Everything that happens in the NBA is highly contextualized. There are no simple answers for anything that happens, because nothing is simple. Basketball is jazz in this way: Individual actions or performances cannot be understood or even considered fairly outside the context of other actions and performances. You cannot analyze a piano melody without noting what the bass or horns are doing. You can't judge a trumpet solo outside the context of the piece itself. Everything is intertextual.
But jazz is art, and basketball is becoming something like a science. At least we try to talk about basketball like a science in this age of the quantified everything. And try as we might, we cannot separate a single player's performance in a basketball game from the performance of the other nine players, nor the context of the coaches, the stakes, the players on the bench or even the mood of the arena. We come up with numbers to assign players. We do our level best to assess how positively or negatively each player affects his team. Adjusted plus-minus is the leading flavor of these attempts, and easily the most well-considered.
But these metrics are flawed and will always be flawed, because the context which measurement requires is too vast. The context is frankly beyond being even unmeasurable. It is unknowable, wholly defined by its experiential nature.
Thankfully, no one serious promotes the infallibility of plus-minus or any other metric. It's simply a tool meant to scratch at the sum of all that's sensory about the experience of watching, and most who use it use it as such.
But sometimes that tool backs up what we experience so fully, that it's something like an epiphany. Sometimes the harmony of the metric and the visual experience is so strong that you believe a little bit more on our ability to measure basketball.
Watching the games closely and interpreting his performance in full context, he's been completely indispensable on both ends. His sundry offensive tools make Golden State's offense look unbeatable. His playmaking and shot-taking crank the puzzling, gorgeous motion of Steve Kerr's system to 11. He hits tempo-changing shots at just the right moments to kill the Pelicans' runs or punctuate those of the Warriors. He is a strong candidate for Defensive Player of the Year, and showed why during the second half of Game 2 on Monday by shutting down Anthony Davis (insomuch as Anthony Davis can be shut down).
He feeds the crowd and the crowd feeds him. Like an on-court preacher, he seems to push his already talented teammates to a higher level with his presence, his timely smirks and screams. He is the rising tide of the swollen sea that is the Golden State Warriors.
That's what we've seen: An irreplaceable two-way monster so central to the Warriors' success that you start to wonder if he's as valuable as the MVP. Crude measurements say yes. Through two games, the Warriors have outscored the Pelicans by 57 points in the 84 minutes Green has been on the court. When Green's been on the bench -- those 12 long minutes over two games -- the Warriors have been outscored by 30 points. His per-game on-off in this series is +47.
The context matters. Most of Green's minutes come with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Andrew Bogut, all of whom are quite good. The Pelicans made a run early in the fourth quarter in Game 1 while Green and the other starters were on the bench, and had a scoring spurt when Green sat on Monday. Green did no better marking Davis than did other Golden State defenders in Game 1, especially late. Green didn't shoot well (4-12) in Game 2; without Curry and Thompson (and Leandro Barbosa!) going nuts, Golden State likely wouldn't have had enough offense to win.
For a situational superstar like Draymond, all of this context really matters. Part of what allowed him to defend Davis so well in the second half on Monday was his skill, smarts and effort, but part of it was also having Bogut as a willing helper near the rim. Part of what allows Green to rack up assists (12 through two games, 3.7 per game in the regular season) is his skill, smarts and effort, but part of it is also that Curry and Thompson move brilliantly off the ball and the big men set solid screens.
Yet if the context fully explained Draymond's success, then anybody could fill Green's role as well as he does. In reality, few could. A huge chunk of what makes Green work so well in this space, with these teammates is that Green is really damn good at basketball. He's the perfect fit based on what we see on the court and what we see in the numbers. Green has become the evolutionary Shawn Marion. Like Kawhi Leonard, Green has learned when he can take over games from that peripheral space. There's really no reason the Warriors should hesitate to pay Green whatever it takes to keep him.
Luckily for Golden State, he's a restricted free agent, so there's no way the Warriors can lose him if they want to keep him. The worst a rival could do is convince Green to sign a front-loaded max offer sheet that adds to Golden State's 2015-16 tax bill. Who cares? No matter the prism you watched the first two games of this series through, you can see just how valuable Green is to the Warriors. You can't put a price on what he does, not in a capped-salary environment.
In the meantime, let's appreciate the beautiful harmony of Draymond's impact in our eyes and on paper, the consonance of his gifts and the Warriors' needs. On this team at this time, he is a virtuoso. For the sake of basketball as art and science, let's hope it stays that way.
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