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Draymond Green knows what a winning team looks like more than most in the NBA.
It is notable, then, that the three-time champion is pleased with where the 19-18 Golden State Warriors are in 2020-21 even if there is plenty of room for improvement as they fight through the adversity of Klay Thompson’s second straight season-ending injury in the daunting Western Conference.
“I think this team is way ahead of where we thought we would be at this point, but as you grow, your expectations grow,” Green told Bleacher Report in an exclusive interview. “So if I looked at where we were coming into camp, if you said 19-18 and right on the cusp of the playoffs, I think we all would have taken it given the uncertainty of where this team would be. But as you see the potential of the team and you see the growth at a rapid rate, those expectations change. So as those expectations change, we’re not where we want to be. We think we can get to a much better spot. … I think we’re very poised to make a run here.”
Green is trying to help lead the Warriors back to the playoffs after they finished with the worst record in the league last season at 15-50.
The biggest problem in 2019-20 was the fact that Stephen Curry played only five games, which was five more than Thompson. Green was also in and out of the lineup and missed 22 games, but his return this season alongside Curry has helped stabilize the franchise.
Still, the Warriors lost three games in a row to fellow Western Conference contenders in the Los Angeles Lakers, Phoenix Suns and Portland Trail Blazers heading into the All-Star break. Green said getting back on track comes down to late-game execution as a young team.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say we’re happy where we’re at because we’ve given several games away that I thought we should have won,” the Michigan State product said. “But we’re a very young team, so you’ve got to expect some of that. … Within a young team, the most pressing thing is always going to be execution. So your talent can get you to the point where you’re in the game with five minutes to go, and now it’s time to execute. And as a young team, that’s just not always the case. … Execution is also familiarity with the guys around you, and we just haven’t had much time together.”
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
Green believes improved execution will come as the younger players get that experience, none more so than 19-year-old center James Wiseman.
The Warriors selected Wiseman with the No. 2 pick of the 2020 NBA draft after he appeared in only three games for Memphis in college. When Green isn’t facilitating as a point forward and racking up assists, he has assumed a veteran leadership role with the rookie.
Wiseman could do much worse than someone with three championships, two All-NBA selections, five All-Defensive selections, three All-Star nods and a Defensive Player of the Year showing him the ropes, and Green is excited for the strides the rookie will make as he learns even more of the basics as an NBA player:
“You will continue to see the growth, you will continue to see him settle in,” he said. “As talented as James is, he made some plays earlier in the season that had all of us [scratching our heads]. It’s just from his lack of experience. When you look at the play that he makes, it’s never like, ‘Man, why would he try to do that. He’s not talented enough to do that.’ It’s like, ‘Yo, slow down. Did you just see that guy coming from this way?’ It’s those things, which is all just a feel and him learning the NBA game.
“The reality is, James Wiseman essentially came out of high school. He played three or four college games. When James first got here, he didn’t even know how to set a screen. And when you think about that, that’s kind of baffling that this kid is 7’1” and doesn’t know how to set a screen. But then you have to rewind a little bit and take a step back and say, ‘Well, he can dribble the ball and he can shoot. He’s faster than just about everyone in the NBA now, so I can only imagine how much faster he was in high school. He’s more athletic than all of those guys. Who did he ever have to screen for?’ But you would think, ‘Man, this kid is in the NBA, he knows how to set a screen.’ But you have to take a step back and realize that, no, he doesn’t. And there’s a reason he doesn’t. It’s because he never had to set a screen for anyone to get anything on the basketball court that he wanted.
“So when you start to put it in those terms, you realize how much he doesn’t know and how exciting that is. Because if he can go out on the court and do all of these things that have us so excited, imagine what he’s going to be able to do once he learns, ‘OK, I just felt the guy come from this side. I don’t even have to look to know that if I throw the ball that way, that’s where this guy just came to double from.’ When he starts to learn all of these little tricks and trades and the little nuances that we have the pleasure of knowing due to our experience, when he starts to pick up on those things, good luck. Because he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in this league for a very long time.”
Green’s competitive side goes beyond mentoring Wiseman as the Warriors strive for a second-half push.
It also shows up when he is creating signature subs with Boston Celtics star Jayson Tatum as part of their partnership with Subway.
“It’s this battle amongst us over who has the best sandwich, and I think my sandwich is crushing his,” Green said when hyping up his own sandwich. “My sub has rings, his sub has bacon. I’ll take the rings over the bacon any day.”
The entire partnership means more to him because of its roots in his childhood.
“This is a partnership that I am thrilled about because I’ve had love for Subway since I was a child,” Green said. “A child that couldn’t afford Subway. And as much as I wanted it, it just didn’t quite fit into the budget of my parents. But always having that love for Subway and now having an opportunity for that same young kid who only got to go to Subway every so often because they can’t afford it. For that same young kid walking into a Subway and seeing, ‘Man, Draymond Green has a sub.’ I want that kid to understand that I was you walking into Subway to get a sub that I don’t know the next time I’ll be back here with my parents because I don’t know the next time some money will free up that we can afford to go to Subway. I am you, and yet you’re looking up there and you see me. You see Jayson Tatum with his own sub. That’s possible for you. Dream big.”
Green dreamed big growing up and has now won championships alongside a generational talent in Curry, who has not missed a beat in his return despite playing so few games last season.
The two-time MVP and future Hall of Famer is averaging 29.7 points, 6.3 assists, 5.5 rebounds and 1.3 steals per game. He also put on a show during the All-Star Game by draining eight three-pointers, some of which were just inside half court and one of which was still in the air when he turned his back to the basket.
Green believes the most important thing for Curry’s MVP candidacy is winning more games, because “they’re always going to side with the guys who are higher up in the standings” even if the sharp-shooter is putting up equal or better numbers than the previous times he won the award.
Jeff Chiu/Associated Press
“You look at all the numbers when he won the unanimous MVP, all the numbers are stacking up right there,” Green said. “And I think the cache of what he’s doing is also there. When I want my kids to see me on TV, I turn on ESPN because I know they’re showing Steph Curry highlights. And although they may not be showing me scoring or doing anything, you’re going to see me out there because you’re going to see a Steph Curry highlight. When you look at the impact that he’s having on the game alone, the impact that he’s having on teams’ defensive schemes, for sure he’s having an MVP season.”
As long as Curry is healthy, the Warriors have a chance to compete with anybody in the league. Others playing well will only raise the team’s potential, and Green thinks that is right on the horizon.
“I can’t quite say what the ceiling is because I don’t know,” he said. “What I do know is it’s much higher than we are right now. … All our younger guys continue to improve. And for myself, I’m in shape, I’m starting to get back to that level of where people are accustomed to seeing me play. So when I look at all of these things starting to fall into place, I think the ceiling for this team is much higher than people think.”
Golden State could put on a show in the season’s second half if all those pieces come together with Curry and No. 23 leading the way, and it will start striving for that ceiling Thursday against the Los Angeles Clippers.