Green proving mettle with energy, defense

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Green proving mettle with energy, defense

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.

From lowlight shows to highlight shows: Warriors saved JaVale's career

From lowlight shows to highlight shows: Warriors saved JaVale's career

OAKLAND -- The unlikeliest star of this NBA postseason could not and should not be blamed if he wakes up each morning blowing kisses toward his suddenly charmed life.

JaVale McGee has, in the span of seven months, been transported from the bottom of league’s recycling bin to the top of its penthouse. He’s in a great place, literally and figuratively. He’s doing spectacular things on a wonderful team that enjoys his presence and knows how to activate his skills.

Formerly the unwitting class clown of the NBA, a man who drew eye rolls on sight, McGee, all 7 feet of him, is a bona fide April star.

“Oh, y’all on the JaVale bandwagon now, huh?” teammate Kevin Durant cracked Wednesday, grinning broadly while facing Bay Area media.

McGee, 29, has been in the league for nine seasons, and this is the first time he has been in the driver’s seat of a bandwagon. He was the breakout performer as the Warriors blasted through the first round of the playoffs by laying a four-game sweep on the Trail Blazers McGee played 49 minutes, scoring 39 points on 78.3-percent shooting, with 17 rebounds and nine blocks.

The Warriors outscored Portland by 48 points during McGee’s limited time on the floor. His offensive and defense numbers are off-the-charts stellar. So thrilled is he to be a part of this postseason that he’s almost giddy to get any playing time at all.

“I’m happy with the minutes I’m getting,” McGee said. “I’m as efficient as I can be and we’re winning. So I can’t be the guy that says ‘Play me more minutes,’ when what you’re doing with me is working on my behalf and the team’s behalf. So I don’t have any problems with as many minutes I’m getting as long as we win.”

This is a man with perspective. McGee concedes that as the days ticked by last July and August and into early September without a contract offer, he wondered if he still had a career. He had played with four teams, most recently Dallas in 2015-16, when he battled injuries.

“I really did think that maybe that was it, that basketball was done for me,” McGee recently told NBCSportsBayArea.com. “I had to start thinking about what else I wanted to do. But I didn’t have a plan.”

He didn’t need one, because the Warriors came calling and he signed with them on Sept. 16. He was a last-minute training-camp invitee with a non-guaranteed contract -- and the baggage that comes with being persistently ridiculed on national TV. Most notably, McGee was the butt of Shaquille O’Neal’s derision on ‘Shaqtin’ A Fool,” a video series featuring lowlights of gaffes made by players.

After snagging the last open spot on the roster, McGee slowly began making himself useful. Midway through the season, he had become a fan favorite at Oracle Arena, where crowds begin applauding and cheering the instant he rises from the bench and walks to the scorer’s table to enter a game.

He’s a master at going up and grabbing lobs and throwing the ball through the rim. He’s an imposing shot-blocker. His paint presence on offense automatically compromises defenses, giving deep-shooting teammates such as Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson and Durant additional space with which to operate.

Being in the right place, at the right time, with teammates that play to his gifts, has done more than revive McGee’s career. It has taken him off lowlight shows and made him a staple of highlight shows. He won’t have to wait long at all this summer before contract offers are waved in front of his face.

“When you’re playing with Draymond (Green) and Steph and Klay and Andre (Iguodala), this whole team, it makes everybody better,” Durant explained. “From the top guy to the bottom guy, everybody gets better from just playing with a smart group of players and playing with such great talent. Everybody plays to their strength here.”

Nobody does so more than McGee, whose greatest strength may be his effort. It’s his sheer hustle that most endears him to teammates and coaches and fans. His max-effort approach generally results in making a high impact and maintaining over no more than 12 to 18 minutes per game.

“Most 7-footers, when it comes to pick-and-roll action, we’re telling them: ‘Hey, kind of be close to the screen, but it’s OK if you’re down the floor,’” Brown said. “But we’re telling him in pick-and-roll situations . . . be up the floor, be up the floor.

“So he’s up the floor, then he’s chasing the ball to the rim, blocking it, trying to get a rebound. Then sometimes, he’s closing out, contesting a shot. And then we’re having him set the screen and, ‘Hey, every time you set a screen, you roll. If you don’t get it, come back out, set a screen and roll again.’

“So he expends a lot of energy with how hard he plays. We feel he’s a five- to six-minute type guy. Then you sit him down.”

McGee plays as if every minute matters, as if the game might be taken away. As if it’s the last time he’ll play it. Perhaps because, for a few weeks, he thought it might be.

Whether Brown or Kerr coach, Warriors sticking to same blueprint

Whether Brown or Kerr coach, Warriors sticking to same blueprint

OAKLAND -- For the first time since he joined the coaching staff last summer, Mike Brown on Wednesday morning arrived at the Warriors facility a man in charge.

As acting head coach, he would decide when practice started and when it ended, and conduct proceedings in between.

The general activity was not much different for anyone else, though, as it continues to become evident that everything the Warriors do for the foreseeable future will be a Brown-Kerr, or Kerr-Brown, production.

“Steve is going to be a part of this process the whole time,” Brown said after practice. “Almost before I do anything, I’m going to consult with him. The only time I won’t consult with him is probably during a game.”

Since Kerr’s announcement last Sunday that he was taking an indefinite leave to attend to personal health issues, Brown has been wielding the clipboard. He actually coached Game 3 against Portland last Saturday, in Kerr’s absence, before knowing in advance he’d also coach Game 4 Monday night.

Brown is 2-0, with the Game 4 win clinching a Warriors sweep of the Trail Blazers. Yet Brown is quick to remind anyone that he is following the plan laid out by Kerr. The two exchanged texts Tuesday and, according to Brown, “spoke at length” after the game between the Jazz and the Clippers -- one of which will face the Warriors in the next round.

Though the Warriors are operating under a different head coach, all indications are the atmosphere around the team remains stable and relatively unchanged.

“Obviously it’s different personalities, but when you make it about the players, when you make it about winning, all that other stuff really doesn’t matter,” Kevin Durant said. “He coaches us. He coaches the game of basketball and he does it very well. Our whole coaching staff does the same thing.

“When it’s about basketball, it’s not about trying to have authority over us. He’s just coaching us. He’s just coaching us up. He’s just telling us the proper way to do things on the basketball court. It’s pretty simple when you try to do that. Then it’s on us to try to execute.”

Execution has gone well, particularly over the last six quarters of the series against Portland. The Warriors wiped out a 16-point deficit in the second half to win Game 3, and then rolled to a 35-9 start in Game 4 before coasting to the closeout victory.

Brown was on the sideline in Game 4, with Kerr watching the game from the locker room.

It’s fairly apparent, though, that everyone involved feels a heightened sense of accountability and ownership.

“Mike has had a pretty big voice throughout the whole season,” Durant said. “He’s been a head coach before, understands what it takes to be a head coach. And the coaching staff is just so smart, and they empower each other.

“Anybody, if you’re around us on a day-to-day basis, anybody can tell that they work well as a group. Coach Kerr does a great job. He spearheads it all by empowering everybody, from the coaches to the players.”