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How Draymond Green set an aggressive tone against Victor Wembanyama and the Spurs

Golden State Warriors v San Antonio Spurs
Photos by Michael Gonzales/NBAE via Getty Images

Green led the Warriors to their fourth consecutive win.

Draymond Green hasn’t been winning brownie points this season from everyone in the NBA — including his own fanbase.

You can’t blame them. His lack of availability mostly hasn’t been due to physical ailments (although that back has flared up on him as of late due to playing heavy minutes at the five and having to prop up a defense that has otherwise looked lost for most of the season) — it’s been because of his on-court choices and shenanigans.

It’s not much to ask of Green to act like his age, consider his actions that will affect his team, and make sound decisions. In that context, it makes it pretty tough to defend him — borderline impossible, even.

As a result, Green not only has had to prop up his own team’s on-court defense, he’s also having to constantly defend his own image, which is an even tougher task than the former. Restraining himself is just one part of the equation, and it may be the more important one; the other part involves him having to keep up with his standard of play, which — at his age and the fact that his body hasn’t been holding up to the point where he can keep it up nightly — may wax and wane.

It was fortunate for the Golden State Warriors that he waxed his way to a 21-6-11 performance against the San Antonio Spurs tonight, with 7 “stocks” (6 steals and 1 block) to go along with it. The Warriors outscored the Spurs by 13 points during his 31 minutes and 46 seconds of floor time — a team high.

With the Spurs holding a 60-52 lead at halftime, the Warriors struggled to create offense in the first half (104.0 offensive rating). That was in huge part due to sensational rookie Victor Wembanyama and his uncanny ability to wall off the paint and protect the rim — which is arguably already at an elite level despite having only 66 games tallied in his NBA career.

Already a team that goes to the rim at the lowest rate in the league (28.1% of their shot attempts have come from within four feet of the rim, 4.8 percentage points below league average, per Cleaning The Glass), that was made a much tougher prospect by Wembanyama’s 7’4” frame and penchant for planting hesitation, doubt, and outright fear within opponents who touch the paint.

It resulted in a first half where the Warriors attempted only 11 shots at the rim and made only five, with a rim attempt rate (23%) that was much lower than their season average. In contrast, they allowed the Spurs to go the rim 20 times (49% rim attempt rate, equivalent to the highest rim attempt rate in the league by a country mile), make 12 of those attempts, and score 28 points in the paint compared to their own 16.

Which was why Green’s first decision to start the second half set the tone for what would happen the rest of the game:

With the Spurs throwing out a full-court press to start the half, a trap on Andrew Wiggins allows Green to run to the rim once he catches the ball. Wembanyama is there to contest and almost gets the block, but Green gets the ball on the glass to force a goaltend.

The aggression from Green may have set the tone in the second half, but it actually started in the closing stages of the first half. One of the few half-court sets that created efficient offense for the Warriors was on what is called “short action” — a way to create a better passing angle for a roll man.

By my count, they ran the action at least three times in the first half, the first of which was on this possession:

With the pass to the rolling Gary Payton II unavailable, Green and Steph Curry audible into “Get” action — Curry passing to Green and following his pass to get the ball back on a handoff — to drill the three with Wembanyama in drop coverage.

The second “short action” possession involved Green being able to make the pass to the rolling Payton, due to the Spurs botching a switch on the ballscreen:

The third instance was an encouraging display of aggression from Green. Instead of passing the ball, he keeps it and goes hard at Zach Collins:

With Green’s help, the Warriors did a better job getting looks at the rim. The aggression and force were there, coupled with the creativity to keep the rookie on his heels trying to defend the paint.

One solution the Warriors made use of was to create more empty-corner situations involving Green, Curry, and Trayce Jackson-Davis. Emptying a corner and running screen-and-roll sets on the empty side forces Wembanyama to have to defend two players at once: the ballhandler, and his own man.

When that ballhandler is Curry, Wembanyama is compelled to step up a tad higher than he usually does — which opens a tight-but-exploitable window for Jackson-Davis:

An unconventional kind of empty-corner action came on this split action for Curry:

He flares off of Jackson-Davis’ screen. Jackson-Davis subsequently dives and places Wembanyama in a position to have to defend 1-on-2. Green passes to Jackson-Davis, who makes sure that Wembanyama commits to him before passing the ball back to Green for the layup.

The offensive spark from Green was a pleasant sight, but the defense was equally fun to watch. He blows up half-court possessions simply by getting his hands on the ball on deflections. He identifies actions and plays passing lanes brilliantly, as if he were playing multiple roles on the court — as the linebacker and cornerback of a defense that would be lost without him:

Green is perhaps the best in the league at a specific defensive skill called “digs,” which is a poke at the ball on a driving player. Green blew up two half-court possessions simply by digging at the ball and creating chaos:

But as much as Green excels in the explicit, eye-popping defensive plays, he’s made his money excelling in the subtleties and nuances: playing multiple coverages and keeping half-court actions flat; communicating to his teammates and infecting them with his own energy and pride as a defender; and knowing when to spring help and when to trust in his teammates — among several other things.

This possession was an example of the third point:

Curry switches onto Wembanyama on the inverted ballscreen, which is a clear mismatch. Green comes over to hit (double) after the switch, which forces Wembanyama into a rash decision: a one-handed pass that Jackson-Davis easily intercepts.

When the Spurs were threatening to come back late in the fourth quarter, Green made a couple of clutch plays — both of which were offensive rebounds.

The first led to a Klay Thompson three:

The second was on a box-out on Wembanyama that led to a made free throw — making the game into a two-possession affair:

Green came up huge tonight on what easily could’ve been another instance of a blown fourth-quarter lead. More importantly, he stayed available, was engaged on both ends, and led the charge in several aspects — including what his other teammates were afraid of doing against Wembanyama and the Spurs:

With this win, the Warriors are now two games clear of the Houston Rockets, giving them cushion to work with and helping them obtain a tighter hold on the 10th seed.

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