Case in point: This morning, most of the basketball world is talking about how the Golden State Warriors went into Miami and stunned the defending champions by making more plays down the stretch of a hard-fought game.
Three days ago, however, we already had made the case that the Warriors have been the biggest surprise of this season and have been flying under the mainstream media’s radar, which only tracks the Lakers, Heat, Lakers, Knicks, Thunder, Heat, Lakers, Celtics, Knicks and Clippers, in that order.
The Warriors have been starting two rookies for much of the season – small forward Harrison Barnes, a mainstay in our Rookie Rankings, and center Festus Ezeli, who throws his awesome physique around until coach Mark Jackson decides to go small with David Lee at center.
But Golden State also has a third rookie in its rotation – combo forward Draymond Green, who scored the winning basket against Miami just minutes after trading verbal jabs with LeBron James.
Green doesn’t score the way Barnes does; he is averaging just 2.7 points and has yet to crack double figures. But he is taking fourth-quarter minutes from his more ballyhooed teammate with his ability to defend and rebound, which Jackson has emphasized all season.
In the last four games, Green is averaging 4.8 points and 8.5 rebounds in 25 minutes per game, more than double his burn in November. More important, he has played 36 of a possible 48 fourth-quarter minutes during that span as he gains Jackson’s trust.
He also has gained the respect of James, who admired that the 22-year-old from Michigan State did not back down from his matchup with the game’s best player.
“He played hard, it was great competition out there between me and him,” James said. “I’ve also respected him especially in college, a big-time player and no one really gave him a shot, but you can tell he knows how to play the game.
“Any team that got him he will find a way to get minutes because he knows how to play the game and (Golden State) is a good fit for him. It was good to see him out there.”
As we discussed Monday, Golden State’s success is primarily due to its much-improved defense and worst-to-first rebounding. The additions of savvy veterans Carl Landry and Jarrett Jack have deepened their bench. And it helps that Stephen Curry is healthy.
But no team is getting a bigger collective boost from its rookies than the Warriors.
On to the rankings.