The Warriors' most irreplaceable player is really struggling on the offensive end right now. Can they still close things out if he's not at his best?
Ken Blaze - USA TODAY Sports
Overshadowed by a pair of anticlimactic blowouts and a cinematic Game 3 that fell in his team's favor, Draymond Green has quietly played some very bad basketball in the NBA Finals. In contrast to last year, his presence on the court for Game 5 could wind up swinging the series.
The spark and soul for one of the most dominant groups in history, Green's offensive woes in the past four games have eclipsed his defensive intensity; the Golden State Warriors may need him humming at both ends if they want to dethrone the defending champs and win their second title in three years.
No matter what happens in the rest of this series, Green's on-court legacy will be that of an active volcano who drowned the "tweener" label in lava. From the ashes rose a new way to value versatility in a frontcourt player. He is flawed but irreplaceable, and the Warriors would not be the Warriors without him.
Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, and now Kevin Durant all have skill-sets that incentivize small ball, but those lineups are not as unanswerable without Green's rare ability to protect the paint, rebound, switch onto point guards and wings, push the ball in transition, make brilliant passes, and knock down open threes.
That said, he's shooting 35.6 percent from the floor and is 5-for-20 beyond the arc in the Finals—Green sunk 47.2 percent of his playoff threes heading into the fourth round. Golden State is nearly seven points per 100 possessions better on offense when Green isn't on the floor, in large part because the Cleveland Cavaliers have gone out of their way to completely ignore him.
Every one of his three-point tries has been launched off the catch, and all but one has been either "open" or "wide open," per SportVU. He's made one basket (one!) when on the court without Curry, and is a putrid 11-for-23 within five feet of the rim.
Green isn't a bad offensive player, but these numbers aren't inconceivable, either. He's a career 33.4 percent shooter from deep who essentially has no mid-range game or ability to create his own shot. Functioning beside the two best shooters in basketball history—inside a system that preaches persistent ball and man movement—has served him well, and Durant is one of the most magnetic offensive forces the league's ever seen.
But in a win-or-go home scenario, the Cavaliers have tried to make Green beat them by squeezing the ball from Curry and Durant. In half-court situations, they sink into driving lanes and evacuate strong-side corners as a way to make Green prove he can sink the shots he's, at times, struggled with.
The Cavaliers have been happy to hide their worst individual defenders on Green (even Kyle Korver had a go in Game 4) and also let their very best (LeBron James and Tristan Thompson) roam as disruptive forces. For as unique a playmaker as he is—Green's averaging 4.8 assists per game in this series—there have been wild coast-to-coast drives that then sling Cleveland's offense the other way with a significant advantage; his turnover rate is higher than both his assist and usage percentage.
And still, despite racking up a series-leading 18 fouls through four games—several on mindless plays that have limited his minutes—only two players (Curry and James) have touched the ball more than Green. He remains a fulcrum, and the Warriors aren't going to abandon what got them this far just because of a slump. He might be the Golden State's best playmaker (thanks to all that aforementioned gravity, but still), and good can still come with the ball in his hands.
Golden State's first offensive possession after LeBron and Durant's infamous Game 4 spat was a stagger screen for Curry that forced Kyrie Irving to switch onto Green. Curry dumped the ball down low while the Warriors ran motion on the weakside. When the Cavaliers sealed it up, Draymond simply backed Irving down for a bunny.
Despite the obvious mismatch and positive result, this is another scenario Cleveland will live with. Overreacting to Green down low, regardless of who is on him, is a sin. He has zero reliable moves with his back to the basket, and, according to Synergy Sports, from opening night through Game 4 ranks in the 16th percentile in post-up situations, largely because he turns it over a ton.
There are still useful ways Green can contribute even when he isn't making outside shots, particularly if the Cavs continue to trap Curry on ball screens, but his primary value from here on out will most likely be seen on the other side of the floor.
Green's defensive contributions are undeniable. He might be both the best and most important human shield in the league and, in the Finals, Golden State's defensive rating falls from 106.0 to 119.5 when he's out.
Green's sensitive/violent temperament constantly wrestles with an impressive basketball IQ. He not only knows where to be and what to do, but is conscious of everybody else's responsibilities as well. When the Cavaliers work themselves into an advantageous matchup thanks to Golden State's constant off-ball switches, Green will scream for a teammate to go double while he handles two on the weakside.
In Game 4, the Warriors began the second quarter with Green on Deron Williams, a move that allowed him to float as a help defender. He's spent time boxing out Tristan Thompson and Kevin Love, while also assuming the impossible task that is corralling LeBron one-on-one. Cleveland is shooting 36.7 percent at the rim when he's nearby, and only Kevin Love has contested more shots at the cup.
It's a small sample size, but when compared to how the rest of the league fared during the regular season, only 11 players topped Green's 7.5 shots contested per game average, and none were even below 40 percent. He's been a Grizzly bear flashing over from the weak side against a team that loves to attack the basket.
Green's greatness typically lies in his ability to impact games even when his shot isn't falling. But several factors have prevented him from doing so at the consistent level we're used to seeing. Some of that's his own fault (a lot of his fouls have been really dumb), while some can be attributed to Cleveland's incredible shot-making and Steve Kerr's insistence on playing traditional lineups.
It sounds crazy, but if the Cavaliers' hot three-point shooting is here to stay—it very well may be—Golden State will need more offense from Green to keep up.