DALLAS -- Stephen Curry is Golden State’s superstar, but a superstar stands apart. He might define a team to its fans, dictate its offensive style of play, but the rest of the roster can’t be similar to someone who’s sui generis. Draymond Green, on the other hand, best epitomizes what coach Steve Kerr’s Warriors have become. He is the most prominent Swiss army knife defender on a team full of them. He’s the most well-rounded of basketball’s Renaissance men, the team’s king of being all things.
His unusually diversified game was on display as the Warriors smothered the Mavericks on the road Saturday afternoon. Green had 20 points, 8 rebounds and some ubiquitous defense to halt a few Dallas runs in the second half.
“That’s why he’s the heartbeat,” Kerr said of Green after the 105-98 win over Dallas. “He got into our guys, too, during the timeout. He really lit into them. We’ve got to stand up to the challenge, I don’t know what else he was saying, but he’s our vocal leader.“
Even without Andrew Bogut, arguably its most important defensive player, Golden State squeezed the league’s top offense into 40 percent shooting. We’re 22 games into the season, and the Warriors have yet to see an opponent hit half their shots. This defense is better than “better than you think.” This defense is legitimately great.
How’d it get there? The watchword is “versatility.” You’re starting to hear that term a lot from Golden State’s players and coaches. Kerr used the V-word when explaining his team’s 15th straight victory: “Our versatility, defensively, our ability to switch blows up a lot of actions out there. We go small a lot, but we’re never truly small because we have a lot of 6-7, 6-8 guys. That’s really the key to our team.”
The Warriors switch a lot on defense, which can expose different teams to brutal mismatches. But since the Warriors boast so many long, savvy defenders, they can not only get away with switching, but also leverage it into a massive advantage. Teams don’t know when the switch is coming, and when it does, screens are evaded, and offensive sets die.
“We’re so versatile,” Green explains (there’s that word again). “We can switch a lot. We can switch a lot on pick-and-rolls. Guys can guard different positions, multiple positions, and that’s what’s made us really successful on the defensive end. It’s kind of a different look. Sometimes I’ll guard a guy as a big and play him as a big. Sometimes I’ll just switch them and play guys as a guard. We talk out there, yelling at each other what we’re doing and everyone’s on point.”
That versatility also allowed the Warriors to guard Dirk Nowitzki with what felt like half their roster. Nowitzki went against a point guard (Shaun Livingston), a shooting guard (Klay Thompson), a small forward (Harrison Barnes) and a power forward (Green). Guarding the German is a total team effort, but the roster’s interchangeability made that effort easier. Players flew at Dirk from all angles, denying Dallas the easy passing lanes that Nowitzki’s presence usually allows.
Green blocked Nowitzki’s shot twice on a fourth-quarter possession, a feat that’s theoretically impossible for far taller players. How’d he do it? “The first when he came off 2 feet he really just brought the ball right to me,” Green recalled.
The next block was more in line with the team’s construction and approach. “The second time without [Harrison Barnes’] resistance, I don’t get that block. HB gave great resistance, and I was able to time it up towards the end,” Green said.
Draymond stoned Dirk as his defender and as his help defender, all in the same possession. He also defended guards, wings and even Tyson Chandler for a stretch.
When asked after the game if he ever read his old NBA draft profiles, Green said he didn’t need to. “They said I fell in the draft because, ‘What position would I guard?’ I’ll never forget that.”
What position will Draymond Green guard? Damn near all of them. That’d make him unique if his teammates weren’t so similar.