The Kevin Love trade talks mostly damaged Klay Thompson‘s stock while putting heavy expectations on him for the upcoming season, but David Lee wasn’t far behind. Despite being a regular double-double threat who averaged 18.2 points and 9.3 rebounds per game last season, Lee’s defensive flaws moved to the forefront of the conversation when the chance at Love appeared. Though most Golden State Warriors fans didn’t think about it at the time, another reason Lee was suddenly seen as so expendable was Draymond Green.
During the postseason last year, Green stepped up in a huge way for a Dubs team playing without Andrew Bogut. Although Golden State fell to the Los Angeles Clippers in seven games in the first round, Green was a monumental two-way force for the Warriors. With his ability to defend multiple positions, including some time on Blake Griffin, Green’s versatility was on full display. And though he’s not known for his offense, Green averaged 11.9 points for the series to go with 8.3 rebounds, 1.7 blocks and 1.7 steals per game.
Green had already built a reputation for knocking down clutch threes, but in Game 7, he took things to a new level and put up 24 points, seven rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals while going 9-for-13 from the floor (5-for-8 from three-point range). As for David Lee? He averaged 13.9 points and 9.1 rebounds per game and in Game 7, managed 13 points and 13 rebounds in 38 minutes. Green actually averaged more minutes per game for the series
So what’s the point of all this, other than point out that Green came through for his team at the most important time of the season in a way that Lee couldn’t? Well, because in 2014-15, rookie head coach Steve Kerr might need to think about starting Draymond Green at the power forward position.
It’s no secret that Green needs to work on the offensive end to deserve a starting spot on this roster. Although the Warriors were secretly a defensive-oriented team last season – and Green was statistically one of the best defenders at his position last year – most pegged them as an offensive team. Heading into his first season as an NBA coach, Kerr’s primary responsibility is improving the offense while keeping Mark Jackson‘s top 10 defense intact.
Green fits half of that description. He posted the fifth highest defensive rating in the NBA last year (97.7), but he only averaged 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per game on 40.7 percent shooting. He only connected on 33.3 percent of his three-point attempts and as a bit of a tweener, Green is really only suited for the power forward position when the Dubs go small. Otherwise, Green is more suited to play the small forward spot.
However, Green already knows all of that, and in an interview with Dime Magazine, he revealed he’s committed to working on his three-point range so he could spread the floor as a stretch-4 when the Dubs decide to go small. Kerr has already said he loves what Lee brings to the table, but that the Warriors also need a little bit of range at the position. Green can already do a superior job of providing that, and if he works on his three-ball this summer, he might start challenging Lee for minutes.
Last year, Lee averaged 33.9 minutes per game to Green’s 21.9. But with the season on the line, Green proved his worth in extended minutes and got more playing time than the team’s starting power forward. That may have had a lot to do with the matchups against the Clippers, but what Jackson discovered in Green during the playoffs should serve as a lesson for Kerr next year.
So should Draymond Green be the starting power forward instead of David Lee?
For the time being, no. Although Green proved his value when given extended minutes, that’s a limited sample size to choose from and Lee is a pivotal part of Golden State’s pick and roll offense. Lee is a master at freeing himself up for a pocket pass from Stephen Curry, he’s a good passer for his position and he shot nearly 12 percent better than Green from the field last year. Though most of Lee’s one-on-one defense in the post results in the foul, the Warriors did a good job disguising his defensive flaws with the help of Andrew Bogut last year. (Plus, Green is a bit of a hack himself and could certainly tone down on his fouls as well.)
Furthermore, because Green is a bit of a tweener, it’s entirely possible we’re talking about him competing for a starting job at the wrong position. Andre Iguodala has regressed on the offensive end for the last few seasons, so even though he’s still a better ball handler, passer and all-around superior offensive player compared to Green, another bad season could open up an opportunity for the former Michigan State Spartan.
But the biggest thing that comes to mind when talking about Green vs. Lee for the starting power forward job is the lesson Jackson learned in the playoffs last season: It doesn’t matter who starts, all that matters is who finishes. Lee might be the starter by name, and he probably should be in the game as much as possible in its early stages so he can put the ball in the hole. His $15 million per year contract also means it makes sense for him to be the official starter over a guy who makes $1 million per year.
It depends on what the Warriors need at different stages of the game, but unless David Lee’s really on a roll in the fourth quarter, when the game’s on the line and the Warriors need a hustle guy who can lock down on one end and knock down big shots on the other, it doesn’t matter who’s starting anymore. After what we’ve seen from him over the last year, Draymond Green should be that guy in 2014-15.