These Golden State Warriors were supposedly too small, too thin and too offensively focused after the signing of Kevin Durant to maintain their status as an elite defensive team.
Emphasis on supposedly.
Draymond Green, rather predictably, loved soaking up all that preseason naysaying.
"Obviously when you hear that noise, you want to shut it up No. 1," Green told me in our SportsCenter chat last week. "So coming into the season, what everyone’s saying -- 'They lost this guy, they lost that guy, their defense isn’t going to be good and that’s where their downfall is going to be' -- it motivates you. It motivated me to try to be the anchor of this defense."
Using all that preseason skepticism as fuel, Green made it his mission to fill the void in terms of vocal leadership created by Andrew Bogut's departure, hush the doubters who asserted that the Warriors would not be able to replace Bogut and Festus Ezeli inside and, of course, win his maiden Defensive Player of the Year award after consecutive second-place finishes to San Antonio Spurs stopper Kawhi Leonard.
Green has been so good on D -- and so versatile -- that it's hard to imagine Leonard, Utah's Rudy Gobert or anyone else you wish to nominate denying him the DPOY honors this time.
As dominant as Gobert has been on the interior in his own right, it's Green's turn.
Has to be.
Who else is capable of guarding all five positions as well as Green does?
Who is most responsible for helping the Warriors maintain their top-two status in the defensive efficiency standings and stick right with mighty San Antonio even after Kevin Durant was lost for nearly 20 games in the midst of Durant's best-ever season defensively?
Who but Green could rank as the only player on the league map to rack up 100-plus blocks and 100-plus steals for the second successive season while also placing in the top five -- just one spot behind Gobert -- in terms of opponents' field-goal percentage at the rim?
Entering the weekend, opposing players were shooting just 40 percent from the floor and turning the ball over in 14 percent of head-to-head confrontations with Green.
Leonard remains the superior perimeter defender, while Gobert undeniably ranks as the most intimidating rim deterrent in the modern game. My colleague Kevin Pelton has likewise complied his typically excellent annual list of all the other top defenders out there who don't get nearly the spotlight they deserve, but let's face it: No one in the conversation in these 3-pointer-crazed times can do as many different things well on the no-fun end as Green.
He switches on to speedy guards, bangs with bulkier bigs and joins Milwaukee's Giannis Antetokounmpo on the exceedingly short list of players to lead their respective teams in steals and blocked shots as well as rebounds and assists.
Only four players in league history, for the record, led their teams in those four categories for an entire season before Green and Antetokounmpo: Boston's Dave Cowens (1977-78), Chicago's Scottie Pippen (1994-95), Minnesota's Kevin Garnett (2002-03) and Cleveland's LeBron James (2008-09).
Gobert had a monster season himself, of course, in joining forces with Gordon Hayward to lead the Jazz to their first division title since 2007-08 despite their unyielding stream of injuries. He will win the league's shot-blocking title, as Mark Eaton so often did in the early days of the Stockton-to-Malone era, but he also is bringing underrated mobility to the position in pick-and-roll coverage to complement the significant improvements made by the Frenchman at the offensive end.
The momentum, though, has been building in Green's direction throughout a 14-game Golden State winning streak that has included Durant for just one game yet carried the Warriors away from Kawhi's Spurs to cement the league's best record for a third successive year.
"I’m confident in the year I had defensively," Green told me in our SportsCenter conversation. "I think I’ve gotten a lot better over the last couple years, and I think I’ve continued to get better each year and I think this has been my best year defensively. And I’m proud of it.
"But with the way the voting has gone the last two years, I can’t just say, 'Oh, I’m super confident, I know I’m getting it this time.' I don’t know. It’s out of my hands. I think I’ve done everything I possibly can to get the award, and obviously it’s something I want to do over the course of my career.
"Being a defensive-minded player, that is the ultimate. So definitely something I want to do, and I feel confident about what I’ve done on the floor, but I can’t just say: 'Oh. I’m getting it.' I can’t do that."
Tune in June 26 on TNT for the NBA's maiden year-end awards show to see if everyone doing it for Green these days is proved correct.
Stein's official ballot: 1. Green; 2. Gobert; 3. Leonard.
October prediction: Karl-Anthony Towns
Saad Yousuf of ESPN Radio in Dallas (103.3 FM) contributed to this report.