The highest compliment Warriors rookie Draymond Green has been paid this season – and he has collected quite a few – came from Indiana Pacers forward Tyler Hansbrough, who asked Green to meet him at the Pacers’ team bus after the game.
What prompted the invitation? “I told him he was soft,” Green said.
Hansbrough, of course, doesn’t hear that very often, having one of the most bruising playing styles in the entire NBA. But during the Warriors’ 103-92 win over the Pacers last Saturday, Hansbrough apparently complained that Green was illegally grabbing him.
The complaints, as well as the challenge to settle their differences by the bus, indicate that Green got under the skin, and into the head, of one of the league’s more accomplished agitators. Green, in effect, Hansbroughed Hansbrough.
Pacers point guard George Hill saw some of himself in Green as well. “I noticed him because he made an impact,” Hill said. “He made what we call the scrum plays – get the loose balls, rebound, make stops, bring energy. As a rookie in San Antonio, that was my job.”
Those are heady comparisons for a second-round pick, 35th overall, who is 11th on the team in scoring (2.4) and eighth in rebounding (2.9). Green probably wouldn’t even be playing right now if small forward Brandon Rush hadn’t sustained a season-ending knee injury and his back-up Richard Jefferson had hurt his calf. But those two losses forced Green into the rotation and he has steadily gained coach Mark Jackson’s trust, culminating in the decision to start Green for the second half Saturday night against the Brooklyn Nets. Green responded in his season-high 28 minutes with a season-high 10 rebounds and a season-high three assists to go with six points.
“He’s not particularly athletic,” said one Eastern Conference GM. “He’s just a winner. He has great competitive spirit and he knows how to play the game.”
Green, despite being listed as a 6-foot-7, 230-pound small forward, has been utilized by coach Mark Jackson as a defensive stopper on everyone from Timberwolves power forward Kevin Love to the Brooklyn Nets shooting guard Joe Johnson.
He credits his college coach, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, for developing his defensive versatility. “I was the voice of the defense,” Green said, “so I had to know where everybody had to be and what they had to do.”
Despite raising his scoring average every one of his four years with the Spartans – from 3.3 as a freshman to 16.2 as a senior – he knew that his dream of playing in the NBA would only be realized if he could impact the game at the other end.
“Guys don’t stick at this level if they can’t defend unless they can really stick it in the hole,” he said. “My role is to bring some defense and energy. Scoring is not my role.”
As for Hansbrough’s invitation, Green smiled at it and told Hansbrough, “I would, but I can’t afford the fine.”
Proving that Green is willing to take any challenge – but smart enough to know when it’s not necessary.