Kobe Bryant and LeBron James were and forever will be compared to Michael Jordan. Kevin Durant and Dirk Nowitzki are often compared to Larry Bird. Chris Paul to Isiah Thomas. The list goes on and on and when great players come along, you can almost always correlate them to the greats from past years based on their skill sets.
Sometimes, though, a player who is unlike any you can think of comes on board. These players are transcendent, and there are only a handful of them. We are talking names like Jordan, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Shaquille O’Neal, Allen Iverson, Dennis Rodman and Stephen Curry. Think of a name whose level of play matches those names and there simply isn’t an answer because there was an innovation to their game that no one else could really replicate, although Bryant’s game is the closest thing to resemble that of Jordan’s.
Again, Curry’s level of play belongs in that rare group of incomparable geniuses. At this point, no one can deny him of this. But he may not be the only player on the Golden State Warriors who has such a distinction, as power forward Draymond Green is starting to make his own mark in the league as someone who has no equal in terms of all-around play.
To make things clear, the Warriors are dominant because they are a special team. They move the ball at a level unmatched even by the San Antonio Spurs, which is almost inconceivable given how long the Spurs have dominated the league in that regard. Golden State has a unique blend of talent that enjoy each other as a group and never want to get away from the fact that the most important thing about them is the fact that they do it as a unit.
Still, you cannot deny that there are incredibly amazing individual talents on the team that makes everything work, and Green is in the middle of it, alongside Curry.
There are players from the past who could do some things that Green could do. Last season, Rodman may have been a reasonable comparison because of their size and ability to shut down any position they are asked to guard. However, Green’s game has continued to evolve offensively to the point where comparing him to Rodman does him a disservice, as crazy as that sounds.
So what’s the closest name that we can compare Green to? Asked to provide an answer, Curry was stumped.
“You put me on the spot,” Curry told Sheridan Hoops after a long pause. “I’ll come back to that. … He’s obviously a unique player just because of all the things he can do. But I’ll have to think about that.”
Given options to consider such as Jason Kidd, Magic Johnson and Rodman, Curry still couldn’t quite put a finger on it. “It’s tough because they all are missing or have a different aspect in their games that you can’t compare with Green.”
In order to try to identify Green to another player most comparable to him, it would help if Green himself would provide some names to work with. So who exactly did he study or try to emulate growing up? The power forward provided an answer that was somewhat fitting to the challenge of trying to identify his doppelganger in terms of play on the court.
“I watched a lot of guys,” he said. “Growing up, I was a student of the game. I’ve always watched the game of basketball and try to take stuff from a lot of guys and implement them in my game.”
Asked to provide specific names, he simply said “a lot of guys” with a sneaky smile.
No wonder he has the abilities of both a center and a point guard while playing power forward.
The things Green can do at this point are well-documented. First and foremost, he can defend like few are capable of from the power forward position despite at 6-7 being one of the shortest at his position. But he can also shift to play center, and that’s when the Warriors become most dominant because his versatility allows them to play small and exploit opponents’ weaknesses defensively to the point where the other team has to adjust and remove its bigs from the game.
With his long arms, Green contests every shot he sees coming towards the rim and is always ready to help. He may not average two blocks per game (he is 21st in the NBA at 1.35, but every player in front of him is taller), but he is by far the most versatile defensive big man the league has to offer.
“He went to four years of college and he was a real student of the game,” said Warriors analyst and former NBA player Jim Barnett. “It pays off. Now, he’s special because there’s a DNA about him where he gives 100 percent every second he is on the floor. He wants the ball, he desires the ball and he competes for the ball more than his opponent. That’s what sets him apart.
“The best thing about him is he anticipates and sees what’s going to happen before it happens. He can guard a center who is 7-1 tall because he doesn’t let him catch the ball where they’re comfortable. He makes them uncomfortable. So at the defensive end is where he is really gifted.”
The playmaking aspect of Green’s game obviously didn’t happen until this year. While he didn’t picture himself at this level – he is sixth in the NBA at 7.4 assists per game – he did come ready to make more plays than he did last season after studying film.
“I can’t say I expected it to be like this,” Green stated. “But I expected to make more plays because the one thing I did this summer was watch a lot of film on the mistakes I made getting the ball out of the trap with Steph, and I saw some of the things I was missing. I saw [when I get in transition] some of the things that I was missing and just tried to correct them and take advantage of those.”
