Former Spartan Green proves himself in NBA

Vincent Goodwill Jr.
The Detroit News

Auburn Hills — Work was never a foreign concept to Draymond Green, although he admitted in his earlier years he didn't want to put in the long hours required to make him a successful basketball player.

But Green isn't the overweight kid from Saginaw who arrived on Michigan State's campus several years ago, nor is he the second-round pick many believed would have a difficult time sticking on an NBA roster in 2012.

The supposedly undersized Green is now the starting power forward for the Golden State Warriors, a team that's a half-game behind the Memphis Grizzlies for best record in the NBA.

With starting power forward David Lee out with injury, Green has stepped in as the perfect complement to starting guards Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, playing alongside bruising center Andrew Bogut on the interior.

He plans on making it very hard for new Warriors coach Steve Kerr to remove him once Lee returns, as he's more than just a fill-in.

"I would say that he's a guy that'll do what it takes to win games," Pistons coach Stan Van Gundy said. "He'll set screens, defend, mix it up on the boards."

Green has the task of defending the likes of Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge, harassing them on one end, while his shooting ability has made him more than a simple screener for Thompson and Curry.

"When you take guys like him — and there aren't many that play as hard as he does — but what separates him from that 10th, 11th man on a team, is adding that ability of shooting the ball," Van Gundy said. "And now he's contributing on the offensive end of the floor."

"And you don't have that choice as a coach — do I need that defensive energy or offense — because you have both, and I think that was a significant step. Over time he's gotten better and better and it's allowed him to be a guy who can be on the floor all the time, not just as an energy boost."

It's more than just his 12 points, 7.3 rebounds and 3.0 assists, impressive numbers for someone who isn't a primary offensive option.

He's the player who put the Pistons away Sunday, as he hit timely baskets in the second and third quarters to help the Warriors complete a five-game sweep of their East coast swing, scoring 20 points and grabbing six rebounds.

"I've been in a shooting slump, that dropped for me," Green joked about the more-than-respectable 34 percent clip he's shooting from 3-point range, but he turned serious when discussing the amount of work he put in to arrive here.

"Three-point shooting is something I've really worked at. It brings another dimension to our team," Green said. "You can't just lock in on Steph or Klay, it makes another option. You can't just sit in the paint. You have to come out and contest the shot, it opens the floor. I think I've improved but I can get a lot better at it."

For Green, "here" is never a destination, but an ever-moving target he's striving for. With every successful progression he takes as a pro, it's another shot at his critics who thought he didn't have much room to grow after a stellar four-year career in East Lansing.

"I'm not surprised because I know the amount of work I put in each and every night to get better," Green said. "People say he's reached his ceiling. How can you tell someone they reached their ceiling if they constantly work? If you work, you gotta get better at something. They've said it over and over again and they'll continue to say it."

Never afraid to speak his mind, he continued preaching, scoffing at the notion that even now, at the ripe old age of 24, he's a finished product.

"Kevin Durant is great and LeBron James is great, and Steph Curry, who I believe is great, and all those guys I just named have stuff they can get better at, but they're already great," he said. "So if they're great, and I know I'm not, I know I've got some stuff to get better at."