Thursday, January 27 2022
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Draymond Green is almost unquestionably the definitive defensive player of this generation. He may not be known for the more traditional man-to-man defense that Kawhi Leonard plays or the rim protection that Rudy Gobert offers, but he is the poster boy for the NBA‘s move toward small ball. His rare ability to defend all five positions at an elite level unlocked the switch-heavy scheme that helped the Golden State Warriors win three championships, but Green’s personal trophy case isn’t quite as full. While he won Defensive Player of the Year in 2017, he easily could have won two more trophies in 2015 and 2016. He lost close races to Leonard in both seasons, and Gobert’s emergence from there made it even harder for Green to work his way back into the race. 

But that has changed this season. Green’s 15-2 Warriors have the NBA’s best defense, and he wants to be recognized for it. “I want to win. I want to be a Defensive Player of the Year again, and I want to be an All-Star again,” Green told reporters after Golden State’s 119-104 win over the Raptors Sunday. “And that is motivating me because a lot of people had counted me out. Same mistake people made before when I first came into the league.”

It’s too early in the season to declare a favorite for any award, but Green has to be at the top of any list of candidates through 17 games. Golden State is allowing exactly 100 points per 100 possessions. The second-place Clippers allow 102, and even if Green is supported with a roster that is significantly stronger defensively than the ones he’s had in recent years, it’s not as though that has ever precluded anyone from winning this award. If Leonard could win it twice with Tim Duncan and Gregg Popovich, Andrew Wiggins and Gary Payton II shouldn’t hold Green back in a race with no other immediate standouts. 

Gobert remains an elite defender, but Utah has fallen to 11th defensively, and many of his personal defensive numbers have dipped. Giannis Antetokounmpo will be heard from, but the Milwaukee Bucks dealt with so many early-season injuries that couldn’t make a strong first impression on voters. 

It’s hard to believe Green has won the award only once. He’s unquestionably the most accomplished playoff defender of the past decade, but he’s been overshadowed by Golden State’s offensive firepower in the regular season. Hopefully that changes this season. The Warriors are dominant on both ends of the floor. Stephen Curry deserves the bulk of the credit offensively, but Green carries the Warriors defense, and if he keeps it up, he’s going to get the second trophy he apparently covets. 



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