“We have two of the top-10 players in the league … Draymond Green is the second one. He’s the most underrated player in the NBA, period. There are very few players I think anyone in our organization would trade for him. He’s just a remarkable player,” Jerry West said on KNBR.
“If he’s not a top-10 player in this league, I don’t know who is.”
I listened to this interview whenever it was first played over the air — sometime a few days ago — and I didn’t give it a second thought. Of course Green is a top-10 player. He’s clearly the second-best player on the most dominant team we’ve seen in almost 20 years.
West’s quote started making the rounds today, and not everyone agrees with West. No surprise there — The Logo is an employee of the Warriors, and Green isn’t the kind of high-flying/scoring NBA superstar we’re used to celebrating.
Take away the fact that West is one of the best talent evaluators in the history of the sport and someone who’s generally been more critical of his own teams than rival fans throughout his career as an executive. The case for Green is extremely strong, and if we’re serious about what means the most in the NBA and sports in general, Green’s status as a top-10 player shouldn’t sound strange at all.
Statistics don’t lie
Green only averages 12.7 ppg, and many believe being a top-10 player means one would be either the No. 1 or 2 scoring option. But Green’s numbers are unique in the NBA, and they’re top-10 numbers.
Don’t believe me? You must not play fantasy basketball, which doesn’t give a lick about stuff like “intangibles” and “leadership,” yet Green is the No. 9 player overall on Yahoo and the No. 8 player on ESPN’s Player Rater.
For the advanced stats crowd, Green is currently fifth in the league in Real Plus-Minus and fourth in WAR after finishing eighth and sixth last season in those categories, respectively.
Green made the NBA All-Defensive First Team last year and finished as the runner-up to Kawhi Leonard in the Defensive Player of the Year voting, even though Green played 15 more games than Leonard and beat him out in Defensive Win Shares and Defensive Box Plus-Minus. Leonard lead the league in defensive rating at 96, while Green finished close behind at 97.
Green leads the Warriors in assists, which is one of the reasons why Stephen Curry can play off the ball so often this year and score well over 30 points per game. Green can also switch and defend anyone from point guards to centers, and his ability to play the 5 allows the Warriors’ so-called “Death Lineup” to thrive when they go small to close out games.
Is this an open-and-shut case? Absolutely not, and playing with Curry both helps and hurts Green in this situation. Which, let’s remember, is a totally made-up discussion that’s completely subjective and doesn’t even provide players with a trophy for making the list, let alone a ring. Green already owns one of those, and by the looks of things there’s a decent chance he’ll end up with another in June.
But just for fun, here’s my list of the top 10 players right now. Here’s how I make this list: pretend everyone is making the same salary, or contracts simply don’t exist. Which players would I, as a pretend GM, want on my team first if I wanted to win a title this season?
First, a couple explanations. Durability matters a lot, at least to me. If a player can only be counted on to play 65 games per season, he’s dropping at least a few spots. This is also about current production (rather than “ceiling”), and personality matters. If you need the right teammates and the perfect coach to let your game flourish, you get passed on this pretend list by players who make their teammates better.
- Stephen Curry
- LeBron James
- Russell Westbrook
- Kevin Durant (if we know his health problems are behind him, swap him with Westbrook)
- Anthony Davis
- James Harden (sinking like a stone, however)
- Blake Griffin
- Chris Paul
- Draymond Green
- Kawhi Leonard
Kings fans will scream all day about DeMarcus Cousins, and not just because Kings fans hate the Warriors as much as A’s fans detest the Giants. Cousins isn’t a bad guy, but he sure finds himself in the middle of a lot of dramatic locker room situations in Sacramento, and he’s not exactly the most durable. One could also make a decent case for Paul George (who’d probably make my list if he plays the entire regular season the way he’s started this one) or Jimmy Butler, too.
And truth be told, this list is probably a little too rational … I’d probably would move Green up four spots if someone actually provided me with pretend keys to the car and I had the fifth overall pick in a pretend draft. That’s because, like West, I’ve watched a lot more of Green than most NBA observers. And as anyone who follows the Warriors closely can tell you, Green makes subtle plays that change the course of possessions several times per quarter. He tips rebounds to teammates. His screens have to be the best of any player we’d ever give top-10 consideration. Only Griffin rivals Green as a power forward who can grab a rebound and lead a fast break … but Green consistently outplays Griffin in the fourth quarter when they go against each other.
Green is both clever and ferocious. His steals always seem to come at key times. He’s made himself — against all odds, it once appeared — into a good three-point shooter and elite lob-thrower. He gets enraged with officials, but never to the point where he costs his team points at the worst possible times. That sounds meaningless, but no one else on the team really works the refs, especially with Steve Kerr absent. His swagger provides a lifeblood of sorts for Curry (and that goes both ways, as Green now lives to provide Curry the ball in the right spots).
One can argue with West on this, and by extension me. And I’m sure they will (probably in the comments section underneath this post, as a matter of fact). But the numbers, uniqueness and win-laden eye test tell me all I need to know. The Warriors are so much better than everyone else, and they weren’t this dominant before David Lee got hurt and Kerr found out that Green + minutes = victories by the truckload. Green is clearly the team’s second-best player, and it’s not close. Green is a top-10 player. If he isn’t, I don’t know who is either.