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Draymond’s Leadership on Display This Season, Rooted in the Past
On September 30th during his Media Day press conference, eight-year veteran Draymond Green said taking a leadership role along with Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson would be a change from prior years: “It'll definitely be different. We've got a lot of new blood… But I think that's fine. You know, you get a chance to know these young guys, mentor them, kind of show them the way.”
Though playing with 17 first-year Warriors throughout the season (through March 10) may have seemed like a daunting task, Green quickly followed that up with “I'm excited about it,” ready to accept a new type of leadership role.
One of the first Warriors to experience the schooling of Green was rookie forward Eric Paschall. At a practice on October 19 following the Warriors’ preseason games, Paschall spoke positively of his early experiences.
“I feel like Steph (Curry) and Draymond (Green) just talk to us so much,” he said. “I mean, Dray, every little play out there when he was sitting out, he’s taught me so much that I can get better at, even on the floor just recognizing and seeing the next play before it even happens.”
Fast forward over five months, and one could say the season has not gone as hoped. The Dubs have been marred with a variety of injuries and have gone through a number of roster changes throughout their 2019-20 campaign. For Green, this meant getting accustomed to constant changes on the court and learning about new teammates as they joined the Warriors. Through the NBA’s stoppage of play due to the spread of COVID-19, the Warriors have used 33 unique starting lineups and 22 players have at suited up for the Dubs at some point this season.
But even through times of change, new Warriors picked up on Green’s talents as a leader, both on and off the court.
Forward Andrew Wiggins, acquired by the Warriors at the trade deadline, needed just one game to get accustomed to playing alongside Green. After his February 10th debut with the Dubs, Wiggins spoke highly of Green.
“It was great,” said Wiggins. “He was a great motivator. He pushes the ball, great leader and if you’re open, he’s going to find you.”
Green reciprocated the praise by defending Wiggins, too. The number one overall pick of the 2014 NBA Draft, Wiggins had been labeled as lacking in some aspects of the game, but Green sees his potential and wants to bring out his best.
“I think he can be an All-Defensive player,” Green said after practice on Feb. 19. “That’s one of my goals for him, as the leader of this team, one of my things that I really want to push him on. He has all the tools. He has the athleticism.”
Green’s ability to connect with his teammates and teach them is something Dub Nation has seen in his eight years with the team. But this keen ability to lead even predates his time with the Warriors.
In an interview with Boston’s WBUR in February, former Michigan State teammate Anthony Ianni and Associate Head Strength and Conditioning Coach and Director of Sports Science Mike Vorkapich provided details of just how caring Green can be for his teammates.
Vorkapich saw the leadership in Green from his freshman year in 2008: "You know, we lost, and he kind of piped off in the locker room in a good, positive way — just saying, 'Hey, we’re right there. We're going to get back to this point... We’re going to get back to the Final Four next year’,” Vorkapich recalled.
"And you don’t hear freshmen say that. It was like he took the reins. And that became his team then," he said.
Ianni joined the team in 2010 and played alongside Green through the next two seasons. He was also diagnosed with autism from an early age, but hid that from basketball teammates throughout his career. The disorder prevented him from understanding some of the jokes from MSU teammates, and that caused a confrontation between he and Green during summer workouts before the 2011-12 season when a joke eventually angered Ianni.
“I started arguing with (Green), telling him to quit it, you know, stop. And then he just flat flat out said out loud to everybody, 'Well, if you can't take a joke, then you shouldn't be on this team. You should just go home,'" detailed Ianni.
But when Vorkapich, one of the few people who knew of Ianni’s diagnosis, told Green the issue, he took the initiative not only to talk with Ianni but also ensure he learned everything necessary from there-on-out.
As Ianni said, “(Green) said to me, 'Well, first of all, kudos to you. Because look what you've overcome in your life and look where you're at now.' He said, 'Second of all, if you would have told me this from day one, none of this would've happened.'”
"Having somebody with that type of stardom, if you will, to understand what one of their teammates is going through and how they can adapt to that person — that really showed me not only what kind of a leader that Draymond was and still is, but what kind of a person he is as well," said Ianni.
Green’s mentality is a reflection of the Warriors’ overall culture that permeates with the players, coaches and even beyond the basketball staff. And though players may come in and out as they have this season, Green takes pride in maintaining the championship mentality of the Warriors even in a down season.
After the Warriors 141-121 loss to the Dallas Mavericks on December 28, Green said: “That’s the culture that you build. Just because you’re losing games you just don’t throw it by the wayside. You build that for it to last for years to come, so our morale is still good.”
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