If you're a fan of basketball beyond just the Spurs then perhaps San Antonio's early exit from the playoffs has given you more of an opportunity to watch the Golden State Warriors in general and Draymond Green specifically.
Quite the experience, huh?
On the surface, Green doesn't seem to be the type of player that would appeal to those of us raised within the Spurs culture. He's a polarizing figure and someone I've had more conversations about among both my Warriors fan friends and Spurs fan friends throughout this season than anyone else on that team. In some respects, Green is reminiscent of Dennis Rodman, a versatile, dynamic defender and ace rebounder to be sure, but also an emotional, unstable powderkeg. The key difference, of course, is that Rodman was mutinous, transparent in his desire for attention and not overly concerned with being a good teammate in his time with the Spurs. Green by all indications is very tight with his teammates and an ingrained part of the Warriors' fabric.
Really, the much better comparison for Green within the Spurs is Manu Ginobili.
No, wait, just hear me out.
They have more than a few things in common. Both were second-round picks, not expected to do much of anything. Both were relative late bloomers. Green played for four years at Michigan State and barely made it onto anyone's radar until his senior season, in which he averaged a double-double for the first time. He was close to 23 before he played in his first NBA game, practically ancient for an American player by current standards. Ginobili wasn't drafted until he was 22, when he was toiling in "Serie A2" (second-division) of the Italian league, and didn't join the Spurs until he was 25.
Both guys slid in the draft because evaluators had concerns with their physiques. In Green's case he was deemed too short and he'd struggled to control his weight for most of his collegiate career. Ginobili had the opposite problem in that his body resembled a stick.
Green and Ginobili were seen as high-energy, high-motor players whose strengths were their competitiveness and feel for the game, but both faced questions about their inconsistent jumpers and whether their athleticism would play at the highest level. Tom Izzo at Michigan State and Ginobili's numerous coaches in Argentina and Italy (including Ettore Messina) swore that their disciples would be too driven to fail and would quickly grow into leadership roles with any team that signed them.
Once they made it into the league through the back door, Green and Ginobili quickly made an impression with their teammates and coaches, even though their manic playing styles and penchant for improvisation led to many heated arguments with their skippers (and continue to, in Green's case). Mark Jackson and Steve Kerr with the Warriors and Gregg Popovich with the Spurs would all arrive at similar conclusions: That stripping their young firebrands' of their confidence leads to diminishing returns. Both players have off-the-charts basketball IQ's, both see plays before they happen and good things seem to happen when they're on the floor, even though their methods appear unorthodox at times.
In fact, I'd argue that Green is the smartest player on the Warriors' roster, with only Andre Iguodala as his competition for the honor. He's certainly their best, most expansive interview subject. Both Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson are fairly useless when it comes to explaining what happens on the floor, whereas Green is engaging and informative. Maybe it's unfair to draw a direct correlation between public speaking skills and on-court intelligence, but Green couldn't do what he does on the floor --and Kerr wouldn't give him the amount of responsibility he does on both ends-- if he didn't feel he was at least a basketball savant if not just a smart person, period.
Even more so than their intelligence, the trait that Ginobili and Green share more is their competitive versatility. Both have the power to affect games in a multitude of ways, both offensively and defensively, and have a knack for providing their teams whatever they're lacking in a given game, whether it's tangible --outside shooting, trips to the free-throw line, a key offensive rebound, a steal-- or it's emotional. Neither needs to score to have a huge impact in wins but both can score in bunches when needed. And both have a way of making up for their own mistakes. How many times have we seen Ginobili turn it over on one end and then immediately draw a charge on the other? Similarly, Green is notorious for following up a bad play on offense with a block.
Yes, Green is, shall we say, a bit more outwardly expressive than the Argentine legend. He not only talks voluminous amounts of trash to opponents but is also a volcano threatening to erupt whenever a referee makes a call he doesn't agree with. He racked up 13 technicals during the regular season and five more during the playoffs, putting him in danger of being suspended if has a rough night.
Ginobili, by contrast, hasn't picked up a "T" in five years, and has been called for just 11 of them in his 14-year Spurs career.
But don't be fooled by the superficial stuff. Ginobili may not be very chatty with his opponents, but he's been San Antonio's emotional talisman over the years. The team and the fans feed off his energy and hustle. When he gets going, it psyches up the whole building and the Spurs become better than the sum of their parts. I've written it before and I'll write it again: Ginobili is a 15-2 run, personified. We've also seen how pedestrian the Warriors look when Green isn't emotionally charged engaged. If he's not into it, they get blown out.
There's no question that both players are tough. The ordeal Ginobili went through this past season is well-chronicled and the future Hall-of-Famer seems to pride himself in not giving opponents the satisfaction of seeing him grimace in pain after taking hard fouls. But I think it would be a mischaracterization to label Green a dirty goon and Ginobili a choirboy. Make no mistake, Manu wasn't as overt about it as Green has been, but Ginobili is well acquainted with the dark arts of the game. Not only has he slid underneath driving opponents at the last instant more times than we can count, but his forays to the hoop in his younger days were as much about about the Euro-Step as they were about being a snowball of butcher knives rolling downhill, knees up and elbows out. Manu wasn't John Stockton, or even Bruce Bowen, but he was more sneaky-dirty than we give him credit for, and personally it's always been one of my favorite things about him.
Just about every championship team has someone like Ginobili or Green on their roster, a tertiary star or high-status role player who does whatever is required and shines on the biggest stage when brighter lights often falter. Curry might be Golden State's transcendent talent, but Green is every bit as irreplaceable and perhaps even more valuable. The technicals and flagrants are a smokescreen, obscuring the fact that he does everything for them.
Geez, all this story's done is remind me how much I'm going to miss watching Ginobili play. Worst of all, some of his best qualities will be almost impossible to relive because they're buried in the middle of games and can't be found on his YouTube compilations.