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Why Draymond Green’s Free Agency Could Change the NBA

Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors offers one of the most intriguing free-agent options this summer, and not just because his breakout this year shows what kind of contribution he can offer to a team. But also because it’ll indicate what shape the NBA is taking.

The max contract has always been given to players who can create shots and score the ball at will, or big men who can dominate the glass and put the ball in the net. It’s always been about the guys who have massive numbers, regardless of how much impact those numbers make.

For example, this year’s three highest-paid players were Kobe Bryant, Joe Johnson and Carmelo Anthony. Based on Real Plus-Minus, an adjusted plus-minus estimate of their actual impact, the trio were only 303rd, 75th and 49th, respectively.

Meanwhile, Green was eighth. His traditional numbers were relatively pedestrian, though. He averaged just 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.2 assists on the year. Yet, this 2012 second-round pick is looking at a very realistic chance of getting a max contract next season.

A look at Golden State’s numbers when Green is on and off the court shows his undeniable impact, per NBA.com.

Draymond Green On-Off Stats

The Warriors are better offensively and defensively with him on the court. They score better, shoot better, hit from three better, pass better, rebound better, turn the ball over less and foul less. Literally, he impacts the team in every facet there is.

Offensively, he’s smart, as indicated by his heat map provided by NBA Savant.Draymond Green (2)

He’s not great from three, but his 33.7 shooting as a 4 is just enough to stretch the court. The bulk of his points that don’t come from deep come at the rim.

As indicated by his assist chart, the bulk of his dimes come from those two efficient areas.Draymond Green

His passing out of the post helps set up more threes for his teammates, Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry. His passing into the post helps his teammates get easy points down low.

Defensively, he’s short for a power forward, but his 7’1.25″ wingspan enables him to defend down low. His 232 post-up defenses are the second-highest in the league this year, per Synergy. His .77 points per possession yielded on such plays places him in the 70.2 percentile.

Green was a ubiquitous defender as well, as revealed by his defensive shot chart.

Draymond Green (3)

In all, according to NBASavant, he was the closest defender on 1,084 shots. Only DeAndre Jordan, Pau Gasol and Marcin Gortat were the defender on more, and they’re rim protectors where the shooter is coming to them rather than them going out to the shooter.

And no one who defended at least 502 shots held their opponents to a lower field goal percentage than Green’s 39.39 percent. His defensive versatility is what enables the Warriors to switch so much on defense. He’s arguably the most critical ingredient to their No. 1-ranked defense.

So there’s this bizarre contradiction between Green’s impact and his numbers. Players have always been paid for their numbers because the things normally correlate. But Green’s “impact-to-stats” ratio is off the charts. He’s a unique player. And perhaps it’s the rise of analytics that allows us to see this sort of invisible effect.

But, all that said, how much of that is transferable? He has unquestionable value to the Warriors. Enough that they’ll reportedly match any offer for him:

But what should other teams offer? Typically if you bring in a max player you’d expect him to have an immediate impact on winning. Can Green bring that, or is he just the perfect person to fit into what Golden State is doing right now? If you change the surroundings, would he be able to have the same kind of effect?

Is he a game-changer, or is he just a saner version of Lance Stephenson who, if he went to another team, would watch his value vaporize in a matter of months?

I’m not asking rhetorically here. I’m actually wondering. I find it a fascinating dilemma. I don’t know what another general manager would do. Would a division rival make an offer just to force the Warriors to spend the money in matching?

Or would they make an offer in the hopes of actually acquiring him? Have we reached the stage of appreciating the invisible parts of basketball that we can appreciate the idea of a max role player? And, if that happens, will Green vindicate himself?

Regardless, I’m going to be watching the free-agent season to see what happens with Green. It’ll tell a lot about the direction the NBA is heading.

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