Draymond Green is the NBA’s 2017 Defensive Player of the Year. The do-everything forward for the Golden State Warriors had been the runner-up to Kawhi Leonard for the past two seasons, but he finally surpassed him this season while anchoring a championship Warriors squad.
Green beat out Leonard and Utah’s Rudy Gobert in a hotly contested race.
Green can play like the traditional players who have won this award — shot blocking centers and shutdown perimeters defenders — but it’s best to view his defensive abilities like that of a play-calling middle linebacker in football. Green isn’t just Golden State’s most talented defender; he’s the one who directs his four teammates into the places where they need to go. It’s Green’s defensive IQ that allows the Warriors to switch so frequently and indiscriminately, as explained in this video.
If you can’t watch that whole video right now, at least look at this play.
On this play in Game 3 of the first round, Green starts the possession defending Evan Turner, drops down onto Maurice Harkless, doubles Jusuf Nurkic once he gets the ball, hustles out to defend C.J. McCollum for a couple seconds, and then finally switches onto Damian Lillard when the opportunity presented itself, forcing him into a contested miss. It’s Green at his best, showing both his ability to guard every player on the floor without hesitation, but also his knowledge of when and how to do it.
The raw numbers check out too. Green led the league with two steals per game and recorded 1.4 blocks per game as well. His defensive box plus/minus was 5.0, the best in the league, and the Warriors recorded a 99.3 defensive rating in the 2,471 minutes that Green spent on the floor during the regular season.
The Warriors needed Green to be even better this year.
While signing Kevin Durant, Golden State had to jettison Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes, two key role players who played large parts on the defensive end as well. They went into the season with the ground-bound Zaza Pachulia starting at center. For Green, a 6’7 Swiss Army knife of a defender who can guard virtually every player in the league, it was imperative that he led the defensive effort this season.
There’s no off switch for Green — he’s the same sort of defender whether it’s the first quarter or the closing seconds, like this game-sealing steal against Anthony Davis.
Green also had the first triple-double in league history that came without points — on Feb. 10, Green recorded 11 rebounds, 10 assists, and 10 steals against the Memphis Grizzlies while scoring just four points. Green’s scoring was the lowest it has been in the past three seasons, but his total impact probably hasn’t ever been higher.
All of this is why Green is your 2017 Defensive Player of the Year. For all his faults — a sometimes hot temper and a strange propensity for kicking people — this is one of the best, most adaptable defenders we’ve ever seen in this league, and a model that all modern defenders should strive to replicate.