New year, new me? Warriors hope to turn the corner with return of Draymond Green

Golden State opens extended homestand with back-to-back against Portland

As we turn the page on the dumpster fire that was 2020, there is a lot for fans of the Golden State Warriors to be thankful for. Even short-handed, Stephen Curry, James Wiseman, and the rest of the bunch have managed to meet expectations and emerge from a brutal season-opening road trip at 2-2.

Draymond Green is listed as “probable,” and expected to make his season debut tonight against the Portland Trailblazers - a team that always offers an exciting contest, but has reliably fallen short of teams like the Warriors in the post season. Well, like the Warriors used to be. Now, Golden State and Portland are on more equal footing, at least one step removed from title contention, and hoping to make some noise.


GAME DETAILS

WHO: Golden State Warriors (2-2) vs Portland Trailblazers (2-2)

WHEN: Friday, January 1, 2021 // 7:30 pm PST

WATCH: NBCSBA


Draymond Green’s return isn’t just about defense

Draymond Green is expected to return tonight, making his first appearance of the season. Green, who missed all of training camp due to Coronavirus, and then the subsequent first four games of the regular season with what the team labelled as a foot issue, while also slipping in hints that Green was still working his lungs back into basketball condition.

Basketball is a complicated sport to analyze sometimes, because everything is so interrelated. After getting walloped by championship hopeful squads in Brooklyn and Milwaukee, the Warriors team rankings were pinned at the bottom of the league. But after a few key adjustments, and softer opponents, Golden State’s defense has begun to climb out of the cellar. The return of Green should do a lot to bolster the team’s 21st ranked defense even further; though the Blazers may put this to test.

At his best, Green is one of the very staunchest defenders in the NBA.

Elite at all levels, from defense at the rim, to hounding players on the perimeter, Green has earned wide accolades across the league. Green’s return isn’t just about his individual contribution (more on that in a moment), but all the same I’d like to take a moment to refresh everyone’s collective memory. Here’s a highlight package from two seasons ago, in honor of his All-Defensive team nomination

We’ve also got to consider Green’s secondary impacts to a defense that is still searching for an identity.

The shelves have been restocked with long-armed, willing defenders, and Green is about to re-open shop on a league that has been all too quick to forget that the Warriors dynasty began with a defensive identity.

His tutelage will mostly be centered on James Wiseman, the young athletic phenomenon that has quickly emerged as Golden State’s second most valuable player in the early season returns.

And like some bizarro version of Green, Wiseman’s offensive highlight package has overshadowed his defense - something that Green is likely to work hard to change.

As per Wes Goldberg, Wiseman’s quiet campaign is already underway:

With Wiseman on the court, the Warriors have a defensive rating of 104.1, versus a defensive rating of 118.6 when Wiseman sits. That’s the difference between the fourth-best defensive rating in the league and the 29th.

This is a 19-year old rookie, playing with a ton of energy, but making mistakes. Mistakes that Green will quickly work to resolve. Remember back in training camp? It coincided with that clip of Green throwing a lob to Wiseman, but Green was already licking his chops at the opportunity to help mold the rookie, in a similar way that Bogut took a young Draymond Green under his wing. Here’s the full quote:

"I thought James was all over the place today, which was great to see," Green said. "His energy was through the roof which took him out of positions at times, which I love to see because you can teach positioning, but you can't teach high energy. He had great energy today ... asking a ton of questions, which I always think is great. It seems to me he's going to be a sponge -- he asks a bunch of questions.“

Switching gears to offense, this is a Warriors team in desperate need of Green’s playmaking and ability to read a defense.

Remember that Green led the Warriors in assists for most of the dynasty run. His return to the offensive schemes will help everyone. Kerr’s system has been simplified, but it’s still a movement-heavy scheme that is designed to get people open shots. In fact, Kerr has referenced that the reason he simplified his offensive scheme was because players were not seeing (or somehow otherwise missing) a wide open Stephen Curry.

From Cleaning the Glass, take a gander at Green’s overall assist rate, as well as his assist generated per usage - both beyond elite (remember, those colored blocks represent percentile rank, meaning Green is regularly better than almost everyone at this part of basketball):

So it’s not hard to see how much having Green return will help this squad. He knows how to play properly on both ends of the court, and he is vocal enough that we can all rest assured that any player deviating from the ideals will quickly hear about it.

Draymond Green is a whole vibe, and one that the Warriors are ready to fully embrace.

Damian Lillard and the Blazers: still dangerous but flawed

The Portland Trailblazers are a second team for many in the bay area. Led by Oakland’s own, Damian Lillard, the West Coast love has endeared the Blazers to Warriors fans in an antithesis of our regard for those LA teams.

After a solid offseason featuring the acquisition of “3 and D” wing, Robert Covington, the Blazers are still mired in the middle of the pack. In a pattern similar to the Warriors early season returns, the Blazers got absolutely blasted by two good teams (losing to the Jazz and Clippers by 20, and 23 points respectively), butunlike the Warriors, Portland has a couple of wins against good competition - with close wins over the Rockets and Lakers under their belt.

Portland will be playing this game a bit short-handed. Though not missing anyone near the caliber of Klay Thompson, Blazers backup guard Gary Trent (right calf strain) is questionable and forward Zach Collins is out for a while with a left ankle stress fracture.

This is still a team whose fortunes heavily rest on the shoulders of the backcourt duo of Dame Lillard and CJ McCollum.

Predictions

I don’t even care if the Warriors win, Draymond Green is back!

That said, the Blazers are going to be a tough out this time around. Without Klay Thompson, the Warriors are going to have to find a way to win. Fortunately, as they’ve demonstrated time and time again in the playoffs, the Warriors are generally able to find a way to beat the Blazers when it matters.

Also, I pointed out Green’s assist values earlier, and one player that I think will be well served by his return is Kelly Oubre. While Wiggins has found his groove within Kerr’s simplified drive and kick offense, Green will really open up the lane to people like Oubre getting easy looks of cuts. The Warriors have missed these opportunities, but it’s a big part of what makes Green such an overlooked star.

Warriors over Blazers: 115 to 109.