Whiteside fired the opening salvo:
“Can you score doe? ???????????? Bigs becoming dinosaurs ????????????????????
— Draymond Green (@Money23Green) August 26, 2015”
…in a reply that’s since been deleted.
And while much of the discussion on this issue has been around which of the two players is better, I’m not sure it even matters.
Green used his freshly inked $82 million contract to call out Whiteside, but receiving that contract is what makes him part of a fascinating discussion. Because what we’re talking about is styles and the meaning of styles and what kind of players can do what kind of things in what kind of styles.
Put it this way: If the Heat and Warriors were able to magically make some sort of trade that ignored all the rules, and Green and Whiteside got swapped for one another, both teams would be decidedly worse than they are now.
Green is the perfect fit where he is. On virtually any other team, he’d have less value than he does on the Warriors. ESPN tracks Real Plus-Minus (RPM), which is one of many stats that estimate the value of a player based on what happens when he’s on or off the court.
Insanely, only seven players had a higher RPM than Green did last year. Now people can misuse that stat to suggest that it’s some sort of player ranking, but that’s not what it is. It’s context laden. It’s fairer to say that it’s an estimate of a player’s value to his team, based on the way he’s used.
Green is incredibly critical to the Warriors and makes a massive difference because of what he provides. He’s the link to making all of their small ball work. He’s not the greatest rim protector in the world, but he’s solid. He “saves” -.92 points per 36 minutes at the rim, according to Seth Partnow’s rim protection numbers. That’s around the same as Taj Gibson.
But Green’s defensive prowess isn’t just at the rim. It’s in his ubiquity, as represented by his defensive shot chart, courtesy of NBA Savant:
And in the Warriors’ switch-heavy system, that makes his versatility a massive asset. Enough to justify his massive contract.
Of the defensive play types tracked at Synergy, Green was in at least the 60th percentile of each of them in points per possession, but was only better than 80th percentile in one of them — isolation (where he was in the 92nd percentile.) It’s his ability to do everything well more than any one thing great which sets him apart.
But it also needs to be understood that all that is done within a context of a system that’s flush with great defenders, including Andrew Bogut, Klay Thompson and Finals MVP, Andre Iguodala. He’s not doing that on an island, and that’s where we circle back to the reminder that RPM is a context-laden number. And remember, it wasn’t Green the Warriors leaned on to stop LeBron James in the Finals.
Offensively, Green does just enough. He stretches the court, but barely. His 33.7 three-point percentage from deep was hardly better than oft-ridiculed Josh Smith’s was in Houston (33.0 percent).
According to Basketball-Reference.com, he dropped in 173 field goals on 252 attempts in the restricted area, and 20 players were better than him there. But of those, the only one who knocked down more threes was LeBron.
He’s not a great passer, rebounder or scorer, but he’s solid in all three. The only two players who matched his usage percentage (17.2), assist percentage (16.1) and rebound percentage (14.0) were DeMarcus Cousins and Tim Duncan (though it should be said, both were significantly better).
This is Green. His greatness isn’t at any one thing, but in being able to do everything well:
You know that Flex Shot commercial where the guy plugs the floor of the boat and shows it can float? Green is Flex Shot. And what he does is plug any and every hole that appears in the boat. And for the Warriors, that’s a tremendous thing.
If you’re floating on the water, and there are holes springing up in your boat, you don’t negotiate the value of the Flex Shot.
But let’s not get confused. Green isn’t the actual boat, nor is he the engine of the boat. Without Stephen Curry, it doesn’t matter if the boat floats or not because it’s not going anywhere, and all the Flex Shots in the world won’t make it go.
And here’s the other side of the picture. Green’s omitting a lot of facts in his “bigs becoming dinosaurs” tweet. Not every team has a Curry to do the silly-diculous things that Curry does. And without those things, the Warriors aren’t the world champions right now, and Green isn’t making the tweets he’s making.
And teams that don’t have a Curry to do Curry things have to find another way to make their engine go. For the Heat, that might be Whiteside (who scored 26.1 points per 100 possessions to Green’s 18.1). Or Anthony Davis might be that for the Pelicans with 35.4 points per 100 possessions.
So, in other words, yes, small ball won the title in 2014-15. And yes, Green was an extremely significant factor in making it work. But he wasn’t the chief reason, and there’s plenty of evidence that scoring bigs are far from an extinct animal in the NBA.