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My Sophomore Crush: Draymond Green

With the 2013-14 NBA season on the horizon, we’re taking this week to look at the players we love who are headed into their second year in the league. For most, if not all, of these players, expectations are either sky high or at rock bottom. And at the end of the year, what we know about them will likely be far removed from what we thought headed into this season.

What do you do when nobody knows what to do with you?

Such is life when you’re Draymond Green, a college superstar who’s still figuring out what he is in the NBA. For that matter, the NBA is still figuring out what he is in the NBA. Is he a three? Is he a four? Does that matter? Is he a point forward? A three-and-D guy? Both? Neither?

Draymond is in some ways a victim of expectation, as well as a beneficiary of it. Coming out of Michigan State, he was a National Player of the Year candidate, and the leader of an MSU team that won the Big Ten and earned a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. One of only three players in history to record three triple-doubles in the tournament — Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson being the other two — Green looked like he might be ticketed for the first round of the NBA draft.

Alas, this was not to be. He slid into the top of the second round, lasting until pick 37 before the Golden State Warriors — themselves having already passed on drafting him with the 30th pick — snapped him up. So by ending up as a second-rounder, Green avoids the expectations that come with being drafted in the first round, but those who really believe in him — like yours truly — still judge him by his college career and the perception that he slid farther than he should have.

Really, that split determines where you stand on Green’s rookie season. If you’re judging him solely as a second rounder, sticking with the team all year and doing things like score game-winning baskets against the Miami Heat makes him at least somewhat successful. If you’re still waiting to see him live up to his college legacy, that 32.7 percent mark from the field (20.9 percent from downtown) and 7.7 points on 8.7 FGA per-36 make him something of a failure.

Now, that’s still selling him a little short. Draymond seemed to have figured something out in the playoffs, where he shot a much more respectable 42.9 percent from the field and 39.1 percent from three. Maybe it had to do with David Lee’s injury and playing at the four more often — data from the regular season via 82games.com seems to back this assertion up, based on his production by position, but it’s inconclusive — or maybe he tweaked his form or maybe it was something else entirely. 12 games is a tiny sample size, so this could just be pure statistical noise, to be dismissed as interesting but not predictive of anything.

Regardless of which of the above theories — or one of your own — you ascribe to, there are other things to like about Draymond. He’s basically an elite rebounder for a wing and at least solid for a big, averaging 8.8 rebounds per-36 in the regular season (his TRB% finished at 13.5) and 8.2 per-36 in the playoffs (12.8%). He’s an excellent passer (3.1 assists per-36 in the playoffs) and at worst a solid defender.

The trick now is figuring out whether he can duplicate his playoff success if given a chance, most likely as an undersized four. Golden State watched Carl Landry walk at the end of last year, and fellow sophomore Festus Ezeli will miss the start of the season after offseason knee surgery. Jermaine O’Neal and Marreese Speights are here to back up Andrew Bogut and David Lee, and Harrison Barnes figures to see minutes as a small-ball four. But two of those names I just listed are significant injury risks and Barnes may well see much of his time at the three as the only established wing behind starters Klay Thompson and Andre Iguodala.

The Spartan in me says yes, of course he can. The more objective NBA fan says no, not until he proves he can make shots at a decent rate. There’s a lot to be said for having another guy who can move the ball, especially if you’re playing with shooters as good as Thompson and Steph Curry. But again, it hinges on his shooting.

Either way, he’ll always have his game-winner, which is more than a lot of second rounders can say. Maybe that’s enough?

Caleb Nordgren

Caleb is a proud Chicagoan still adjusting to life away from the big city. He's a journalism student at Michigan State, the Editor of Pippen Ain't Easy and can be found at any given time on Twitter, talking about basketball and generally being sarcastic.