More Valuable: Kawhi or Draymond?

Three years ago, Kawhi Leonard beat out Draymond Green to win Defensive Player of the Year. But Draymond Green won the NBA championship.  In 2015-16, Kawhi Leonard won Defensive Player of the Year again. But history didn’t repeat itself. Draymond Green lost the NBA championship.  Last June, Dray pulled off the doube-double: a title and DPOY.

Kawhi and Draymond both have rings but Dray has two of them; Kawhi was the Finals MVP in 2014.. Their respective organizations-the Spurs and Warriors- are 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 suffocating defense as their rite of passage.  The Warriors score and defend. 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 very good..  Both teams have been built as iso-allergic squads. They have depth.

Offense 2016-17 Points FG% 3-Point % Assists Offensive Rating
Warriors 115.9 (1st) 49.5% (1st) 38.3% (3rd) 30.4 (1st) 115.6 (1st)
Spurs 103.5 (14th) 46.9% (6th) 39.1% (1st) 23.8 (7th) 111.1 (9th)


Defense 2016-17 Opponent Points Opponent FG% Opponent 3-Point % Rebounds Defensive Rating
Warriors 104.3 (11th) 43.5% (1st) 32.4% (1st) 44.4 (7th) 104.0 (2nd)
Spurs 98.1 (2nd) 44.3% (4th) 34.4% (5th) 43.9 (11th) 103.5 (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 Kevin Durant. Draymond isn’t the Warriors second best offensive player either. That is Steph Curry. 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 second on his team in assists (3.5) last season while Green was first (7.0) for the Warriors; Leonard had half the assists of Green.  Green averaged more rebounds than Leonard, and blocked more shots. But Kawhi was a better scorer (25.5) than Green (10.2), had a higher field goal percentage, a higher three point percentage, a higher free throw percentage, and a PER eleven points higher.

 2016-17 Points FG% 3-Point % Rebounds Assists
Draymond Green, 10.2 41.8% 30.8% 7.9 7.0
Kawhi Leonard 25.5 48.5% 38.0% 5.8 3.5

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 for that.

Green has dynamic scorer(s) on his team in Durant and Curry and so his shot making is based on open looks, reading the defender’s over attention on Curry and KD 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 dribble 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 be devastated. The usage rates tell the story. Last season Kawhi’s usage rate was 31.1%. Draymond’s usage rate was 16.2%. Without Green, it would be harder for the Warriors but not impossible. Not so for the Spurs.

LaMarcus Aldridge would not step in and become the leading scorer for the Spurs. The Spurs would have no one who would rotate and guard wings. The Spurs would have no answer for about five players in the league: LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Paul George, Draymond and Carmelo Anthony.

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.

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.  Unless Dray’s name is on it. As volatile as Green is, he makes the Warriors ship go. He gives them energy and an edge.

They were supposed to face each other in game #9 (Nov. 2) with nothing on the line but getting the summer rust off.  But it may have to wait until February 10; Kawhi is rehabbing a quad injury. Whenever it happens, their first meeting, this much is clear. DPOY will be on the line.

photo via llananba