Two 2nd Round Draft Picks Each Get Historic Triple-Doubles

The rarest players are the ones whose transition to the NBA is a sure thing. Shaquille O’Neal was a sure thing. Tim Duncan was a sure thing. LeBron James was a sure thing. The overwhelming majority of most basketball players are not sure things.

This is part of what makes basketball such an incredible sport. Players who excelled at previous levels can flame out spectacularly at the game’s highest level; players who merely whelmed at previous levels can become literal phoenixes. Within the last week, we have received two remarkable reminders of this second phenomenon.

Draymond Green

Does Green famously kick his opponents in the testicles? Yes. Is Green arguably the most important piece in Golden State’s juggernaut? Also, yes.

But unlike Kevin Durant (2nd overall pick), Steph Curry (7th overall pick), and Klay Thompson (11th overall pick), Green was selected 35th overall. Scouting didn’t see his rise, arguing that he compared favorably to players like Jared Dudley and Luke Harangody. Look at this evaluation of the man:

Weaknesses: One of those great college basketball players that doesn’t excel in any one particular area … Tweener, undersized for a physical forward yet lacks the athleticism of a wing … Lacks explosiveness, agility, elusiveness and quickness off the bounce … Under the rim finisher, which is troublesome when you consider his size … Not a threat to shake his defender off the dribble … Minimal upside … Vulnerable defending quicker guards on the perimeter … Could stand to drop some weight …

Are scouts dumb? No. But they were limited in their ability to imagine what Green might be able to accomplish which, to this point, is an NBA Championship, two All-Star teams, and two runner-ups for the NBA’s Defensive Player Of The Year.

Part of what those scouts were unable to imagine is just how effective a player willing to minimize scoring can actually believe. Green proved the point Friday night, posting the NBA’s first ever triple-double that didn’t involve points. His line – a staggering 4pts/12rbs/10ast/10stl/5blk – is simply unheard of and, to boot, it was one point shy of a 5×5, one of those odd statistical anomalies that only the most multi-tooled players are capable of achieving.

If Green’s triple-double underwhelms, perhaps the only other thing worth noting is this: only one other player has ever gotten double-digits in rebounds and assists and steals, and that player was in the process of producing a quadruple-double. Needless to say, Green’s achievement was exceedingly rare.

Nikola Jokic

Jokic was drafted even later than Green – he was taken 41st overall. Draft experts talked predictably about the Serbian:

 Weaknesses: An average athlete lacking great speed and leaping ability … Foot speed is a big liability. He may struggle to stay in front of NBA athletes at the center position … Needs to improve as a post player, gain strength and develop a repertoire of back to the basket moves … Defense is a real weakness at this point due to lack of lateral speed and lack of strength. His length is a big plus, but he’ll need to continue to work on becoming stronger and learn to anticipate in order to overcome his lack of quickness … Despite being a younger guy, his upside appears limited by his lack of explosiveness and foot speed …

And again, the issue here is imagination, because Jokic achieved his own unheard of triple-double the other night. In an absolute evisceration of, oddly, Green’s Golden State Warriors, Jokic posted 17pts, 21rbs/12ast, making him the only guy who has managed do that. (If you ignore the points, his achievement is still worth celebrating, as he is also the only guy to get 12 or more assists and grab 21 or more rebounds in a single game.) To look more closely at what Jokic achieved, a broadening of the search terms to players who achieved 10pt/20reb/10ast triple-doubles reveals a predictable who’s who of great players: Charles Barkley, Chris Webber, DeMarcus Cousins, Kevin Garnet, Pau Gasol, Dennis Rodman and (website favorite) Fat Lever.

Conclusion

In both cases, scouts and their teams failed to imagine a player’s maximal possibilities. This is understandable of course, especially considering how many players fail to achieve even a quarter of what Green and Jokic both have. But if their drafts were redone today, and given perfect vision, it seems quite likely that both of these players would have been top-five picks at the minimum, as both of them have proven value well beyond what was originally imagined. They have also each achieved a little bit of something that this post’s first three players never did.

The Golden State Warriors Are Great…But?

On the NBA’s Opening Night, the Golden State Warriors rolled out their Death Star, a starting lineup packed as tightly as any in imaginable memory.

  • Steph Curry: last year’s MVP, greatest shooter of all time
  • Klay Thompson: top-five shooter of all time
  • Draymond Green a leatherman of a player whose proficiency for the game is matched only by his proficiency for kicking other men in the gentlemen’s region
  • Zaza Pachulia: because they needed a fourth guy
  • Kevin Durant: a top-three player in the league that the team signed in the offseason.

That team then proceeded, because turnabout is always fair play, to get kicked very hard in its gentlemen region by the San Antonio Spurs. For a few hours, everybody got to wonder if maybe the team’s Death Star was fully operational. Then the team won 16 of its next 17 games, pushing its record to an awesome 16-2, although that number still seems underwhelming after last year’s 24-0 start. All was right with the world.

But then the Warriors lost again last night. The team sits at 16-3. Everything is still right with the world – the Warriors are the best team in the league! – but…

If somebody went looking for dings in the armor, it might be worth starting with the quality of that record. The Warriors’ 16 wins have come against teams with a 133-168 (.441) record. The Warriors’ 3 losses have come against teams with a 37-21 (.637) record. Golden State has played, at best, a middlingly difficult schedule. Their best win might be one over the Toronto Raptors in a game that saw the Canadian franchise win three of four quarters.

The bigger looming issue is one of health. The Warriors have been remarkably resilient these last two-and-a-half years, with Curry, Thompson, and Green rarely missing time. But we know what happens when any of them do, having witnessed what their absences can cause. Curry went down in the third game of the playoffs last year, returned quickly, but played injured, and the 73-9 regular-season Warriors promptly lost 5 of 12 games (before rallying against the Thunder). Green got himself suspended for the Finals’ fifth game and his absence was enough to breath life into the teetering Cavaliers.

The stanch against injury has always been the Warriors’ bench, itself a fierce unit capable of exceedingly competent basketball. Andre Igoudala, Shaun Livingston, Mareese Speights, Brandon Rush, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezeli averaged 38 points-per-game last season. Between them, they were often able to fill the gaps.

But the offseason saw the Warriors sink everything into Kevin Durant. Although he too has battled significant injuries, including terrifying ones that affected his feet, Durant is Durant, a monstrous apparition known by some as the Slim Reaper. Getting him was a no-brainer, the obvious thought being that adding the fourth (Durant) to the Warriors’ big three (Curry, Thompson, and Green) would make them virtually unstoppable.

Every strategy has its cost, and what the Warriors gave up to get Durant was its more competent bench. Scoring by the team’s top-six bench players is off 10 points per game, with Igoudala, Livingston, Ian Clark, the 10,000-year-old reanimated corpse of David West, JaVale McGee (?!?), and Kevon Looney averaging less than 28 points per game, thus setting the team up to pay a potentially higher price were one of its big four to get injured.

That then is the extent of the nail that the league’s other 29 teams have to hang their hat on: the Warriors having faced a weak schedule and having performed (relatively) badly against its more competitive teams, and a bench that is less impressive than it used to be.

Although that isn’t much, it is something, and it might be slightly more than the league expected to have going for it at the start of the season.