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It’s aggravating we have to keep doing this with Draymond Green, but here we are.
Having to halt the attempts to rewrite a man’s career and explain why a three-time NBA champion, three-time All-Star, two-time All-NBA selection, five-time All-Defensive team selection and former Defensive Player of the Year is actually good.
Aside from Michael Jordan in The Last Dance, only the loudest, most controversial NBA players (or the ones winning 2K and H-O-R-S-E competitions) have found their way back to the spotlight during this time of quarantine. So of course Green’s name has been in the headlines over the last week or so, for multiple reasons.
On Tuesday, Bleacher Report’s Ric Bucher wrote about how the Golden State Warriors could manage their assets to reignite the dynasty. One such avenue would be trading Draymond Green, who just turned 30 in March. Bucher quoted one Eastern Conference executive as saying, “The Draymond Green trick is over.”
And while Green’s ongoing feud with Charles Barkley is nothing new, the former Phoenix Suns MVP breathed new life into it when he said on “Coffee with Cal” that Draymond was like “the worst member of the boy band who doesn’t realize he’s standing next to Justin Timberlake. When the girls are throwing panties at his head, he’s going to get hit by some drive-by panties, but they’re throwing panties at Justin Timberlake.”
Is the soundbite pure gold? Obviously.
But it’s still an odd way to describe the defensive linchpin of a Warriors dynasty that went to five straight NBA Finals, a guy who probably should have at least one more DPOY award to his name and a versatile two-way weapon who averaged 11.2 points, 8.3 rebounds, 6.5 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocks per game over that five-year span.
Excluding blocks, those numbers have only been matched by Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Grant Hill, Russell Westbrook and Fat Lever in a single season. Including blocks, no one in NBA history has ever matched those numbers, and that’s what Green averaged over the course of five years. Even if you just take his best season (2015-16), the 14.0 points, 9.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.4 blocks per game he put up stand alone as the pinnacle of rebounding, playmaking and defensive impact all rolled into one.
“Draymond’s a good little player,” Barkley continued. “But without Kevin Durant, Klay and Steph, he’s just a good little player.”
And therein lies the difficulty of finding nuance in a hot-take culture that deals only in black and white.
The notions that Draymond Green is exceptional and that he greatly benefitted from playing with KD, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry do not have to be mutually exclusive. He’s not the 20 points per game scorer most max-contract players are, but his value extends far beyond the confines of such a traditional, narrow-minded construct.
Just as Green’s scoring benefitted from the lanes opened up by the Splash Brothers, just as his facilitation was improved by having talented scorers to feed the rock to, and just as his legacy has been enhanced by playing alongside 2-3 of the game’s all-time greatest scorers in any given season during the Warriors’ reign, so too were the Dubs’ strengths been amplified by Green’s rebounding, incredible defensive versatility and primary and secondary playmaking.
And of course, that says nothing of his relentless, never-back-down mentality or his brash, cocky demeanor. Curry’s triples and Klay’s heat checks sting, but Draymond’s leadership gave the Warriors real bite.
“He’s a good role player, and I like him too, but it annoys me when these guys start talking about how they won something,” Barkley said. “There’s some guys who won something playing with Magic and Bird, but they don’t go around talking about how great a player they are. They’re just like, ‘Man, I’m lucky to play with Bird and Magic and those guys.'”
Really, Chuck? So guys like M.L. Carr and Danny Ainge never talked trash on the sidelines for the Celtics? James Worthy only hailed Magic and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar without ever praising himself and what he brought to the table for the Lake Show? Dennis Rodman and Mark Aguirre were perfect, silent pillars of humility because they played with Isiah Thomas?
That’s never been how championship teams work in this league, and much like artists, NBA trash-talkers who back it up are rarely appreciated in their own time.
“Too little, too little, too little,” the 6-foot-6 Barkley said of a potential matchup with the equally 6-foot-6 Green.
It’s funny how easily the facts can get distorted when a talking head’s money quote is posted on a Twitter graphic.
You’d have thought we had dealt with this when Green being inserted into the starting lineup over David Lee kicked off the Warriors’ five-year reign; when his switch to starting center in the 2015 NBA Finals confounded the Cleveland Cavaliers and fueled the Dubs’ first title in 40 years; when his Game 5 suspension opened the floodgates to that 3-1 Finals collapse in 2016; or when a shorthanded Warriors squad playing without Durant rediscovered his value as recently as last May, in a series against the Portland Trail Blazers he helped make so surprisingly lopsided.
It’s ironic we’re having this conversation now, when The Last Dance is dominating the sports news cycle, because the public is currently fawning over Dennis Rodman and the Bad Boys Detroit Pistons — unapologetic, physically punishing players who won titles despite being called dirty, overrated and poor sports. They were NBA villains who took cheap shots, rubbed people the wrong way and tuned out all the background noise while they took care of business.
Draymond Green wasn’t the first person whose infamy grew after kicking someone in the nuts, and he won’t be the last. That isn’t to defend that kind of action, but it bears repeating: As the nation falls in love with ’90s Rodman, a two-time All-Star and two-time All-NBA selection who averaged a mere 5.2 points and 2.8 assists a night over his three title runs with the Chicago Bulls, it’s worth remembering how much stifling defense, rebounding and gritty hustle plays can impact winning basketball.
Green is nowhere near the rebounder Rodman was (as Bleacher Report apparently forgot with a graphic that included Green and his career 6.9 boards per game but somehow left out Andre Drummond and Moses Malone), and the Worm was probably a superior positional defender too. But Green is a far more advanced playmaker, steal swiper and rim protector than Rodman ever was.
Does anyone dispute Rodman’s place in the Hall of Fame or begrudge him his success because he played with Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen when he won his titles? Doesn’t it feel more natural to praise the holes he filled — and filled exceptionally well — for some of the NBA’s greatest title teams and exalt how they wouldn’t have been the same without him instead?
If you’re finding it hard to do the same with Draymond Green, it might be time to ask yourself why exactly that is.
In case you wanted to hear a great interview like Charles Barkley talk about other stuff — like his Finals run with the 1992-93 Phoenix Suns, The Last Dance and his memories of the Bad Boys Pistons, we’ve got you covered.
Mark Carman’s Da Windy City podcast with Yahoo! Sports‘ Vince Goodwill, which gets the Detroit perspective on what we’ve seen in The Last Dance, is definitely worth a listen, as is Michael Wilbon recounting his reaction to when MJ did “The Move” in the 1991 NBA Finals.