Draymond Green has done something that not long ago would have seemed highly improbable. He is subbing nicely for the departed, beloved Tim Lincecum, the Bay Area baseball artist forever known as “The Freak.”
Green is just as quirky, just as unique, though in a basketball sense. The body type. The expansive skill set. The raw innocence. The engaging personality. The desire and ability to remain normal in a world gone crazy over celebrity and professional sports.
While the Golden State Warriors power forward doesn’t throw no-hitters – and is more inclined to aim elbows into midsections – he plays a mean center field. And with Andrew Bogut ailing and Festus Ezeli working his way back from injury, Green’s importance to the defending NBA champions expands by the game. It’s Stephen Curry No. 1 and Draymond Green No. 2, particularly against an Oklahoma City Thunder lineup that bolsters Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant with a front line that is huge (by modern standards), talented and deceptively versatile.
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I always tell people I knew Draymond could play at the next level, though I had no idea he could be this good. He just had that will to win, and his body kept getting better. He got himself in better shape, particularly these last two years.
Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, on Warriors forward Draymond Green
“Draymond is a great defender,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said, “and he’s always going to rebound and get assists. It’s just a matter of making the right decisions, and that’s what he’s been doing.”
The undersized Green even tagged 7-foot Oklahoma City center Steven Adams with an inadvertent below-the-belt hit during the Warriors’ victory Wednesday, but that was the least of his contributions. In a game that evened the best-of-seven series 1-1, the fourth-year veteran scored 10 points, grabbed eight rebounds, passed for a team-high seven assists and was in the midst of the momentum-changing swing at the end of the first half.
An irritant, a nuisance, a pain. Green has been called all of the above. He also has been described as a roving fielder, a point forward, a playmaker and the emotional/spiritual leader of the team that won a record 73 games during the regular season. Whatever. It all fits. But he was also a steal in the second round of the 2012 draft, selected out of Michigan State with the 35th pick – well after the Kings drafted Kansas forward Thomas Robinson at No. 5. (If it’s any consolation, the Warriors drafted Ezeli at No. 30 before grabbing Green.)
“I always tell people I knew Draymond could play at the next level,” Spartans coach Tom Izzo said while lingering in the hallway after Game 2, “though I had no idea he could be this good. He just had that will to win, and his body kept getting better. He got himself in better shape, particularly these last two years.”
Green, who has a communications degree, was listed at 230 pounds during his senior year and is listed at the same weight in the Warriors’ media guide. Asked about his physical conditioning and rigorous offseason program, the normally loquacious star grins shyly, then suggests he has merely “shifted” the pounds to different parts of his frame. Izzo suggests the Saginaw, Mich., native has dropped at least 20 pounds, though regardless of how many carbs he cuts out, he’ll never be mistaken for a prototypical power forward.
Draymond is always emotionally invested. I think what’s happened is that he has turned the corner now in terms of decision making. He’s just not taking the unnecessary risk.
Warriors coach Steve Kerr, on Draymond Green
Green has broad shoulders and a thick, powerful frame, but to say he is 6-foot-7 is a major stretch. Yet he compensates with long arms, exceptionally quick hands and feet and a skill set that is both fundamental and fascinating. His deep jumpers tend to flat-line, but he converted an improving 38.8 percent from the three-point line in the regular season. He establishes position down low and anticipates the ball’s flight, snatching rebounds from taller, heavier opponents. He runs with a lightness that seems counterintuitive to his physique, throws old-school, two-fisted outlet passes and finds teammates on backdoor cuts, finishing seventh in the league with 7.4 assists per game. Defensively, he roams near the top of the circle, as if stalking his man, and has a tremendous feel for when and whom to double-team (often helping Curry).
Then there is the edgy, on-the-brink passion. Green is a combustible package of intangibles, often staring down opponents, flexing and snarling as he runs downcourt, routinely earning technicals for arguing calls.
“Draymond is always emotionally invested,” Kerr said earlier in the playoffs. “I think what’s happened is that he has turned the corner now in terms of decision making. He’s just not taking the unnecessary risk.”
Asked about his former player’s evolution from chubby draft-night steal to first-time All-Star, Izzo laughed. The Spartans’ coach pointed to his heart, then to his head.
“Draymond is so smart, and I think you have to be smart to be this good,” Izzo said. “But did I know he would be this good? No chance.”
Ailene Voisin: 916-321-1208, email@example.com, @ailene_voisin