SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Draymond Green dribbles the ball up the court and takes charge of Golden State’s backups, directing two-way teammate Anthony Lamb on the wing, dishing the ball to Donte DiVincenzo or finding Jonathan Kuminga down low.
The move Warriors coach Steve Kerr made with Green in November to boost the defending champions’ then-struggling second unit has worked out well, especially considering those players have been needed in a big way due to injuries over the past month.
Green, who continues to play significant time with the reserves, is regularly praised by coaches around the league for his willingness to sacrifice his starter minutes to help the overall balance, something other stars are also doing around the NBA.
“It’s the modeling part for those guys that’s very helpful for them in their game,” said Rockets coach Stephen Silas, who called Green “one of the most cerebral players in our league who has a voice that those guys will listen to.“
In Dallas, Luka Doncic is relied upon to play key stretches with each unit. With Nets star Kevin Durant sidelined by a knee injury, Kyrie Irving is also spending more of his minutes with the Brooklyn backups as coach Jacque Vaughn is forced to get more creative with his lineups.
“Some nights we’re going to put points on the board very easily, guys are feeling good,” Irving said of adjusting without Durant, “and some nights we’re going to have to really rely on our poise, really rely on our defensive pressure, and let that lead us to wins.“
Rick Carlisle recalls fondly how former Mavericks star Dirk Nowitzki also used to play with the backups. And when Carlisle played, the now-Pacers coach always cherished the minutes Hall of Famer Bill Walton played with him and the Boston backups.
Hawks coach Nate McMillan took on that role at times, too. McMillan used to play key stretches with the youngsters — and the stars — in Seattle, taking great pride in making the others shine, “because that was the strength of my game.” Gary Payton would move to the wing and McMillan might run the point on the floor with Hersey Hawkins, Sam Perkins and Detlef Schrempf.
“I was the guy that would come in and really be that coach out on the floor,” McMillan recalled. “I was that guy who was initiating and making sure that we set up. Very similar to Draymond, I wasn’t providing a lot of scoring but the defense was going to be there, moving the ball, getting the ball to those shooters, all of that.“
Those versatile players mean so much, to both the starters and the backups, for their ability to make everyone on the roster better. The Warriors are counting on the experience gained by the young players now making them a far better team come playoff time in April and May.
To this day, Carlisle treasures the time he spent on the court with Walton.
“When I was a young player we traded for Bill Walton when I was in Boston and I was a hell of a lot better player when I was on the floor with Bill Walton,” Carlisle said. “I wasn’t very good but now when you’ve got a chance to be on the floor with a Hall-of-Fame-type player like that who has major impact on defense and offense, it’s going to change you.”
Green gets that. He wants to be part of helping his teammates build a better NBA future by serving as an on-court guide. He has the championship pedigree.
“It’s definitely very important and I think guys do appreciate it. Ultimately, you have to understand a guy’s situation and how they fare in their minutes. How the team fares in their minutes can determine their future, so for me I take it very seriously, because how that group turns out is very important,” Green said.
“So I just view it from a different standpoint of life. I honestly view those minutes even more important than my starter minutes because those guys aren’t just set in what their careers are going to be.”
These rotations don’t work everywhere. Depth is a key part of the success if you ask Hornets coach Steve Clifford — not to mention the ability to adapt on the fly over the course of a long season with all the ups and downs and tough travel days.
“To have long playoff runs like that you’ve got to be versatile and flexible in your lineups. I think also part of it has to do with what kind of team you have and what kind of depth you have,” Clifford said. “You have to have good players, like really good players off the bench, if you can play with only one starter. Usually it’s more veteran that way, when you’re playing a lot of younger guys usually you’re going to have to have a couple starters out there when they’re in the game.”
Warriors assistant Jama Mahlalela credits Green for doing whatever is needed for the betterment of the team.
It’s not a chore for the 11th-year veteran Green.
“The way I look at it is you can help impact someone’s life,” he said, “and I take that seriously.”