basketball

Draymond Green is leading Warriors’ new second unit, and the impact could be huge

SAN FRANCISCO — In the last decade, the Golden State Warriors have been caught in a never-ending search for survivable combinations when Steph Curry sits. It was even a sporadic problem in the Kevin Durant days. They’re almost always a mega plus when Curry’s on the court and too often too far in the negative when he isn’t.

That discrepancy has never been more destructive than the opening month of this season. Through 19 games, the Warriors have outscored opponents by 121 points in Curry’s 588 minutes and have been outscored by 145 points in the 329 minutes without him on the floor. Those non-curry pockets, above all else, have delivered the Warriors a disappointing 9-10 record.

That reality has sent coach Steve Kerr searching for the past month, rearranging second-unit combinations on a regular basis. This past week — culminating in the 124-107 blowout of the Clippers on Wednesday night — it seems Kerr has finally landed on a strategy with lasting potential. Draymond Green is now the conductor of a second unit that also includes the scorching Andrew Wiggins, shooting a career high from the field (50.6 percent) and from 3 (43.4 percent).

“As a second unit, your job isn’t to go out there and build a lead,” Green said. Your job is to maintain the lead. If the first unit fails to build a lead, then your job is to slow down and settle the game. That’s just kind of been my focus. Just trying to help that unit play as much mistake-free basketball as we possibly can.”

Kerr first made the change in Houston. After a disastrous 13-0 Rockets run to open the second quarter wiped away a big lead, Kerr flipped Green for Kevon Looney to open the fourth quarter and that group was able to tread water. It sparked a more permanent change, materializing into this unit to open both the second and fourth quarter on Wednesday night: Jordan Poole, Donte DiVincenzo, Wiggins, Anthony Lamb and Green.

“It looks good,” Kerr said. “We’ll continue to do it.”

This is their second possession together against the Clippers. Green is running the operation up top, promoting more flow and ball movement. In eight seconds, four passes are made. The action ends with a familiar look. Green has it up top. Wiggins sets a ghost screen on the wing for Poole. The Clippers jump out on Poole as they would Curry. Wiggins slips. Green hits him for an uncontested dunk.

When is the last time you saw the Warriors create a look like this with Curry off the floor?

“What am I doing?” Green said. Number one, just trying to slow the unit down. That unit should not play as fast as the first unit. It should be more methodical. It should be more sets. It should be more patterned movements as opposed to random movements and random offense. I think, for me, it’s just trying to slow that unit down and then, number two, most importantly, make sure that unit is defending.

The Clippers didn’t have Paul George or Kawhi Leonard and dragged the league’s third-worst offense into Chase Center. So this wasn’t some spectacular defensive display from the Warriors. But that second unit did appear more sturdy and energized with green at the helm and strong together enough consistent stops to get in the net positive while Curry rested. They were a plus-four during Curry’s second-quarter rest and a plus-five in Curry’s fourth-quarter rest, stretching the lead.

“It’s huge for the confidence of guys,” Green said. Being in that unit, you can almost feel a snake when things start going wrong. When you feel that, in basketball, it’s hard to overcome.”

Stops also promote pace and generate easier looks on the other end. Green wants to slow that unit down in the half court. But if there’s a chance to get out in transition, he wants to actively speed them up, believing it’ll be in safe hands if he controls the decision-making.

Here is an example from early in the fourth quarter. The Warriors are in a zone. Nic Batum misses from the corner and it’s an uncontested defensive rebound for Green, who immediately zooms up the court, whizzes past a scrambled defense and delivers a spoon-fed layup to Lamb.

“If we continue to get stops with that unit, then we can get out and really push the tempo,” Green said. That’ll be to the benefit of that unit. As Jordan (Poole) gets more comfortable with me in that group, it’ll free him up some as well in transition. I think that’s got to be a focus of that group.”

Speed ​​and versatility will be to their advantage. It’s why Kerr is pairing Green with Lamb, another smart, bulky power forward who can move with wings, bang with bigs and even stretches the floor. Who’s the center in that lineup?

“I don’t even care,” Kerr said. It doesn’t even matter to have it designated. I guess Draymond is more of a center because he’ll set more ball screens and Lamb is more likely to spot up and shoot a 3 from the perimeter. But it’s a great combination because they can play off each other and Lamb is so smart, he has a great feel that he can read Draymond and vice versa.”

There’s an obvious danger. The Warriors have traditionally tied Curry’s and Green’s minutes together because they are one of the most potent two-man combinations in league history, mastering the ability to unlock the best part of each other’s skill sets. Separating them could have a negative impact on a portion of the Curry minutes.

But Curry is playing so well right now and Looney has evolved into such a steady force with Green off the floor that it’s clear Kerr, Curry and Green are comfortable separating Curry and Green, believing the benefits outweigh the dangers. Green noted that it’s something he did before, most recently during that 39-33 season when Kerr spent much of the season searching.

“It’s not quite foreign territory for me,” Green said. It’s not something we’ve done in a while. But it’s not like I’m adjusting to something I’ve never done. In saying that, the danger of it? I look at it more as a safety net than danger. Because both of us can get the groups into offense. That’s the main thing, especially for that second unit — who is going to get the group into offense?

There’s times where you’re asking Jordan to score, asking him to get everyone in the offense. He’s 23. He’s in his fourth year. It takes a while to figure it out. So I look at it more as a safety net than a danger with one of us being in the court almost at all times. I think that’s great for us.”

(Photo of Draymond Green and Andrew Wiggins: Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

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