Seeing Green: Assessing the Value of Draymond

Draymond Green gracefully filled the role that the Warriors had intended for the now-Cavaliers forward Kevin Love. The then-Timberwolves All-Star Kevin Love provides floor spacing and scoring from the power forward position, something of extreme value to rookie coach Steve Kerr. The price-tag there was Klay Thompson and change plus a $15 million a year contract. Instead, the affectionately-known Treymond has buried open three-pointers like Kyle Korver while defending just about anybody. On Saturday against the Chicago Bulls, Green put up a career-high in points (31) and threes (7) in a single game against one of the league’s stingiest defenses.

The elephant that will slowly creep its way into the room is: what is Draymond Green’s value as he encroaches upon free agency?

An elite defender and excellent spot-up shooter

Draymond Green’s number one strength is the most statistically-elusive category blanketed as defense. Second on the team only to NBA All-Defensive First Team player Andre Iguodala, Green is often called upon to guard opponents’ best offensive players. This year that task has regularly branched from the perimeter to the post. All relevant metrics point to brilliant defense from the 24-year-old who Jerry West called “a bulldog” and said without hesitation, “I love him. I love him.”

Two of my personal new favorite defensive metrics (that show the improved defense of Steph Curry, as well) are opponents FG% difference (DFG%) and DFG% differential. DFG% calculates the FG% that a player holds on opponent to, and DFG% differential calculates how that compares to other players. For example, if Derrick Rose normally shoots 45 percent from the field and he shoots 40 percent from the field when Steph Curry is defending him, then Curry’s DFG% would be 40% and his DFG% differential would be -5%. Negative DFG% means you’re a good defender, positive DFG% means you’re a poor defender.

Green is brilliant in all areas:

DFG% Differential
- 4.1
- 10.3
- 2.6
Less than 6 feet
- 4.8
Less than 10 feet
- 5.4
Greater than 15 feet
- 7.3
(Accurate as of November 8, through 19 games.)

The former Michigan State University stud has been defending the paint as good as any center or power forward in the league. Opponents are shooting a mere 45.0% at the rim against him, which places him in the ballpark of Andre Drummond (44.9%), DeAndre Jordan (46.7%), and Taj Gibson (47.1%). (His teammate Andrew Bogut sits atop this list of opponents FG% at the rim at 39.1%.)

His catch-and-shoot ability has skyrocketed. Green's eFG% is a scorching 58.0% in such situations, better than Klay Thompson (57.8%), JJ Redick (55.6%), and even Steph Curry (55.0%). From his first year to now, Draymond’s three-point shot went from a “no…nooo don't shoot that!” to a “no…yes!” to a “YESS!!”

While improving that spot-up shooting, Green has also managed to add other wrinkles to his game. Take, for instance, this beautiful left-hand scoop in traffic:

With all of this in mind, evaluating his ceiling is a daunting task. Green’s ability to contribute offensively has improved exponentially throughout his tenure in the NBA. Warriors fans have seen it and the stats verify it (minutes, points, 3P%, rebounds, assists, and many advanced metrics).

This is something that bodes well for Green’s green, but not so much for the Warriors, who are already projected to sit well above the cap for the 2015-16 NBA season.

Green’s situation with the Warriors under the current CBA

The maximum salary that Draymond, who has been in the league for less than six years, could sign for is 25% of the total salary cap. For the 2015-16 season that (cap projection: $66.5 million, luxury tax threshold: $81 million) that translates to roughly $16 million. Draymond’s qualifying offer is $1.1 million for next year, something that puts pressure on the Warriors to give him an extension unless they are willing to let him become an unrestricted free agent in the following year.

Golden State, however, already has $82.5 million committed to players next year…not including Draymond Green. Their core of Curry-Thompson-Iguodala-Bogut owns $51 million of the cap. Depending on how far Joe Lacob and the Warriors ownership is willing to go into luxury tax territory, this probably means they must shop David Lee and his exorbitant $15 million contract. We haven’t even mentioned the contract of the rejuvenated Mo Speights who will command more than the $3.7 million he’s currently pocketing.

