For much of the offseason, a singular play may have been etched into the minds of Golden State Warriors fans, players, and other members invested in the organization’s success. Last May, with the Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies tied late in the fourth quarter and a playoff berth on the line in the final Western Conference play-in game, Draymond Green caught the ball at the three-point line and had a runway to the rim for a go-ahead bucket or assist.
But then, the future Hall of Fame inductee hesitated. Xavier Tillman rotated over and the lane disappeared. Green timidly drove and lofted up an errant floater as the buzzer sounded.
The game went to overtime, where the Grizzlies emerged victorious and the Warriors watched the playoffs from home for the second straight year. This was despite an MVP-caliber campaign from Stephen Curry.
Contrast that play with one from this season, just five and a half months later. This time, the Warriors were the victors, routing the New Orleans Pelicans by 41. Again, Green catches the ball with a runway to the rim against a Southwest Division opponent. This time, there is no hesitancy. He sees the opening and powers home a jam.
Already, he’s notched 13 dunks in 2021-22, nearly half of his 27 from last season and on pace for the second-highest total of his career. Almost 13 percent of his baskets are dunks this year, the best rate in his decade-long NBA tenure.
That play and those numbers are emblematic of a retooled scoring approach for Green, a shift that’s helped the Warriors reassert themselves as title contenders and helped him return to his All-Star impact of yesteryear. He’s already a masterful facilitator and arguably the Defensive Player of the Year frontrunner. As has been the case whenever the team has been at its best, Green keeps Golden State humming on both ends. Now, his scoring pursuits are wiser and rosier.
Perhaps the easiest factor to discern in Green’s offensive decline since his career season in 2015-16 is the long ball. That year, he shot 38.8 percent beyond the arc and averaged 14 points on 58.7 percent true shooting. Forty-three percent of shots came from deep, a high-water mark for him.
During the ensuing four seasons, he continued to fire threes at a similar volume (.373 three-point rate), but devolved into an anemic shooter, hitting just 29.3 of his attempts. Among 147 players to log at least 900 long balls, his efficiency ranked 146th, only ahead of Giannis Antetokounmpo (28.9 percent). Teams routinely sagged way off of Green and while he was often able to parlay that space into passing windows, he couldn’t convert effectively on the times he did opt to shoot.
So, this year, Green has largely eschewed threes from his shot profile. Through 21 games, he’s taken just 19 of them. His .161 three-point is a career-low, a steep drop from the .375 number he amassed in his first nine years.
Instead, he’s attacking the basket with unforeseen vigor and success. His 55 percent rim frequency ties a career-high from his standout 2015-16 and sits notably above the 46, 32, and 41 percent clips he posted the prior three seasons, according to Cleaning The Glass.
When defenses sell out with a “nobody except Draymond” mindset, he’s seizing advantage of the one-on-one or one-on-none coverage extended his way. Per Synergy, he’s taking the ball to the basket on 28.2 percent of his spot-up reps (1.636 points per possession, 100th percentile) after doing so on just 15.5 percent (0.909 PPP, 27th percentile) of his possessions a season ago.
He’ll fake a dribble handoff and glide into an easy dunk. He’ll attack off the dribble if teams ignore him in hopes of producing a misfired triple or press up in anticipation of a connection with Curry. He’ll pressure the paint on inverted pick-and-rolls, thanks to Curry’s punishing screens. He’ll even create a little when deployed as a playmaking hub in the post.
Most importantly, a wide open hoop is seemingly no longer a prerequisite for him to shoot.
The result of his heightened scoring aggression is Green shooting 77 percent at the rim (89th percentile among big men, per Cleaning The Glass), which is nine points higher than his previous career-best. Many of his looks there are rather simple because of how opponents continue to direct attention toward guys like Curry, Jordan Poole, and Andrew Wiggins.
Unlike past seasons, though, Green is turning those opportunities into efficient possessions instead of futile three-point attempts. He’s shooting 75 percent on drives, which is first among 172 players with at least 50 drives this season, and is a marked upgrade from his 49.4 percent output between 2018-19 and 2020-21, per NBA.com.
A byproduct from his evaporated passivity is a restored free-throw rate of .381, a rate only bested by 2015-16’s .402 and a dramatic increase from the .271 figure the last five seasons yielded. He’s shooting a career-low 60 percent at the line this year, so that development hasn’t borne out the intended results yet, but a return near his 71.1 percent average would amplify the impact of his rim forays.
Driving is not Green’s lone means of generating greater rim pressure and avoiding offensive stagnation. He’s also cutting with increased frequency. Per Synergy, nearly 20 percent of his offense is composed of cuts this season, up from 11.9 percent, 7.3 percent and 14 percent in the three preceding seasons.
Although his 1.05 PPP on cuts places him in the 19th percentile, it’s still a worthwhile play for him and the Warriors, who manufacture 0.784 and 0.983 PPP in the halfcourt, respectively. There are fewer instances of him waiting for the ball to swing his way and more examples of a proactive player, aware of how to best benefit his team when he’s not commandeering the action.
His true shooting is above league average for just the third time in his 10-year career. At 59.1 percent, it’s four points higher than the NBA average, an occurrence only bested by, yep, you guessed it, 2015-16 (plus-4.6 percent).
All of these tweaks to Green’s inclinations are contributing to Golden State’s rise from the 20th-ranked offense last year to the second-ranked offense this season. An upgraded supporting cast, along with leaps from Poole and Wiggins, around Curry’s supernova talents help as well.
Yet in a loss to the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday, as Wiggins and Curry sputtered (shout out Mikal Bridges), Green reverted to old tendencies. He forced passes that weren’t there (five turnovers), didn’t find many chances like the ones highlighted above — Phoenix’s defense deserves much praise for this — and scored four of his eight points on putbacks.
A standard Curry outing, a healthy Wiggins, and Klay Thompson’s return will help alleviate many of the problems that coalesced into a paltry 99 offensive rating for Golden State. But Green’s evolution has also been pivotal and seems more controllable than injuries and missed shots, even if a stingier defense contained him well.
At some point, amid the Warriors’ chase of a fourth title in eight years, Green’s offense will drift into the spotlight again and they’ll need him to maintain these improvements. Another hope-and-a-prayer floater will not suffice. More than likely, given his 2021-22 track record, he’ll be ready, no longer settling, prepared to slice into the defense and create, illuminating how and why he deservedly reentered the All-Star conversation.