August 9, 2022

In my last NBA Finals dispatch, I spoke at length about Celtics forward Jayson Tatum. “Boring” was the key word, and I’ll stick with it until they put me in the mud. But, as much as I hated to admit it, I also had to acknowledge that 6-foot-8 is the perfect frame for an ideal modern NBA player. When the general manager of your organization picks up that phone on draft night and says, “I’m going to get this guy,” the “guy,” you, a couch-locked fan who’s invested too much emotional capital in the game of a child, are dreaming. of is Jayson Tatum. He’s the dull rock upon which your team will build its church – a straightforward superstar and perennial All-Star who will one day be enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Draymond Green is not the rock. Draymond Green is nobody’s idea of ​​a slam-dunk, or the very center pillar of a regular playoff team. When he entered the league after playing four years at Michigan State, draftniks were mostly concerned with his size and speed. This is Draymond Green in college: a great forward with passing skills, “limited” athleticism, a high IQ. The kind of guy who wears a T-shirt under his jersey:

Yes, he is one of three people to have multiple triple-doubles in the NCAA Tournament. Not big enough for a powerful attacker, not fast enough for a small attacker. Long arms are cool, and he looks competitive, but how can a player without extraordinary physical qualities really excel in the NBA? And yet here he is, playing in his tenth season for the Golden State Warriors, his team leading 3-2 in his sixth Finals appearance, four-time All-Star and infallible Hall of Famer who will give an incredibly entertaining induction speech – unlike Tatum, whose speech is already putting me to sleep as I speculate about it in the press.

Part of the answer lies somewhere at the bottom of a 22-year-old Green’s DraftExpress summation: “Yet he continues to bounce the ball at an excellent pace, even against top-tier competition, as evidenced by his 18-rebound effort against North Carolina NBA-caliber frontcourt His 12.1 rebounds per 40 is a career high, and at just 6’7, he grabs 25% of his team’s total defensive rebounds. His soft hands and nose for the ball help him here, but his aggression, in particular, is on full display on the glass.

Draymond is small for his projectable role in the NBA, yes, but he also possesses a genius for space. In school, he applied that genius to the boards, where he could successfully unearth the ball against even a whale like UNC.

But what the scouts didn’t know, couldn’t know, was that his genius in space was transferable. He didn’t just understand how a ball came out of a rim or how to find a teammate on offense. He was also, somehow, able to repurpose that space genius into the deeply unsexy art of turning defense.

After the NBA legalized zone defense in 2002, a series of mobile big men – Dwight Howard, Joakim Noah, Marc Gasol, among others – shifted the practice of defending from one-on-one matchups to the practice to eat space. “Getting Your Man” was over – cutting pilots, spinning, changing, icing, was in. Draymond managed to emulate the new defensive ethos with his smaller, less athletic body, transforming into a deadly small-ball forward/center with his gigantic arms, absurd sense of space, and indomitable will to win.

Draymond also has another quality, one that all great movers of our time have: he’s an immaculate asshole who lives deep in the gashes in his opponent’s spine.

Watch this dead ball sequence near the end of the Warriors’ Game 5 win over the Celtics. Our man tries to get the ball out of Tatum’s hands after a stoppage in play. Tatum, after the game, told reporters what happened here: “In the NBA, after timeouts, guys try to get shoot it. They didn’t want me to shoot the ball. I just said, fuck it. I just took the ball with me until time out and kept the ball the whole time. They didn’t said nothing. They just didn’t want me to shoot the ball.

Now Draymond hasn’t had the best streak. Age severed his already unelite vertical leap, his three-point shooting went from “mostly useful” to “grinding of teeth inducing”, his playmaking ability stuttered by the Celtics’ defensive swarming. He is now the first man to foul in three separate NBA Finals games in a year. He’s still got the space genius, of course, still closing the lanes, though there’s no getting around it: he’s racing towards the end. But just look at Tatum’s face after Draymond withdrew his precious practice shots and sent him to the bench, clinging to the ball in sheer spite:

It’s the look of a man who’s been shattered by Draymond’s irritating energy. The game is almost over, his team is beaten for the night and faces two playoff games against a more experienced crew, and he got it. In this post-match interview, he goes out of his way to give Draymond no credit: “They didn’t want me to shoot the ball. We all know who that dark “they” is, Jayson. There is no conspiracy here. No Warriors shadow government stole that practice shot from you. It was Draymond. It’s in your head, man, and everyone can see it.

My friend John and I are quietly obsessed with NBA player numbers. You tell us a player, the type of game they are playing and their number, and we can figure out what is going to happen very quickly. There is no NBA number busier than Draymond Sports’s: 23. Two divided by three equals .666 or the Number of the Beast, which is none other than Michael Jordan, His Airness.

“It’s the look of a man who’s been shattered by Draymond’s irritating energy.”

When you select “23” you’re telling the world something about yourself: I watched Michael Jordan play ball and was pretty sure some otherworldly stuff was within reach. It’s the number of confidence freaks like Lou Williams and JR Smith, people who go out on the court and play the role of “Michael Jordan”, often very badly. Sometimes a man of destiny will opt for the sport 23: LeBron James, Anthony Davis. Kobe Bryant, the wackiest NBA player ever, wore 24, presumably as a gesture to his being the one after Jordan or whatever. It’s always a little frowned upon, because it’s impossible to stack on MJ. The man came from space!

(Jimmy Butler wore 23, and he’s the only acceptable high-scoring superstar to rock Jordan’s number, because his journey to the NBA was so crazy and required so much confidence when no one in the world believed in him .)

We’ve always been…completely confused by Draymond’s choice in this case. 23 usually means “I’m a fucking force of nature,” and there are few NBA players who play into themselves more than Draymond. The big men’s defense and elite play are great, but they’re not the glory boys’ providence either. Draymond wearing it is almost like a joke. I mean, listen to him talk about himself before the draft:

He ended up winning both of those titles in five years, by the way. But not like Michael Jordan: as a Swiss Army knife maniac; a genius who sees the game on an extra level and psychologically decimates his opponents.

Although that’s also a big part of Jordan’s game – steel trap approach, incredibly rude shit talker, oppressor of feelings. They both attacked their teammates a little too hard, for god’s sake. He does not mimic the glory of Air Jordan, the alien who has become an international icon. Rather, it evokes the filth of Mike, the baddest son of a bitch to ever pick up a ball. The Warriors, a team whose rise to the top was escalated by two aesthetic guards whose vibes are Wife Guy Supreme and Beach Lord, didn’t just need his space dominance or his third eye. They also needed a grumpy jerk – a dominant bottom eater looking to crack open the enemy’s skull and feast on their sweet psychic treats.