Glove” Payton, Jason Kidd, Joe Dumars and Mookie Blaylock.
What sets Draymond apart from most defenders is his comprehensive defensive arsenal. He’s excellent on the ball or in space, excellent against smaller players and larger players, excellent at being able to cover several opponents on a single possession. Jokić is the offensive counterpoint, which demanded Draymond’s full attention.
Golden State Warriors
The same can’t be said of the Memphis big men: 6-foot-11 Jaren Jackson Jr., 6-foot-8 Brandon Clarke and 6-foot-8 Xavier Tillman. They all pose a different challenge, but their offensive abilities barely register when compared to Joker.
This grants Draymond the latitude to do what he does best.
“He has the freedom and the credibility to ... even though we come in with a certain game plan, he can kind of change that game plan whenever he wants ...,” Kevon Looney said. “He sees a lot of different things on the court that a lot of people don’t see. You just have to always be ready, be on your toes, because he usually makes an incredible play when he does that freelancing.”
That means Draymond keeping one eye on the passing lanes, one eye on the baseline, one eye on the strong-side corner and one eye on Jackson or Clarke or Tillman. That’s four eyes, of course, but it’s probably the best way to describe Draymond’s approach to defense in the postseason.
“A completely different Draymond,” was Jordan Poole’s assessment of Green in the first round vs. the regular season. “The energy he brought, how locked in he was, how focused he was. He’s already a vocal person, but the things he would talk about, how detail-oriented he was. His leadership. The way he would move people around, get us into positions. He was just engaged, all 48, every single game.”
Put another way, Green is a player-coach in real time.
Kerr delegates the majority the defensive coaching to assistant Mike Brown. Brown often will solicit Draymond’s opinion during practices, video study and even during the game.
“Sometimes it’s schemes, sometimes it’s not,” Kerr said. “But he has incredible instincts and feel. Draymond has the green light to do basically do what he wants out there. That’s a powerful tool for us to have because as he sees things and he disrupts offensive actions. And then he’s talking to the other guys on our team and he’s getting them going.
“He’s just an incredible center fielder. It’s fun when he’s able to play that role and disrupt things.”
Jokić's elite scoring ability, along with his preposterous passing skill, doesn’t allow for much center fielding. He got his scoring numbers, averaging 31.0 points per game, but had nearly as many turnovers (24) as assists (29). The Warriors won the series.
Would Draymond have preferred to make life miserable for Towns? Maybe. Wrecking KAT would have gotten widespread notice.
Blowing up an entire offense, by contrast, tends to result in spreading the praise.
Look for Draymond the freelancer/free safety/center fielder to be much more visible against the Grizzlies, a team about to discover a higher level of the perils and hazards that make the playoffs such a different game.