Both the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies have some work to do before resuming basketball’s most heated rivalry under the playoff spotlight.
The reigning champs are heavy favorites in the first round against the upstart Sacramento Kings, but hardly incapable of falling to DeAaron Fox, Domantas Sabonis and company in a battle for Northern California bragging rights.
The Grizzlies’ first-round opponent, meanwhile, is still to be determined. Down Steven Adams and Brandon Clarke for the postseason’s entirety, though, would anyone be shocked if Memphis was ousted from the postseason early by the Los Angeles Lakers or even Minnesota Timberwolves?
It’s premature to fan the flames of the overtly contentious relationship between the Warriors and Grizzlies, basically. There’s no guarantee they meet in the Western Conference Semifinals for the second year running. Should that highly anticipated matchup come to pass, though, rest assured the ongoing beef between Draymond Green and Dillon Brooks will once again take center stage.
Asked to address Brooks’ inflammatory recent comments about Green’s individual success being a product of his ideal environment with Golden State, the Warriors’ loudmouth leader insisted he was unmoved by that criticism. Why? As Green sees it, Brooks is among an overwhelming majority of players in the league who don’t really know ball.
“Do I get upset or does it get under my skin when people say that? No, because I also understand that 80% of my peers don’t even understand the game of basketball. I’ve said numerous times you got guys in the NBA that don’t know how to play,” Green told Marc Stein and Chris Haynes on the latest episode of #thisleague UNCUT. “You turn on League Pass and rest assured, you wanna see some guys that don’t know how to play, just start flipping through League Pass.. You’ll see it real quick. Guys don’t know how to play basketball.”
Brooks’ critique of Green is one that’s been levied at the Dubs star ever since his team kicked off its dynasty in 2015.
There’s no doubting that Green, a non-shooter who lacks the athletic pop and soft touch to be a reliable finisher at the rim, benefits immensely from the presence of Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, not to mention the unique offense Steve Kerr built around two historic shooters. But Green plays an indispensable role for Golden State as a passer and screener, one contingent on his all-time processing speed and overall basketball IQ.
The Dubs’ dynasty doesn’t exist without defense, either, the side of the ball where the true scope of Green’s impact is more readily recognized. But even his reputation as one of the best defenders ever fails to convey the endless ripples of his influence. The Warriors’ small-ball units only work because Green can defend five positions at an All-Defense level while simultaneously barking out orders to teammates and plugging holes across the floor as a peerless help defender.
Golden State isn’t Golden State without Curry. The same goes for Green.
“It’s easy to say that now, but I am one of the creators of the style of basketball that we play,” he said. “When I arrived at this team, this team won 23 games and was not a dynasty, was not a powerhouse. How did I figure it out? Was it just, ‘Alright, Steph and Klay were here, so now you threw Draymond in with them and Draymond benefited?’ It doesn’t really add up. So when guys do say that I just have an understanding of how misguided they are and how much they don’t understand.”
Just because Green continues taking shots at Brooks and others who question his utility outside the Warriors doesn’t mean he holds personal animus toward them, though.
At 33, Green is an old head by NBA standards, fully embracing his inherent responsibility to teach younger players what it takes to make their mark in the NBA. Brooks, for instance, has already been subject to that sage advice. Even a personally charged back-and-forth between two notoriously intense competitors doesn’t mean Green harbors real hate for his biggest adversary.
“I try to teach guys. I’ve had conversations with Dillon Brooks telling him what he need to do. There’s pictures out there of me talking in his ear after we beat his ass and different things of that nature, you know, helping him,” Green said. “And by the way, I don’t have any hard feelings, man. We playing basketball, bro. I’m gonna go home and be with my family, you’re gonna go home and be with your family. I still have things that I can teach, and if there’s an opportunity I would still teach him those things. It’s a very competitive league. I love that you wanna compete in that way. I love that you’re willing to put yourself out there that way. That don’t bother me at all. That don’t get under my skin at all. But, if you’re gonna do those things, know that it’s some heat that comes with that, and know that I’m always gonna be willing to go there.”
The Kings and Lakers or Timberwolves may have something to say about it. For the purpose of maximum drama alone, though, the basketball world needs another matchup between the Warriors and Grizzlies—just don’t confuse Green so pointedly butting heads with Brooks and company as any indication their rift extends beyond competition.
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