Why Draymond Green has the highest basketball IQ in history

Analyzing how the Warriors star gets it done

By John Krolik

Special to The Examiner

After far too long on the shelf, Draymond Green is out of street clothes and back in the lineup. That’s great news for the Warriors because Green might have the highest basketball IQ of all time. The Warriors’ emotional leader is exceptional on both ends of the floor, achieving his success with some seriously high-level decision making.

Green’s playing style and career have both been unique. Green is a (generously listed) 6’6”, 230-pound fire hydrant of a man who mostly plays power forward and center, positions where nearly everyone opponent is taller. He’s not much of a ballhandler, and his outside shot has been a problem for the vast majority of his career. He mostly plays below the rim. He was taken with the 35th pick in the 2012 draft. He spent his first two seasons in the league mostly sitting on former head coach Mark Jackson’s bench.

It wasn’t until Steve Kerr came along that Green was truly unleashed. His minutes went from 21.9 per game to 31.5. He went from starting 12 games to all 79 of the games he played in that season. In 2013-14, Green spent 62% of his minutes at small forward and 31% of his minutes at power forward, with no time at center. In 2014-15, he didn’t play any small forward. Instead, he spent 90% of his minutes at the power forward spot and the remaining 10% playing center.

The impact of Green’s increased role was immediate. The Warriors were a full 14.6 points per 100 possessions better when Green was on the floor. And by the way, they won the NBA Championship. The next season, Green took an even bigger role and the Warriors had the best regular season of all time. The NBA truly came to know and fear the “Death Lineup” that season.

Steve Kerr’s nuclear option was to put starting center Andrew Bogut on the bench and put swingman Andre Iguodala in his place. The Warriors’ lineup would become Steph Curry, Klay Thompson, Harrison Barnes, Iguodala and Green, making Green the functional center. That combination was simply dominant. The Warriors outscored their opponents by 166 points in the 172 minutes the Death Lineup was on the floor. The fearsome fivesome also outscored opponents by 47 points per 100 possessions that season.

The 2015-16 season was also the first time Green led the Warriors in assists per game, and he’s done so every season since. (In the 2019-20 season, he tied for the team-high in assists per game with D’Angelo Russell, with both players averaging 6.2 assists per game.)

With Green now officially quarterbacking the offense and the Death Lineup getting more time to flex its muscle, the Warriors were 26.3 points per 100 possessions with Green on the floor. For a point of reference, Curry won the MVP unanimously that season, and the Warriors were “only” 22.6 points per 100 possessions when he played than they were when he sat. In the span of two years, Green had gone from a bench player to being one of the main keys to the Warriors’ success.

How does Green do it? On offense, he takes the role of quarterback almost literally. He surveys the defense from the top of the three-point line or at the free throw line with his back to the basket. Then he patiently waits for the Warriors’ motion offense to do its thing. When the symphony of screens and cuts springs a player open, he hits them with a pass, often for an open three or a layup. When teams try to sag off of him and dare him to shoot, Green simply pitches it to one of the Warriors’ shooters, sets a screen for them and creates a wide-open three-point shot.

Green is also dangerous in a unique way on the pick-and-roll. Almost every big man in the league will do one of two things after setting a screen. They can “roll” to the basket, running hard at the rim in the hopes the player they screened for can get it back to them for a layup or dunk. They can also “pop” out for a jump shot after setting the screen, taking advantage of the temporary freedom setting the screen gave them to set up for an open midrange (or, as is more often the case today, three-point) jump shot.

Green’s preferred option is neither of these. Instead, he employs a “short roll” after setting his screen, giving his guard a window to give him the ball back at around the free-throw line. From there, he takes advantage of the temporary 2-on-1 situation, takes a dribble or two towards the rim, and when the big man steps up to stop him, he flips either a bounce pass or a lob to the now-open Warriors big man for a layup or an alley-oop dunk.

On defense, Green is an absolute savant. He can guard all five positions on the floor. He can read any pick-and-roll as it happens and knows the counter to it. He knows exactly when to double-team an opponent. He knows exactly how far away he can roam from his assignment and still recover back to him if the ball swings his way.

He’s a hawk in the passing lanes. He knows when to “switch” assignments, and is constantly talking to his teammates to make sure they’re in the right position. He is an absolute defensive machine. Overall, Green is the only player to have both won Defensive Player of the Year and led his team in assists since the 1995-96 season, when Gary Payton (senior) did it for the Sonics.

Green’s (very) vocal style of leadership is a good compliment to Kerr’s more laid-back approach, although it has gotten him into trouble in the past. There was the tension with Kevin Durant in the big man’s last year in the Bay. He often is among the league leaders in technical fouls. And of course, there was the incident in the 2016 NBA Finals where he had to sit out Game 5 after possibly taking a swipe at LeBron James’ groin area in Game 4.

Green is a leader, crucial to what the Warriors do on both sides of the floor and, for my money, has the highest basketball IQ of anyone to have ever laced up a pair of sneakers.

John Krolik is a freelance contributor to The Examiner.

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