My reporting on the Golden State Warriors goes back more than six years — to an era when the team was practically begging writers to cover them. In the spring of 2011, I wrote a long piece for Wired on how their new ownership group (led by former Silicon Valley venture capitalist Joe Lacob) was embracing science and emerging technology to try and pull the team from its historic, years-long funk.
Obviously, it’s worked out pretty well.
After covering the team up close for the past few years, I decided to write a book on them. (It just published a couple of weeks ago. You’d probably like it!) As I was going back to report on the earlier years of how this juggernaut came about, I was struck time and again by questions revolving around talent vs. development and how exactly you “luck” into drafting a superstar.
That’s why I’m so fond of this excerpted section on Draymond Green. Picked at No. 35 in the 2012 NBA Draft, Green was the subject of myriad legitimate questions concerning his ability to adapt to the pro game. But as this passage details, Green showed flashes early on that he was destined for greater things, especially on one night during his rookie season when he went head-to-head with none other than LeBron James …
The Warriors flew through the preseason, winning six of eight matchups, and it looked as if Kerr’s offense predicated on ball movement and predictive motion would be a smash hit. Curry and Thompson were getting open looks as never before, Barnes was facilitating from the small forward position, and even Lee and Bogut, as the two bigs up front, were rebounding and passing with aplomb. They were scoring more than 110 a game, six points higher than last season’s average. Of course, preseason statistics are almost useless, since every team is tweaking rotations and playing time irrespective of in-game situations, but more scoring (so long as it’s not compromising your defense) is always preferable to less. And with just a few days before the opener—on the road against Vivek Ranadivé’s Sacramento Kings—Golden State looked a juggernaut waiting to take the league by storm.
Then David Lee came down with a strained hamstring, similar to the one that had kept him sidelined toward the end of the previous season. Once it became clear he wouldn’t be ready for opening night, Kerr called on Draymond Green to start in his place at power forward.
When considering franchise-altering decisions that seemed inconsequential at the time, you’d be hard-pressed to propose anything that beats the Green-for-Lee switcheroo. Green had been, to that point, little more than an emotional role player who could play lockdown defense at times, show off some long-distance range, and pass like a point guard. Coming out of Michigan State, he was the ultimate “tweener,” bigger than your typical shooting guard yet undersized as compared to the league’s premier small and power forwards. In sports, just as in any major field of business, executives say they value versatility but will not hesitate to label you if that’s more convenient. It’s risk aversion put into action, as evinced by Green’s mere 18 starts (playoffs included) in two full seasons of play.