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One-time 'tweener Green gets comfy in a role all his own

Golden State's do-it-all player has used 2015-16 to further shatter preconceived notions about his position and his game

POSTED: Jan 18, 2016 12:04 PM ET

By Steve Aschburner

BY Steve Aschburner


— It was morning in Taiwan. The basketball camp's first sessions hadn't begun. So the weary NBA traveler still was in bed, remote control in hand, watching the 2015 Finals live from some 6,400 miles away.

"That's when it hit me," said the longtime NBA scout, currently working for a Western Conference team. "There's Draymond Green playing the 'five' against LeBron James at the 'five.' It's like I'm watching D-III basketball, which is a 6-6 and under league basically. I just laughed."

LeBron is LeBron and has been for a dozen years. But Draymond is becoming one of those one-name guys, too, largely for his ability to play multiple positions and shatter preconceptions about what a 6-foot-7, 230-pound fellow is supposed to be to do in the NBA.

Green Notches Eighth Triple-Double

Draymond Green records a triple double scoring 11 points with 13 rebounds and ten assists versus Portland.

Fifteen, 10, five years ago -- heck, even four years ago as a star/2012 Draft prospect at Michigan State -- Green looked to be what NBA folks called a " 'tweener": a potential pro too small to excel at power forward and not quick enough to thrive at small forward. The NBA's landfill is full of such types, from those long-ago (Byron Houston and Marcus Fizer) to more recent ones (Michael Beasley, Derrick Williams and Anthony Bennett).

Green, as arguably 1A to Steph Curry's 1 as most valuable player within the Golden State Warriors' winning concept, is demolishing stereotypes about players his size even as he builds a career that keeps getting better.

I was blessed to come to a great situation. A great franchise that appreciated the way that I do. So I've been able to become the player I've become.

– Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green

"It's mostly about staying true to yourself and believing in yourself and what you can do," Green told in a telephone interview Sunday. "At the end of the day, someone's opinion is only going to be their opinion. You can do something to change that opinion and, anyway, it doesn't mean that opinion's right. The way my mom raised me was, no man can determine your fate. She had me believing that since I was a kid.

"If you believe you're a bigger player than you are, nobody else can determine what that means."

Green's Triple-Double vs. Hornets

Draymond Green records his third straight triple-double with 13 points, 15 rebounds and 10 assists.

What we can do -- as Green's team faces its second Finals rematch with the Cleveland Cavaliers Monday night (TNT, 8 p.m. ET) -- is analyze why he is able to function so effectively at a variety of positions, in a range of roles. Basically, his competitive edge comes from involves three factors: His game, the Warriors' style and philosophy and the changing NBA.

Credit Green: Just because a player stands somewhere between 6-foot-4 and 6-foot-8 and weighs between 220-250 pounds doesn't mean he's the product of a cookie cutter. For every Charles Barkley, there are a dozen Bennetts, with an occasional Larry Johnson in between.

Most of Green's success is due to him, how he developed at Saginaw (Mich.) High and at Michigan State and where his head and his heart are now in his fourth NBA season.

"I think he's a different guy [from other 'tweeners]," said former NBA player, coach and executive Mike Dunleavy Sr., who does analysis for Sirius XM's NBA channel. "Yes, he's got the size of a 'tweener, but he's got a physical toughness. Very rarely do you find those guys who are considered to be all-defensive team.

"He's strong, he's smart and he's able to defend guys much bigger than his size. Offensively, he checks off all the boxes -- rebounds, handles the ball, has great vision to make a play, shoots the ball with range. He's a special guy."

Remember how Heat coach Erik Spoelstra referred to James as "1-through-5" during their years together in Miami? No one considers the Cavaliers' star a 'tweener because he's been so good at so many things from Day 1. It's starting to dawn on folks, as Green puts up numbers that call to mind the immortal Oscar Robertson (eight triple-doubles this season, with averages of 14.7 points, 9.6 rebounds and 7.3 assists), that he might be similarly unique.

