The Warriors Need 2016 Draymond Green
As the sun sets on the Golden State Warriors dynasty, the natural question to ask is what, if anything, the Warriors can do to return to the top. Without Andre Iguodala or Shaun Livingston coming off the bench, or Klay Thompson healthy to begin the season, the Warriors face an unfamiliar lack of depth. Their path forward begins and ends with one man.
A figure from the past.
A player more myth than reality.
2016 Draymond Green.
You think 2019 Kawhi was a good defender? In 2015-16, Draymond Green was terrific in isolation. He produced stops 26% more often than league average on 191 possessions, which was far and away the highest amount of isolation possessions faced in the league (the next highest was 143). He defended the screener on a pick-n-roll on 57 possessions, surpassing league average efficiency by 17.6%. Green was also impressive in defending spot-up jumpers, of which he was the primary defender on 314 (the sixth-highest total in the league).
Opponents recorded a 45.7% eFG% against Draymond. More importantly and impressively, Draymond only allowed opponents to score on 38.2% of the spot-up plays he defended. In 40 plays defending off-ball screens, Green was in the 98th percentile of the league. Per play, he was a staggering 256% as effective as league average against such plays.
In overall shot defense, Green was 14.4% above league average in forcing misses. He was well above league average from every distance, forcing 17.6% more misses than average from within 6 feet, 18.6% more misses from within 10 feet, 7.6% from more than 15 feet, and 21.9% more misses from three-point land.
In addition to his shot defending, the 2016 version of Draymond Green also compiled 232 “Other Stops”, a category which I use to group steals, blocks, charges taken, and loose ball recoveries. That mark was good for third in the league. I also credit him with 73.1 Opponent Uncategorized Turnovers (turnovers by the opposition which are not recorded on the individual level in the box score). Combined with his defensive rebounding prowess, Green was credited with 6.6 Defensive Wins for the 2015-16 season at a stellar 60% Defensive Efficiency. He was easily the best defender in the league by my evaluation, and the 2016-17 season was very similar, seeing Draymond in a dead heat with Rudy Gobert at the top of my defensive leaderboard.
In the past two seasons, however, Draymond has been less productive. The primary culprit was simple: Draymond’s workload decreased substantially. After facing 1,514 “Targets” in 2016 (my estimate for how many plays in which a player was the key defender), Green followed it up with 1,426 Targets in 2017. During the past two seasons, though, he has clocked in at 1,210 (2018) and 1,213 (last year) Targets. While his per-play effectiveness remained fairly stable, Green faced 200+ fewer plays than he had during his seasons as the best defender in the league.
What has been the difference? Mostly, teams have become far more adept at isolating Warriors other than Green when they attack. The Warriors continue to face far more isolation possessions than the league average, but Green was the primary defender on fewer and fewer of those plays. 2018 saw Green as the key defender on only 110 isolation plays, with the figure dropping further to 94 possessions last year. During those seasons, the Warriors defensive play-type distribution was as illustrated in the graphs below, starting with 2017-18:
In 2018-19, the profile was very similar. We see that Golden State was a good defensive team, performing at greater-than-league-average efficiency on nearly every type of possession. The most common tactic taken against the Warriors was the iso:
Opponents continued to run isolation actions against Golden State, but have been able to avoid Draymond Green much more easily in the past two seasons. As a result of this strategic shift, gaps have appeared in the Warriors defense that did not exist in prior seasons. Compare the Warriors’ performance from different areas of the floor in 2016-17, on the top, with their performance last season, on the bottom:
While the Warriors performance improved in some areas, they proved less and less able to defend attacks in the restricted area. Opponents have grown more effective at forcing the Warriors to switch slower defenders - such as Kevon Looney - onto their perimeter scorers, and at isolating Steph Curry on their lead scorer. The results have generally been shots for the opponents’ best shooters against defenders other than Draymond Green - a big win for Warriors’ opposition.
Though the presence of Andre Iguodala and Klay Thompson likely mitigated this effect to a degree, both will be missing from the Warriors’ lineup at this upcoming season. If Golden State has designs on returning to the Finals, they will need 2016 Draymond Green back. But more than that, Golden State will have to be able to counteract schemes designed to isolate their weaker defenders.
The Warriors’ goal for 2019-20 on the defensive end must be to weaponize and unleash 2016 Draymond. In order to reach that goal, everyone in the rotation will have to help, recover, and fight through screens well enough to force opponents into situations in which their primary scorer is on an island with Draymond Green as the shot clock winds down. If they can, the Warriors dynasty may have a little fight left in it after all.