What the Warriors can get from JaMychal Green as a stretch big off the bench

One of the more stunning Warriors playoff losses in the three-season Kevin Durant era came in the first round in 2019. They were facing the eighth-seeded Clippers before they employed Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Warriors had a Game 5 closeout opportunity at Oracle Arena, but failed. Those Clippers, without an All-Star, put up 129 points to drag the series back to Los Angeles for a Game 6.

Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell combined for 57 points off the bench. That pick-and-roll combination forced the Warriors into some difficult rotational choices. Williams and Harrell were better able to thrive because, in the middle of the series, Doc Rivers benched his centers and went with smaller lineups that spread the floor around those two.

That’s what made JaMychal Green such a necessary component of the Clippers’ planned attack. Green, a 6-foot-8 power forward who can rebound decently and guard multiple positions, made 12 of his 23 attempted 3s in that series. In the Game 5 stunner, he made three big ones and finished with 15 points.

That’s become relevant again with the news that dropped Tuesday. As first reported by The Athletic’s Shams Charania, the Warriors intend to sign Green once he completes his impending buyout with the Thunder, a veteran-minimum bargain to bolster the back end of their rotation. Green has had fans within the Warriors’ front office, locker room and coaching staff for years. Much of that affection spawned during the 2019 first-round series, when he repeatedly burned a collapsing scheme.

Let’s stick with the three 3s he made in that Game 5 road win.

Here is the first. Watch Kevon Looney toward the top of the screen. The Clippers didn’t have Ivica Zubac on the floor, so Looney was forced to guard Green. Looney tiptoed into the paint and pulled over a step farther when Williams drove from the left wing. That was his biggest concern, but it left Green open for a corner 3, which he hit.

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Green’s second 3 came in the third quarter. Steph Curry switched onto Green after a screen. He bulldozed Curry into the post and forced Andrew Bogut to hurry over and switch up the matchup.

Since it was Bogut and not Curry, Green abandoned the post-up and pivoted into a pick-and-pop action with Williams, which freed Green briefly for a shot on the left wing. Green showed patience and on-the-move accuracy with a pump fake and sidestep to avoid the Durant closeout.

Here’s the third 3. This was exactly the point of a stretch big man next to a feared high-usage scorer. Draymond Green had enough of Williams ripping up the Warriors’ defense, so he committed to showing Williams an extra body in the paint. Draymond got completely detached from JaMychal in an effort to stack Williams’ side of the floor. JaMychal floated to the left wing, Williams found him, and he buried another huge shot as a helpless Draymond couldn’t recover in time.

When the Warriors remade their roster last summer, they prioritized extra shooting in the frontcourt. They came to the realization that in 2021 — despite the Curry boost — you couldn’t persistently handcuff an offense with two non-shooters on the floor at nearly all times. They have and will continue to test those limits with Draymond and Looney in the starting lineup. But the addition of Otto Porter Jr. and Nemanja Bjelica gave Steve Kerr a pair of extra frontcourt shooters, varying the lineup combinations he could use.

Bjelica had bright moments. Porter was a critical addition, vital during the playoff run. Against the Grizzlies, who pressed up on the ball and packed the paint with Steven Adams and Jaren Jackson Jr. roaming off their assignments, Porter broke open the series with his floor-spacing presence. He made 7 of 11 from 3 in the Game 3 and Game 4 wins. The Warriors were a plus-45 with him on the floor in that series, and a minus-41 with him off it.

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But Porter left for a bigger payday in Toronto, and Bjelica has returned to the familiarity of Fenerbahçe in Turkey, a team for which he previously starred. The Warriors put veteran minimum offers on the table for both, unwilling to pay market value (considering their tax crunch) but still valuing the stretch forward over a traditional center when reimagining their big-man rotation.

That led to the pivot to JaMychal Green instead of a chase for a DeMarcus Cousins or Tristan Thompson type. Green was part of a salary-dump move by Denver last month. He is owed $8.2 million next season. In trading for him, the Thunder grabbed a future first-round pick and always intended to buy him out, sending him back into the market.

Part of the reason the Nuggets were willing to part with him was because of his down season from deep. Denver signed him to a two-year, $16.4 million contract last summer because the season before, his first with the Nuggets, he made 39.9 percent of his 3s and fit perfectly next to Nikola Jokic as an interior presence to guard wings and centers, chipping in on the glass and spreading the court for him on offense.

“I’d like to play with him for the rest of my life,” Jokic said of Green that season.

But Green shot 26.6 percent on his 124 attempted 3s last season and missed four of his five in that first-round loss to the Warriors. Nuggets coach Michael Malone still kept him as a 16-minute-per-game rotation regular because he provides some of the similar size, rebounding and passing skill as Porter and Bjelica. Porter’s rebounding was a revelation for the Warriors this past season. Green actually had an almost-identical defensive rebound rate (18.7 percent to 18.9 percent) and historically has been higher.

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But his high-end value as a role player will always be defined by his 3-point percentage. Just look at his contract numbers.

Green made 39.6 percent of his 3s during his last season with Memphis, which cemented his spot in the league and earned him a career-best payday with the Clippers. He shot 38.7 and 39.9 percent from 3 the next two seasons, earning him deals upwards of the taxpayer midlevel. But he hit a steep dip this past season and, because of it, has fallen back to the veteran-minimum range, where the Warriors hope they’ve unearthed another one-season steal in the Porter mold.

When he officially signs, Green will be the 12th player under contract. Ryan Rollins, the second-rounder, is still expected to sign a multiyear deal later in the summer, giving him the 13th spot. It’s likely the Warriors will guarantee only 14 spots heading into training camp, leaving the 15th free for a competition or an extended vacancy, saving them tax money. Andre Iguodala, if he opts to return instead of retire, could fill the 14th. The Warriors’ summer business is nearly done.

(Photo: Ron Chenoy / USA Today)

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