More Valuable: Kawhi or Draymond?

Two years ago, Kawhi Leonard beat out Draymond Green to win Defensive Player of the Year. But Draymond Green won the NBA championship.  Last year, Kawhi Leonard won Defensive Player of the Year again. But history didn’t repeat itself. Draymond Green lost the NBA championship.  He came oh so close but had a heartbreaking game seven loss.

Last February, Kawhi Leonard bypassed Draymond Green in fan voting to make his first All-Star appearance. (Green made the team). Now here they are, both with NBA rings in their possession, both organizations-the Spurs and Warriors- the best the NBA has to offer. The Warriors and Spurs are so far ahead of the rest of the NBA it seems ridiculous to even talk about other title contending teams. The Spurs have a better defense. The Warriors score more points. Both teams shoot the ball efficiently. Both teams shoot the three well. Both teams move the ball. The Warriors are the best at it, and the Spurs are third. (The Hawks are second.) Both teams have been built as iso-allergic squads. They have depth.

Offense Points FG% 3-Point % Assists Offensive Rating
Warriors 2015-16 114.9 (1st) 48.7% (1st) 41.6% (1st) 28.9 (1st) 114.5 (1st)
Spurs 2015-16 103.5 (10th) 48.4% (2nd) 37.5% (2nd) 24.5 (3rd) 110.3 (4th)


Defense Opponent Points Opponent FG% Opponent 3-Point % Rebounds Defensive Rating
Warriors 2015-16 104.1 (19th) 43.5% (3rd) 33.2% (2nd) 46.2 (4th) 103.8 (5th)
Spurs 2015-16 92.9 (1st) 43.6% (4th) 33.1% (1st) 43.9 (15th) 99.0 (1st)

Where they differ is in the construction. Kawhi Leonard is the Spurs best player. He is their best offensive player and their best defensive player. The Warriors best player isn’t Draymond Green.That nod goes to Steph Curry. Draymond isn’t their second best offensive player either. That is Klay Thompson. But Draymond is the Warriors do-everything in the paint, on the wing, move the ball, stop the man player; he is the straw that stirs the drink.

What if you interchanged them, though? What if Kawhi was on the Warriors? Would he be the leader Draymond is, always pumping up the troops and in everyone’s face?

Kawhi is quiet by nature while Draymond is laughably extroverted and one of those squeeze-every-drop-out-of-life personalities. Kawhi isn’t loud. Teddy Roosevelt must have been talking about Kawhi when he said, “speak softly but carry a big stick.” Kawhi’s “stick” is as a pure scorer, a physical defender and someone who makes the right play at the right time. He is not the passer Green is. He was fourth on his team in assists (2.6) last season while Green was first (7.4) for the Warriors. Green averaged more rebounds than Leonard, and blocked more shots. But Kawhi was a better scorer (21.2) than Green (14.0), had a higher field goal percentage, a higher three point percentage, a higher free throw percentage, a higher PER.

Points FG% 3-Point % Rebounds Assists
Draymond Green, 2015-16 14.0 49.0% 38.8% 9.5 7.4
Kawhi Leonard, 2015-16 21.2 50.6% 44.3% 6.8 2.6

Who is more valuable?

In basketball terms, value is defined as important and useful in getting a team wins. In the context of contending to win a title, Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green’s value fluctuates because they are asked to do different things for their teams.

Leonard is the Spurs leading scorer and best defender. He’s not asked to be a facilitator, to run the offense from the elbow or paint. He has Tony Parker for that. He is not asked to be a power forward. He has LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol (David West last year) for that.

Green has a dynamic scorer on his team in Curry and so his shot making is based on open looks, reading the defender’s over attention on Curry and taking advantage of his own man. Green is not asked to take on an offensive burden. He scores when he scores, when he has an open shot, when ball movement has gotten his man out of position. He is the one player on the Warriors who keeps the offense running smoothly, who keeps the ball zipping from side to side. He plays multiple positions on the floor, from small forward to point guard to power forward to center. It confuses defenders and he is impossible to scheme. His screen and roll with Curry is the best in the NBA.

In matchups Leonard can, if he chooses to, iso Green. He can score off of ball movement and hit the three. He can dribble and pull-up, or dibble and drive to the rim. He shoots as efficiently from mid-range as he does from the three and he scores at the rim like a seven footer.

Green will find cutters and spacers on the wing.  He’ll make open shots and in screen and roll free Curry up for some deadly threes. He’ll make his own perimeter shots and get to the line. He’ll pull down some boards and keep possessions alive with his energy, making everyone around him exhausted and wishing he was on the bench.

If the Warriors lost Draymond Green for a long period of time, they’d be in a world of trouble. He does so many things for them that never show up in the box score. He is the definition of help the helper. Green is both the help and the helper. He is the organizer. He makes everyone’s job simpler.

If the Spurs lost Kawhi Leonard, they’d take a hit but still keep on rolling. LaMarcus Aldridge would step in and become the leading scorer, something he is used to. Yes, their defense would suffer some but not dramatically. They would have no answer for about five players in the league: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond and Carmelo Anthony. Other than that, they’d keep the train moving.

The best organizational compliment is that their coaches, Gregg Popovich and Steve Kerr, knew exactly what they were doing with the less is more development of Kawhi Leonard and Draymond Green. They let Leonard and Green marinate and come along slowly until they have reached this spectacular point.

Both players were better in 2015-16.

Points FG% 3-Point % Assist PER
Draymond Green, 2015-16 14.0 (+2.3) 49.0% (+5.1%) 38.8% (+5.1%) 7.4 (+3.7) 19.3 (+2.9)
Kawhi Leonard, 2015-16 21.2 (+4.7) 50.6% (+2.7%) 44.3% (+9.4%) 2.6 (+.1%) 26.0 (+4.0)

Let’s not kid ourselves. The rest of the league is envious. Kawhi Leonard has his name on the Defensive Player of the Year for the next five years. As volatile as Green is, he makes the Warriors ship go. He gives them energy and an edge.

They’ll face each other opening night with nothing on the line.  That will come later.

photo via llananba