And take advantage he has, leading the league with 10 triple-doubles, nine more than he’s ever had prior to this season. Whether it is lobbing it up to his bigs, finding his shooters or taking a shot himself, Green has mastered the art of creating off screens or the block and has a relationship with each player on the floor, developing an understanding like few at any position of how his teammates play and where they like to catch the ball. He is able to do this on the fly within the offensive flow without pounding the ball and chasing assists like some do or are forced to do.
Sunday’s game against rookie sensation Kristaps Porzingis and the New York Knicks provided the best example of how lethal Green can be when he is clicking on all cylinders. He had 20 points on a perfect 9-of-9 shooting from the field, including 2-of-2 from the 3-point line, to go with 10 rebounds, 10 assists, two steals, two blocks and four turnovers. It’s not perfect, but that’s about as close as you can get to from a statistical standpoint. It was his second triple-double without a missed shot, which put him in the rarest of company:
Triple-doubles without a missed FG in NBA history:
Bo Outlaw : 1
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) February 1, 2016
Warriors assistant Ron Adams, who has been one of the NBA’s finest defensive coordinators for over two decades, also needed some time to think about who most resembles Green as a total package. Given some names to work with like Kidd and the late Anthony Mason, Adams was quick to dismiss them.
“Mason was not nearly as versatile,” he said. “Green can guard small forwards and shooting guards one night and a center the next night. This is remarkable in itself. Kidd would also not be that person in mind. He’s (Green) a poor man’s Magic.”
The best comparison Adams could think of was Larry Johnson, and that still wasn’t quite as satisfying.
“Johnson would be a comparison but he probably lacked some versatility that Green has. By the way, I coached Johnson at one time and if all he focused on was rebounding, he would have been better than Rodman. He too had a full game, especially before he hurt his back.”
Adams also agreed that Green would be one of the best rebounders in the league if he actually tried to go after them all. Of course, that will never happen because he’s not the type of player who chases after numbers (most of the time), but his 9.5 rebounds per game is actually a deception of how good of a rebounder he really is.
Barnett also shared his thoughts on the impact that Green makes on the glass while trying to think of names that reminded him of the All-Star.
“He’s relentless on the boards like Moses Malone was. He’s not the size of Moses and he’s not going to be the scorer that Moses was. … Sometimes he reminds me of Maurice Lucas,” Barnett said. “He’s big and strong. Could you imagine if Green was 6-10? He gets the most out of his frame and he plays bigger than his size. Now he’s playing smarter, which he couldn’t do two years ago. He’s generating the offense, which makes him a two-way player.”
Plenty around the league have taken a crack at trying to find the most comparable player to Green. Some names that have come up include Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Magic Johnson, Charles Barkley, Mason and even his teammate Andre Iguodala in his prime.
The best comparison I could personally come up with? A power forward version of Kidd. Although Adams disagreed, Kidd had an incredible impact on both ends of the floor without trying to dominate by scoring. He is third all-time in triple-doubles (107), locked down the opposition’s best guard on a nightly basis (which disrupts the entire offense), was an incredible rebounder for his position, was able to spread the floor with the ability to shoot threes (which he developed as his career progressed) while dominating the playmaking as the point guard. All of it seem comparable to Green, who has a profound impact defensively, is an incredible passer for his position, can spread the floor with his ability to shoot from distance while dominating the rebounding game.
At the end of the day, it’s safe to say that there is no player who completely resembles the abilities of Green. If you can think of someone who hasn’t been mentioned, please chime in. There has been no power forward who can switch to play center and do it brilliantly, anchor a defense at either position and play every single possession with the same intensity, be a nightly triple-double threat while doing all the things that don’t show up in the stat sheet, play a cerebral game off the ball and stretch the floor with the ability to shoot from the arc at a high percentage, all while being the shortest at his position.
After Green posted another triple-double in Wednesday’s win at Washington, the Warriors are a league-best 45-4 and chasing after the best regular season record of all time. With the combination of Curry and Green, two once-in-a-lifetime kind of players on the same team, it’s no wonder they have dominated the competition. Unfortunately for the rest of the league, they are just entering the prime of their careers and are here to stay for a long, long time.
Jim Park is a blogger and Tweet of the Night author of Sheridan Hoops. Follow him on Twitter @SheridanBlog.