At the end of the day, someone's opinion is only going to be their opinion. You can do something to change that opinion and, anyway, it doesn't mean that opinion's right.

– Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green

"Playing at Michigan State, they play big-boy basketball," Dunleavy said. "So you knew he had the toughness. He played a lot bigger in college, against good size in a physical [conference]."

More than that, being in Michigan exposed Green to Ben Wallace, the Detroit Pistons' great who won four Kia Defensive Player of the Year awards and had his jersey number (3) retired Saturday when Golden State visited The Palace of Auburn Hills. In Green's open letter to Wallace -- which was printed in the Detroit Free Press -- he wrote: "Here we are about 10 years later and a common story line has surfaced --- how am I able to do what I do while undersized, just like Ben. I refuse to be outworked and I consider myself to have the heart of a lion."

Credit the league: The NBA is a different league than when dinosaurs -- or rather, those long, lanky 7-footers recast from centers into power forwards, like Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett, Rasheed Wallace, Amar'e Stoudemire at the peak of their powers -- dominated the landscape.

Green's Triple Double vs. Nuggets

Draymond Green had a tremendous game as he scores 29 points, grabs 17 rebounds and hands out 17 assists in an overtime victory over the Nuggets.

Just three seasons ago, when Green was a rookie, three of the NBA's four finalists for conference championships all relied on two legitimate big men: Memphis with Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph, San Antonio with Duncan and Tiago Splitter and Indiana with Roy Hibbert and David West. Except that Miami and James won the title that year, followed by a more flowing San Antonio attack in 2014, followed by Golden State's perimeter-centric game last June.

Styles change fast, and in the spread-offense, pace-and-space tactics so widely embraced nowadays, Green can handle all three frontcourt positions against most opponents while initiating offense as a "point 'tweener" when Curry is off the ball.

Green's Triple-Double vs. Suns

Draymond Green recorded a triple-double as the Warriors routed the Suns on Wednesday.

"Look at the league," Dallas guard Wesley Matthews said the other day. "The league is adjusting to small ball. There aren't that many just-banging frontcourt players in the league anymore. He's come at a great time."

Not only does Green lead the NBA in triple-doubles, he leads Golden State in assists and leads all NBA forwards in that category as well. Only six other non-guards in league history ever have averaged more than seven assists over a full season, and only James -- Green's counterpart Monday night and potentially in another Finals clash -- has averaged at least seven rebounds, seven assists, one steal and one block (James did it three times).

Credit the Warriors: Right place, right time, right team. Some folks will argue that Green would be a cornerstone player wherever he was employed, but most agree that playing within Golden State's system, for an organization that has its own way of evaluating talent, enables Green to prosper.

As Matthews said, "You have to give him a lot of the credit, first, his drive and the work he puts into the game. But you also have to credit their coaching staff. A lot of players are made by what a staff feels you can be. Some guys, you get some situations where the hardest-working guy is going to play and you just can't find a reason to take him off the court. Then you get some where they look at you, 'Nah, he's not this big. He can't do this, can't do that.' "

Warriors vs. Rockets

Klay Thompson explodes for 38 points, Draymond Green adds a triple-double with 16 assists as Warriors win it 114-100.

Said Green: "Obviously I'm blessed to be here in a situation with Golden State where what I brought to the team was needed. And appreciated. I know that's important. Sometimes going to a certain franchise can ruin a career if you're not with the right team. I was blessed to come to a great situation. A great franchise that appreciated the way that I do. So I've been able to become the player I've become."

So those who pause before clicking Green's name in All-Star balloting, who think twice before Tweeting out his name with the appropriate hashtag, should know this: He doesn't mind the qualifier "situational star" that has supplanted " 'tweener" to account for his exploits.

"I don't take it personally at all," Green told "I think everybody is 'situational.' Nobody in this league does anything by themselves. If you do, you don't win. And if you don't win, you're not very successful anyway.

"I take it as a compliment. I take it as, that just means you like something I'm doing."

Steve Aschburner has written about the NBA since 1980. You can e-mail him here and follow him on Twitter.

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