Assessing his value under the new TV deal and relative to other NBA players

Conservatively, Draymond falls around the Nic Batum/Jeff Green/Luol Deng/Ryan Anderson level of small forwards which is somewhere between $9-12 million per season. Stir in his youth and potential with the upcoming TV deal, and we’re looking closer to the equivalent of today’s max contract.

Klay Thompson sacrificed a jump in salary once the TV deal goes into effect for the security of a four-year/$70 million extension now. If Green is willing to follow suit, a four-year extension for $55 million (about $14 million per) should be enticing. How and if the Warriors front office can finance an offer like that prior to the new TV deal remains to be seen.

Swallowing the luxury tax for next year (2016) means the remaining three years of that 4-years/$55 million looks like a steal. Dan Feldman of NBC Sports predicts a jump to $87 million in the salary cap for the 2017 season and other estimates are right in that range, as well:

I would place Draymond’s ceiling value under an $88 million cap at $17-20 million per season…a significant jump from the $14 million if he was given a four-year extension at the end of this season.

Draymond Green’s value around the league

You would be hard-pressed to find a team around the league that would not like this guy. In the days of Chandler Parsons’ contract, there will someone out there who throws an inordinate amount of money to lure Draymond away from the Bay Area.

Green would fit in very well in Memphis in a defensively-minded organization with a lack of a small forward. With a Defensive Player of the Year defending the rim, he and Tony Allen chasing around the opposing player’s best perimeter players would be suffocating to opposing offenses. Then there's the Spurs. Tim Duncan will likely retire after this season and even after signing Kawhi Leonard to a new contract, San Antonio will have enough room for a max player and then some. Diaw, Leonard, Bonner, and Draymond would be a versatile rotation of forwards for Gregg Popovich.

This list goes on. The pressure is on the Warriors to lock him up sooner rather than later.

There is a caveat here…and I say this with nothing but respect, as you can gather from my valuation of him and the fact that he is probably my second favorite player in the league. Part of the inspiration to this column was my devils’ advocate argument (sorry, Draymond). I have no doubt that his defense and energy will translate anywhere. No doubt that he has proven that he can improve drastically season-to-season. No doubt that he can knock down open threes.

However, he has benefited extraordinarily from his surroundings. The gravitational pull of Steph and Klay for opposing defenses combined with coach Steve Kerr has skyrocketed Draymond's value. The threat and passing ability of the guards combined with top-notch shooting has allowed Draymond's scoring to soar. If he is a second or third scoring option on any another team, defenses will guard him tighter, and I don’t think he is yet ready to respond to that. While he is clearly great with a head of steam going to the basket, his handles aren't there to create as a playmaker in the half-court. He’s somewhere between Shane Battier and Kawhi Leonard.

This is where the Warriors front office could get bold, and whether or not that's a good thing remains to be seen. The market value for the 24-year-old could fall into the $7 to $8 million ballpark if his production offensively slows down come January or February. Does Lacob and the front office allow Draymond to test the market in a risky effort to decrease their financial obligation to him? Keeping the six- or seven-player core that they have established would be nice, but that’s only financially possible under the current CBA if Green is in the single digits per year until the new CBA (or the Warriors drop a big contract or two).

My thoughts and prediction

Draymond is a must-keep for the Warriors. There are very few players of his caliber and potential in the league and he is a glue-guy who talks about the chemistry on his team at every chance he gets. Backload the contract a la Giancarlo Stanton or trade David Lee if you have to. I rank the players that are most important to the Warriors success as follows:

1) Steph Curry, 2) Andrew Bogut, 3) Klay Thompson, 4) Draymond Green, 5) Andre Iguodala, 6) David Lee.

The value-to-cost ratio is through the roof for Draymond as a Warrior. It would be wise of the rising Western Conference powerhouse to lock him up for four years and between $45 and $55 million. The most recent example of breaking up an organically formed close-knit team was the Big 3 in OKC, with Kevin Durant, James Harden, and Russell Westbrook. Golden State refused the Kevin Love deal; they should continue on the path that has led them to a franchise-best 12-game win streak. You don't want to make the same mistake that OKC did.

Pay Green his money.

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