NBA

Warriors’ Draymond Green says he’s the ‘best defender to ever play in the NBA,’ and he has a legitimate case

Warriors coach Steve Kerr recently voiced his displeasure at the way something he said on a podcast was framed in a tweet, which made it sound like Kerr was taking a shot at Kevin Durant when he said last season, in which the Warriors went 15-50,  was more fun than the 2018-19 season in which they went to their fifth straight NBA Finals — which just so happened to be Durant’s final season with the team. 

Kerr had a point. He never mentioned Durant’s name. There’s no denying Durant’s impending free agency loomed over that season and team, but Kerr was speaking to the toll five straight Finals runs had taken on everyone in the organization. What Kerr said was mischaracterized. 

With that said, there is no such confusion with what Draymond Green said on the most recent “Dubs Talk” podcast, on which he proclaimed himself, in no uncertain terms, to be “the best defender to ever play in the NBA.” Green was asked to identify a few players around the league who catch his attention as great defenders. He named Ben Simmons, but otherwise spoke in generalities. Then when the questioning was about to shift gears, he offered this unprompted:

“I think I’m the best defender to ever play this game,” Green said. “One-hundred percent, that’s my opinion. But I also think I view the game a lot differently than most people view the game. I think I just see it from a different perspective. I think when you look at the things that make a great defender: reaction time, toughness, being able to see the picture long before it develops, and most importantly, in order to finish a defensive possession, you’ve got to rebound. And I think I rebound well. And so when I look at all the facets that make up the defensive side of the ball, I’m think I’m great in every facet. So I’m think I’m the best defender to ever play in the NBA. I’ll stand by that. I’ll put myself up against anyone.”

So this is nothing new. Great players say they’re the best in the world or the best ever or the best this or that so often that it’s hardly worth a headline anymore. Confidence, even if outsized, is a big part of the successful equation. I remember being in New Orleans before the start of the 2018 season and listening to Anthony Davis say he believed he was the best player in the world. He wasn’t at the time. He still isn’t. But he’s great enough to have every right to believe that. 

Green, of course, isn’t just saying he’s the best defender in today’s game (he’s also said that, and Kerr has echoed it). He’s saying he’s the best ever. Guys tend to be a bit more cautious with all-time proclamations. But reserved and Draymond have never gone together in the same sentence, and here’s the thing: He has a legitimate case as the best defender to ever play in the NBA. 

You can argue another way, but you can’t dismiss Green from the conversation. At the height of his powers — we’ll just call it 2014-18 — he was an absolute defensive monster. He won Defensive Player of the Year in 2016-17, but he was the best in the league over that whole span and particularly when it mattered most in the postseason. There is no chance the Warriors would have become a dynasty had Green no developed into a defender worthy of this conversation. You could argue, probably rather convincingly, they wouldn’t have won a single championship. 

As with every all-time conversation, it’s impossible to make definitive declarations across different eras. That game is different than it used to be. Green has to defend every position on the floor, whereas great defenders of the past — say, Michael Jordan or Ben Wallace or even the great Bill Russell — got to stick, for the most part, with their positional brethren. 

But just like trying to say that Stephen Curry, on pure conjecture, would have trouble adapting to the more physical defenses of yesteryear, who’s to say the great defenders of the past couldn’t adapt to today’s versatility demands? Something tells me Michael Jordan would have competed his backside off against bigger guys, and fared pretty well. Dennis Rodman could do anything, against anyone, defensively. 

But so can Draymond, and that’s the point. He has every right to believe he’s the best ever. To his point, he has every tool in the defensive bag. He senses space and angles the same way a great offensive player does. His ability, and willingness, to make multiple, often impromptu, efforts on every possession is second to none. He switches on and off the ball. He helps down then recovers to shooters. He defends on the perimeter. In the post. He thwarts actions outside his assignments that you can’t plan for, only react to, and he is ferociously competitive through it all. 

Draymond isn’t the defender he used to be, but he’s still first-team level and perhaps still the best when necessary. Was he the best ever at his highest point? I certainly don’t know the answer to that. But I do know that playing defense in the NBA has never been harder than it is today. There has never been this much space to cover, this many shooters, this many decisions to make, all without laying a finger on offensive players whose collective skill level has reached virtually indefensible heights. In other words, Draymond Green, all things considered, has been the NBA’s best defender in the toughest era to defend in history. I don’t know exactly what that says, but it says a lot. 



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