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Are Draymond Green’s antics still worth it for the Warriors?

The defensive star has been suspended indefinitely after his latest ejection. Does Golden State still need his fire?

Golden State Warriors v Phoenix Suns
Draymond Green of the Golden State Warriors reacts after being ejected for a flagrant foul during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at Footprint Center on December 12, 2023 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Warriors 119-116.
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Golden State Warriors power forward Draymond Green was ejected for the third time in the 2023-24 season Tuesday, hitting Phoenix Suns big man Jusuf Nurkic on what looked like an attempt to post him up.

Green said after the game the contact was inadvertent and he did not intend to hit Nurkic, but the video does make it seem like the Warriors forward exaggerated his movements and clocked the Suns center in the head for no reason. The league has suspended him indefinitely as a result of this action. He must meet certain team and league conditions to return to play.

Green said after the game he doesn’t apologize for things he means to do, but he did apologize to Nurkic. The Suns center said after the game he feels Green needs help.

Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said Green’s absence was huge as it changed the way the team wanted to play with different lineups. He also said Green lost his poise, which is nothing new for the forward. This is who Green is, and the Warriors have largely let this type of behavior go because of what came with it.

Let’s take a step back and look at Green’s journey in the NBA. He was a second-round pick who wasn’t given much of a chance to become anything, and had to essentially fight his way to a career. He’s done far more than just have a NBA career, and it’s in large part due to his intensity and competitive fire. Green is a four-time champion, four-time All-Star and a Defensive Player of the Year. He’s made two All-NBA teams and eight All-Defensive teams. He’s made about $178 million so far according to Spotrac, and signed a four-year, $100 million last summer to stay with Golden State. In short, Green is not an ordinary second-round pick. His defensive IQ and ability changed the Warriors completely, and made them title contenders. And Golden State, for the most part, has been willing to put with the technicals and ejections if it means Green controls himself when the games matter most. He largely has done that, outside of the 2016 NBA Finals.

In the last few seasons however, things have gone beyond technicals and simple ejections. Green punched teammate Jordan Poole last summer ahead of what was supposed to be a title defense for Golden State. It turned into an ugly mess, with the Warriors looking like the worst team in the league in road games. Golden State wound up being eliminated in the second round at the hands of the Lakers, the first time in Steve Kerr’s tenure the Warriors haven’t made the Finals with all three of Green, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson healthy. Poole, who was seen as a future piece of the Warriors and got a big extension in the summer of 2022, was traded in a package for Chris Paul.

Of Green’s three ejections, two of them are for egregious physical behavior. The chokehold on Timberwolves center Rudy Gobert is the most memorable and even if you want to say Green was sticking up for his teammates, there’s a certain line you don’t cross. The hit on Nurkic was apparently Green trying to sell the foul, but that doesn’t explain why he spun around with his arm extended with such force. It’s all getting tiresome, especially when Green’s defense has slipped.

From 2012-13 to 2021-22, Green’s average defensive rating according to basketball-reference.com was 102. He had three seasons where he finished with a rating under 100, which ranks in the elite of the elite. For the sake of making a judgement, we’ll say a defensive rating of 110 is passable. Green’s defensive rating last season was 112, and his defensive rating so far this season is 115. He’s not the same player he was on that end of the floor and some of that can be chalked up to age. But he’s still doing the same stuff he did when he was in his 20s and at his peak. It used to be almost endearing for Warriors fans but now it seems to be growing into something annoying.

As for Green’s impact on the team’s defense, the Warriors have seen that slip too. Golden State was ranked 12th in defensive rating in Green’s rookie season. If we take out the 2019-20 season due to COVID, here are Golden State’s defensive rating ranks compared to the league from 2012-13 to 2021-22.

2012-13: 12th
2013-14: 3rd
2014-15: 1st, NBA champions
2015-16: 6th, NBA Finals appearance
2016-17: 2nd, NBA champions
2017-18: 11th, NBA champions
2018-19: 11th, NBA Finals appearance
2020-21: 5th
2021-22: 2nd, NBA champions

Even in the years where the Warriors could score their way to easy wins, they were on the cusp of being a top-10 defense. They have three instances of finishing first or second. They are in the top-5 on five occasions. This is all largely due to having a player like Green anchor your defensive system.

That has not been the case over the last two seasons. The Warriors ranked 14th in defensive rating last year. They were third in defensive rating at home while being 28th in defensive rating on the road. This year, they are a league-average defensive team at 16th. The home-road splits don’t have much of an impact, as Golden State is 14th at home in the category. Basically, Green’s fire is still burning but it hasn’t shown up on the court like it used to.

And to top everything off, the Warriors aren’t winning games at the rate they used to. They are 10-13, battling for positioning in a Western Conference that is much better than it was even a few years ago. They are 2-6 in games where Green was either suspended or ejected. The Warriors lost to the Suns, a team they are likely to see down the line should they be competing for a title, by three points. They lost to the Timberwolves, the top team in the West, by three points in a game where Green played slightly more than 90 seconds. These were potential opportunities for the Warriors to test themselves against possible playoff competition. And Green decided he needed to make a personal statement instead.

We don’t know how long Green is out for certain, but the Warriors will have to adjust to life without him. Perhaps they weather this storm and realize they no longer need Green’s rash actions to be competitive. Maybe Green sees that as well, and tones things down a bit. It feels like there will be an ultimate decision to make for the Warriors after Green eventually is cleared to play again.