Emerging Star Brings Soul, Feisty Leadership To Surging Warriors 

Draymond Green spent much of his weekend in a forest-green tuque, a souvenir knit cap touting the Michigan State Spartans. His team — better make that his other team — got some excitable and motivating messages as it advanced from the Sweet 16 to the Elite Eight to the Final Four. Don’t think the Warriors’ forward hasn’t checked to see that the Warriors are off Monday, on the road in the middle of the country and not that far from Indianapolis, y’know, just in case.

Green also is the guy who turned some chippy, off-court give-and-take with the Los Angeles Clippers into a humorous earning opportunity. Bumped by Dahntay Jones a few weeks ago during a postgame TV interview, then needled by Clippers coach Doc Rivers, Green countered with a snappy retort — “Cool story, Glenn” in reference to Rivers’ little-used first name — that now is emblazoned across the front of T-shirts Green has for sale.

There’s a wacky side to the 6-foot-7, do-everything forward with the ubiquitous and slightly crooked smile, an effervescence that might be as important to the Warriors’ 60-13 success as Green’s breakthrough individual season on the floor. A little of that stuff might go a long way for coaches and teammates feeling pressure to live up to the oh-so-serious expectations the Warriors have set for themselves. But Steve Kerr, the Warriors’ first-year coach and a willing cut-up at times himself, has welcomed Green’s brand of fun.

“He’s awesome. We love it,” Kerr said Saturday before another victory, this one in Milwaukee. “We’ve got a pretty quiet team overall, but Draymond is not quiet at all. He brings a lot of energy and life to the locker room. A lot of humor, a lot of passion. It’s really fun having him on the team.”

OK, comic relief can be welcome when it’s just that: relief. But All-Star guard Klay Thompson, asked if Green knows how to turn his jokes on and off as the situation demands, shrugged and said, “He’s always having fun.” It’s pebble-grained philosophy, according to @Money23Green, Green’s Twitter handle.

“Absolutely. I say, anytime you’re having fun, you’re going to be at your best,” he said. “Everybody loves to have fun — that’s just the nature of this world. So if you’re having fun, that means you love what you’re doin’. And if you love what you’re doin’, whatever it is you’re doin’, that means you’re going to be more successful. Because you’re going to give it more effort.”

Who’s going to be the spoilsport to quibble with the results? By beating the Bucks on Saturday, the Warriors simultaneously set a franchise record for victories and clinched the top seed in the Western Conference. Green didn’t play in Milwaukee — Kerr told him he’d be sitting that one out and there’d be no appeal — but all the work he’d done prior to that helped the Warriors get into their lofty position.

Besides, they face the Clippers again Tuesday, so Jones, Rivers and the rest of that L.A. crew might require Green’s services.

And so far in 2014-15, with a potentially long postseason stretch ahead, Green’s services have been virtual duct tape at Kerr’s disposal. He has blown up as a legitimate candidate for the NBA’s Most Improved Player award, averaging 11.8 points, 8.1 rebounds, 3.6 assists, 1.6 steals and 1.3 blocked shots in 31.6 minutes.

His play early in the season, in veteran David Lee’s absence, convinced Kerr to keep their roles intact — Green starting, Lee off the bench — and the result has been breathtaking: Green now is part of a starting five that, at 45-5 (.900), has registered the second-best winning percentage since 1970-71 (when such stats began to be tracked). Only the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls — the Michael Jordan- and Scottie Pippen-led five that went 37-3 (.925) — were better.

Green has shown a knack and a zest for defending players bigger or smaller, a one-size-fits-all defender who flashes his quickness against the bigs and happily bangs on the little guys. By the end, on most nights, their levels of frustration are pretty much the same. Green’s defensive rating this season — 95.0 — isn’t unique among the stingy Warriors but it is better than nine of the past 10 NBA Defensive Players of the Year (Kevin Garnett was at 94.4 for Boston in 2007-08).

Center Andrew Bogut, the anchor of Golden State’s defense, pretty much gushes about Green’s versatility and tenacity at that end.

“When we go to our switching group, when we put him at [center] or even at [power forward] with me in the middle, he can cause a lot of havoc,” Bogut said “Because he can guard point guards, he can guard ‘5’ men. He’s very active and very long, and I think his heart is bigger than anyone else’s in the league.

“That’s the main reason he’s so successful. He gives up weight a lot of nights to big men like Marc Gasol, [Carlos] Boozer, those kinds of guys. But you don’t really see that because he’ll just fight you tooth and nail, and scrap and claw. Guys don’t like playing against him.”

That’s as good a definition as any of the sort of players that coaches love and general managers covet. Green — the 35th pick overall, a second-rounder in the 2012 draft — will be a free agent this summer, wrapping up a three-year deal that paid him approximately $2.64 million. The offer sheets he’s likely to attract as a restricted free agents might pay him 15 or 20 times that amount over a similar timeframe, a real test of market value for a player who specializes in no one thing but prove his worth wherever he’s needed almost nightly.

Green has chosen not to ponder the riches headed his way. “I’m having so much fun with this team that I would be doing myself a disservice to sit and worry about a contract that’s not going to happen, No. 1, till July,” he said.

Green was that rare four-year college player at Michigan State who didn’t seem to be a natural fit in the NBA. As Kerr said: “I did a couple of his games in college for [TV]. I loved his competitiveness, his fire and his passion. But I didn’t know how it would translate to the NBA because you couldn’t tell which position he played — small forward, power forward. He was kind of the classic ‘tweener. But he’s obviously proven to be a great NBA player. He’s kind of the heart and soul of our team.”

So which position best suits Green now, Kerr was asked.

“Winner,” the coach said, laughing and having plenty of fun himself.

It figures to continue that way for Draymond Green on the court this spring, off the court this summer and maybe even in Indianapolis next weekend.

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Steve Aschburner

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