2019 NBA Finals: Toronto Raptors vs. Golden State Warriors

Is Draymond Green the NBA's best defender ... ever?

He's lost weight, controlled his emotions, taken a strong leadership role and seeks to claim the mantle

TORONTO — Absolutes can be tricky business, because whatever the claim, it only takes one exception to disprove it.

So when Golden State forward Draymond Green said earlier this NBA postseason he considers himself the “best defender ever,” naysayers lined up around the block.

Some counted the Defensive Player of the Year awards won by Dikembe Mutombo and Ben Wallace (four each) to make their cases against Green (one). Others spoke of versatile, on-ball defenders such as Dennis Rodman, Gary Payton and Toronto Raptors star Kawhi Leonard.

A few simply mentioned the name of legendary Boston Celtics center Bill Russell, and dropped the mic.

Still, people wanted to ask Green about his boast Wednesday in advance of The Finals between the Warriors and the Raptors. They raised the topic with other Golden State and Toronto players, too.

Given Leonard’s involvement in these Finals, it remains to be seen if Green can even establish himself as the “best defender ever” in this championship series. Both players have their supporters, in the non-rim-protector category of individual defense.

“Both those guys are in the same discussion, right?” Raptors coach Nick Nurse said. “First of all, you’ve got some physical abilities. You’ve got some God-given abilities. You’ve got some size, speed, athleticism, quickness. And then you go to the next part of it, and I always keep saying this: You’ve got a tremendous desire and pride to stop people and make plays and want to infuse your team with enthusiasm to play defense.”

Warriors guard Klay Thompson said: “Both those two could be in the argument, especially of our time, this generation. … Obviously both Defensive Players of the Year. Can guard multiple positions. Their versatility is what, to me, stands out the most. It’s not like they’re just protecting the rim, but they can guard 1-through-5 and do it so effectively.”

But it’s that “ever” that sparks the push back against short-term memory, when the game’s history stretches back eras across decades.

Doesn’t matter. Thompson was not deterred.

“He’s my teammate of seven years, so I will forever have his back,” Thompson said.

Golden State coach Steve Kerr stayed away from the absolute and focused on how well Green has played lately. The 29-year-old challenged himself late this season, losing 23 pounds in six weeks to peak as the postseason approached and keeping more of a lid on his unproductive emotions on the floor.

That’s the guy — stepping back into a featured role since Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins got hurt — Kerr lauded Wednesday.

“His leadership has been great,” Kerr said. “He lost some weight and got himself in much better condition. … You can just see it. He’s a different guy. He’s slimmer and sleeker and faster, and I think that confidence has allowed him to be more poised on the floor.

“When you’re playing well and you’re feeling good about yourself, it’s easier to sort of maintain your emotions. I think there was some frustration earlier in the year when he wasn’t playing as well. He’s such a passionate, competitive guy that some of those frustrations came out. But you’re seeing the best of Draymond right now.”

The question remained: Is Green’s best the best ever?

The answer, even Green himself will admit, is yet to be determined. The status of the NBA’s most legendary defenders is secure — for now.

“I think as a competitor, if you’re trying to do something meaningful, if you don’t have the mindset that you’re the best ever, you failed already,” Green said.

Green’s boast was all about motivating himself, not diminishing those who came before or even his peers.

In his response, Green pulled back the curtain not on just this particular claim but his entire career, rising from the No. 35 pick in 2012 — a classic “’tweener” in size who should have struggled at any front-court position — to become a key contributor and three-time NBA champion.

“So if you don’t have the mindset that you are the best reporter ever, then you already failed,” Green told the questioner. “That’s been my mindset since I can remember. That I am ‘the best ever’ at what I do. And every day that I step on the basketball floor I will strive to be that. And that will give me a shot at being the best.

“But before you can ever reach anything, you have to believe it. You don’t just mistakenly become great at something. You probably at one time or another believed that you can be great at that and then you work to get great at that and you reach that greatness.

“So I always believed that. And I work every day to reach that.”

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

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