Anyone else getting MVP fatigue? With the amount of NBA-centric podcasts I listen to, plus a very vocal Twitter contingent I follow that never seems to tire of discussing NBA-related topics, I’ve given the award too much thought simply due to hearing about it every day.
Russell Westbrook has the momentum, as James Harden is fading a bit and Westbrook will end the season averaging a triple-double and owning the record for trip-dubs in a season. Warriors fans and those who cover the team have a different outlook on Westbrook than just about everyone else, because the Warriors have completely owned Westbrook in most of the games Golden State has played against Oklahoma City. Westbrook is the least subtle player since Kobe Bryant’s peak ended. His mission: “Now I do what I want.”
The Warriors — quite gleefully — take advantage of his mindset.
The NBA crowns a champion every season, and that’s the ultimate goal for organizations, coaches and (most) players, but during ultra-long regular seasons the media and fans prioritize entertainment above all else. And Westbrook will probably win the ultimate individual award in a few weeks because he owns the best narrative (this league’s MVP is often utilized by the media to tell the story of a particular season), with Kevin Durant departing and the team not sinking into the lottery. No one can match the visuals he creates, either. Everything about Westbrook draws eyeballs, from his clothes to his stats to the way he plays. Westbrook runs, jumps, sneers, and dominates everything in his world.
Westbrook’s world is completely different from Draymond Green’s. Westbrook took it upon himself (for valid reasons, mind you) to be the Thunder’s everything on the offensive end after Durant departed. Greene thrived in the face of completely different challenges from the ones Westbrook has faced.
- Could he keep the officials at bay? Despite an inauspicious start with that weird technical foul against the Spurs in the regular season opener, he has done that.
- Wouldn’t the Warriors’ defense would suffer after they replaced Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli with Zaza Pachulia and David West? Their defensive rating actually improved from fifth last year to flip-flopping between first and second this season.
- How would Green deal with his new role, seeing as his usage rate would surely decrease this year after increasing every year of his career? His offensive numbers are down pretty much across the board, but his defense has never been better.
In short, he’s produced in every way the Warriors have needed him to produce. You could say the same for Westbrook and Harden with their teams, but this idea that great offense can always beat great defense in the NBA has created a perspective that defensive guys are just sort of nice to have around, but offensive guys make the league and its teams go.
This isn’t a post where I’m going to go into full-torch take mode and shout DRAYMOND GREEN IS THE TRUE MVP from my roof (no one in my neighborhood would probably hear me or care, anyway). But he’s just as unique as this year’s MVP favorites, and that uniqueness makes him seem like his team’s most irreplaceable player at times.
When are the Warriors truly great? When they play great defense.
Who’s their best defensive player? Green.
How was the NBA Finals won in 2016? LeBron James and Kyrie Irving did amazing things, but the Warriors would have repeated had (1) Green not been suspended and (2) Golden State not been stymied by Cleveland’s defense over the last four-plus minutes.
A few facts about Green
- Green is in his fifth NBA season.
- The Warriors had a five-year playoff drought and missed the playoffs in 17 of 18 years before drafting Green. They are headed to the postseason for the fifth straight year.
- The Warriors are 206-41 when Green starts (a 68-win pace over an 82-game season). This includes an 8-5 record in 13 starts over his first two seasons.
- Two players have averaged 6 assists, 7 rebounds, 2 steals and 1 block per game over the course of a season: Scottie Pippen in 1990-91 and Green this season.
- We know Green is one of the league’s best clutch defenders just from watching him rip the ball away from opponents at the closing stages of so many games, but here are Green’s per-game averages in three playoff Game 7s: 22.3 ppg, 10.3 rpg, 5.3 apg, 1.7 spg, 1.2 bpg, 59.5% FG, 11-for-21 on 3-pointers (57.1%)
None of this stuff happens in a vacuum. Stephen Curry (another team-first player who has became undervalued this season after some early season “struggles,” in part due to just about everyone being entranced by Westbrook and Harden) shook off his ankle problems AND Klay Thompson blossomed at the same time Green joined the team. The Warriors turning into a potential dynasty isn’t the work of one person (sorry, Mr. Lacob). But there’s too much here from Green’s Warriors tenure to say it’s a coincidence that the franchise turned the corner at the very moment Green walked into the building, and became elite once he replaced David Lee as the team’s starting power forward.
He’ll never be the league’s MVP, and it wouldn’t be all that surprising to see the NBA’s most versatile and prescient defender finish second in the DPOY voting once again. But even with all of Curry’s great qualities, without Green there to enhance his game (and vice versa), the Warriors wouldn’t be where they’ve been over the last three seasons. And if you take the old argument of “put X player on Y team and see how they’d do,” Green’s defense, game IQ, passion and willingness to fill in every blank possible would make any team better. Yes, even though his triple-doubles usually come with fewer than 20 points attached.