The appeal of Draymond Green is that he's grandiose. There's nothing he can't do and he's always the first to let his opponents and the world at large know of this fact. Flexing his biceps, staring down his competition and mouthing off about how he can't be guarded are the most familiar images of him, an underdog grown cartoonishly dominant.
The culmination of Green's ridiculous nature was best displayed when Stephen Curry, the Warriors' chief elicitor of despair from opposing teams, suffered a shin injury at the end of December. With Curry out, who would shoulder the unenviable burden of assuming the MVP's playmaking duties for the team?
There was never a question. Green, the forever brash and confident former second-round pick, stepped up and averaged a triple-double in the two games that Curry sat. Returning to face the Nuggets, Curry left in the second quarter after re-aggravating the same injury. Green again heaved Golden State onto his back with a 29-point, 17-rebound, 14-assist night that saved the game in overtime.
Even before Curry left that game, Green did his caping in typically overstated fashion. He scored the Warriors' second basket after catching a pass at the top of the key from Curry. Before that he had set a pick that switched Jameer Nelson onto him. So there he is, in the first minute of the game, with the much smaller Nelson guarding him at the top of the key and Kenneth Faried and Nikola Jokic spaced out away from the lane. Green shoots the three and leaves his arm hanging in the air. Because he can. It goes in, because why wouldn't it?
The next level up comes after Green passes the ball to Curry, who is running Nelson into the ground. Curry drives into the lane, and Faried, Green's defender, is forced to collapse and help his scrambling point guard. As he does this, Green slides out to the top of the three-point line. Curry kicks the ball out, Green shoots and scores before Faried can recover. Of course he leaves his arm up here, as well.
Green is impossible to replicate on the grounds that he gives the team options and freedom from a position not usually associated with such attributes. In just those two instances, Green was a threat to shoot, of course, but he also could have done a multitude of other things: attack the guard for the easy layup, drive and kick it out for an almost guaranteed three-pointer, force Faried to come out of the paint before beating him with speed. That's to say nothing of plays that would've given him options in the post.
Green had to become lethal at each skill because, coming into the league, his size and jack-of-all trades skill set weren't suited for any one position. Rather than limiting him, Green honed his all-around game and released himself of conventional restraints. Cursed to enter the pros without a defined role, Green built himself into one of the league's best players at any position.
After Green had a triple-double in the Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals, in which the Warriors beat the Cavaliers, the forward, lost in a crowd of fans, spotted his mother from across the court and joked with her: "Mom, they said I couldn't play in this league. Too slow, too small, can't shoot well enough, can't defend nobody, what does he do well? He doesn't have a skill that stands out."
"They told me I can't play in this league" pic.twitter.com/ziuRUYHeWb— Zach Harper (@talkhoops) June 17, 2015
That was the mistake of those of us who judged and dismissed Green harshly: To ignore his potential and winning mentality because he didn't fit a certain NBA mold. We limited him. Steve Kerr did the opposite: Where most of us saw his size and speed as hindrances, Kerr viewed it as versatility. Green knew that he could not only survive the league but would thrive in it, and if nothing else, he was willing to work to back up his talk.
There's a wonderful anime that deals with this specific theme. Gurren Lagann, which first aired in 2007, is one of the most over-the-top, powerful and emotional pieces of art in that genre. It's 26 episodes of inspiration packed between sequences of gigantic mecha fights, heartbreaking deaths and humans striving for freedom of self.
Many of Gurren Lagann's driving monologues end with one of the main characters, or a combination of all of them, screaming defiantly at their enemies: "Who the hell do you think I am/we are?" before stating the name of their brigade. The insinuation is that the name itself is evidence enough that they contain multitudes. Their mere existence is evidence that all adversity is surmountable and limitations put in place by others demand resistance.
One of the show's most poignant scenes takes place in the eighth episode. The team is in a battle with an enormous mecha ship and numerous other smaller robots. They are not only dwarfed, but vastly out-numbered. Because of this, Simon, the quiet, shy and fearful protagonist, is tasked with using his mecha, which is just as small and supposedly as weak as him, to take control of the larger ship.
His adopted brother and father figure, Kamina, who is brash, arrogant, loud, charismatic and in every other way Simon's opposite, fights the other enemies to buy his brother time. He is overwhelmed and destroyed. Simon, witnessing this, falls despondent in the control room as the suggestive silence engulfs the scene.
But Kamina's propensity for the dramatic is not to be stopped by death. At least not yet. He pops up in front of the screen to the control room and begins to yell at his brother. Staring him in the eyes, bloodied and battered, he tells him: "Don't forget. Believe in yourself. Not in the you who believes in me. Not the me who believes in you. Believe in the you who believes in yourself."
It's not much different than Mary Babers-Green destroying the delusion of idolization early in her son by refusing to let him put up posters of athletes in his room. A critical part of Kamina's statement asks his brother to build an innate foundation on his own abilities and create his own path independent of the image that anyone else has of him. Any freedom that can be given can also be taken away. Thus, the only real one is the one from within.
In the same vein, Babers-Green told GQ that she tried to give her son an innate self-assuredness: "I’ve always -- always told him -- man didn’t make you, and man can’t break you. They cannot determine how high you can go. They can’t."
It drove Green, as a rookie, to challenge and denounce his assigned mentor Jeremy Tyler for complaining over what was seen as a weak foul. To talk trash to Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant when he was struggling for minutes. And to hit the game-winner in his first matchup against LeBron James after the four-time MVP belittled him by driving into him, getting the and-1 call, then exclaiming that Green was too small to guard him.
Gurren Lagann starts off as a show of two boys who dream of leaving their underground village for the brightness of the surface world. They soon find themselves, Simon especially, surrounded by forces reinforcing -- through physicality, actions and words -- the lie that they could not survive and were not prepared for the burdens of greatness.
By the end of it, Simon's small robot is at the head of a mecha so large that it's visible from planets while existing in a secret dimension. The final boss fight for measure consists of their robot and the enemy's throwing galaxies at each other.
But their growth is not just about self-belief. It happens through their ability to add components to their robot after every fight. So what starts as undersized grows into a machine that shakes the known and unknown universe.
Green has employed the same tactic in his short NBA career. In each of the four years that he has been in the league, he has grown by leaps and bounds. He's gone from backing up David Lee and touching the ball as a fifth option to unseating and making Lee disposable, to a starring role on the NBA's best team while touching the ball as much as the league's superstar forwards.
This year, he's handling the ball as much as All-NBA guards and he's shown that he can lead a team on his own if need be. He's destined for All-Star success this year and for many years to come. He's growing at a rate that is startling, if not surreal.
Before the last battle in the anime, Simon meets the ghost of his deceased brother. They talk and Kamina mentions that Simon is now taller than him. He then says his final goodbye and tells the smiling little brother:
"Get going Simon, just don't be distracted by the what-ifs, should-haves and if-onlys. The one thing you choose yourself, THAT is the truth of your universe."
Green never wavered in the belief in his ability, even when the world diminished him. This year, and the year before, he's gone from "too slow, too small, can't shoot well enough, can't defend nobody..." to being too fast, too big, a three-point threat and, the question now being, who can't he defend? Green doesn't have one skill that stands out, he has a whole list of them that's grown enormous.
His truth was that he could conquer the league. The rest just happened because of opportunity and chance.
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SB Nation presents: East Coasters' solution to late Warriors games