There are few high school basketball players I've enjoyed watching more than Draymond Green. I didn't catch many of his games until late in his career at Saginaw High. Early in the state H.S. playoffs that year, Saginaw played its regional opener in Flint, so I went to check out Green since he was a Michigan State recruit.
He was generously listed at 6-foot-6, pudgy and admittedly, I wondered why he was considered possibly the best high school player in the state. He didn't look like he could play. Then the game started. Saginaw's lineup was essentially Green and four guards. He was their inside presence, owned the boards and guarded opposing bigs. But just as easily as he could play a back-to-the-basket game, he was equally likely to dribble the ball up-court, initiate the offense or even pull up for a surprise 3-pointer.
He's still one of the most aware, intelligent high school players I've ever seen, and I kept going back to watch Saginaw and Green play throughout their run to a second straight state title because Green's game was so beautiful to watch (seriously ... there is a lot of really ugly high school basketball out there).
When he arrived at Michigan State, I was convinced he'd become a great college player. I was convinced Tom Izzo would adore him. After a freshman season that rarely saw him take perimeter shots, I was convinced he'd unveil the jumper he possessed in high school as his career evolved. And after his sophomore season, one that saw Green arrive in better shape and have a huge jump in production from his freshman year, I wrote that I believed Green could turn himself into a legit NBA prospect by the time he left Michigan State if he continued to improve at that rate. Here was my reasoning at the time:
I also believe that Green has skills he has not yet shown at MSU -- namely, while he's not going to blow by people off the dribble, he does have a face-up game. He also has decent range, but we haven't seen it much since he's so adept at using his body to get good post position.
But check his improvement from year one to year two at MSU:
Fresman season: 11.4 minutes, 55.6 percent shooting, 61.5 percent free throws, .8 assists, 3.3 rebounds, 3.3 points per game.
Now, if you double those minutes, that only puts him at 22.8 minutes, 6.6 rebounds, 1.6 assists, 6.6 points. Compare those to the numbers he's putting up in 24 minutes a night this year.
Sophomore season: 62.1 percent shooting, 74.0 percent free throws, 7.9 rebounds, 3.2 assists, 11.1 points.
It's fair to say that he's improved significantly in just one year at MSU, especially when you look at his shooting numbers. He's taking more field goals and free throws and shooting better than he did last year. Normally, the opposite happens -- guys' roles expand, their shot attempts go up and their percentages go down a tad.
That expectation might be lofty, considering Green is undersized to play the four in the NBA and probably too slow to play the three. But when the Pistons drafted Duke's Kyle Singler early in the second round of the NBA Draft last week, my belief that Green had a shot was renewed.
Like Green, Singler's position is a question in the NBA. He's probably too slow to play much small forward. He might not be big enough to handle the four in the NBA. And he doesn't shoot from long range consistently enough to project as a NBA stretch four. So why was he picked? Primarily, because of his work ethic, toughness and basketball IQ. Here were some of the scouting reports on Singler as a prospect:
Though Singler is a proven winner and a relatively complete player at this point in his career, there are questions surrounding the extent of his upside, as he doesn't seem to have improved a great deal over the past few years. Not possessing the size or strength to operate effectively in the post, or the quickness and ball-handling skills to be a great shot-creator on the wing, there are some concerns about whether Singler is destined for a role as a one-dimensional player, one who is not particularly consistent at that particular dimension—shooting.
The fact that Singler has been a role-player essentially throughout his college career, doing so on a competitive and winning team throughout, will play in his favor, though. He is not the type of player who will need to make a huge transition in his style of play to make an impact. Furthermore, he's ready to contribute immediately, as he's a mature player both physically and mentally, who has been coached by one of the most respected men in basketball over the past four years. These things, along with his strong intangibles, could all look very attractive to a good team drafting in the second half of the first round looking for a solid piece to add to their rotation.
NBA execs look for similarities for help in projections, so anything Singler can do to separate himself from (Gordon) Hayward would be great, and that starts with his perimeter shot. Hayward was good his first season and bad as a sophomore, and Singler is working on an "average, good, good, average" run over his four years. Of course, this season could end up as an excellent one from deep, starting with his 5-for-9 performance against Oregon. Combine a sharpshooter with the fighter/hustler Singler has proved to be in the past against a team like Michigan State? That's a guy every team will covet.
Many of the things in those two excerpts could apply to either Singler or Green. There are a couple of main differences between the two: Singler is a few inches taller, which certainly helps his NBA stock; Green has improved significantly in college while Singler plateaued early, which should help Green's stock. Here's a look at some of Green's numbers vs. Singler's through the first three years of their college careers (freshman year is listed first):
The obvious stat that jumps out is that, rate-wise, Green is the far superior rebounder, which is even more impressive considering he's a few inches shorter than Singler. But there are other significant points in Green's favor as well. Singler was primarily a power forward for Duke, but he's reportedly being looked at as a prospect who can occasionally play the three. Green is far better on the perimter as he's already an extremely capable passer and he's been gettting more used to having the ball in his hands, facing up and creating off the dribble. I wouldn't say it's an elite skill for Green, but he's certainly been asked to do that more than Singler has.
Another important thing to note, although it's not in the table above, Singler didn't have a great senior season. His 3-point shooting fell to 32 percent. Green didn't shoot the ball well overall as a junior, but he's had two seasons already where he shot better than 50 percent from the field (Singler has never shot 50 percent) and Green has added a reliable 3-point shot, hitting 37 percent of them last season.
When the Pistons selected Singler, intangible qualities were the primary talking point. Singler had won a national title at Duke. He was a 'winner.' He was a 'smart' player who 'hustled.' He embodied the tough, intelligent culture the team wants to rebuild in its locker room. The implication, although a team would never say this, was that those intangible qualities make up for some of the physical limitations in Singler's game. But if those intangibles can mask some of Singler's weaknesses, shouldn't the same hold true for Green?
Green will graduate as a four-year player at Michigan State. He will have played in at least two (and hopefully three) Final Fours. He quickly became one of Izzo's favorite players as a sophomore. He's known for his high basketball IQ. It's hard to measure intangibles, but couldn't a case be made that Green is at least close to Singler in that "postive locker room presence" department?
And on top of that, Green has just been a better player in certain key areas. He's a better rebounder. He's a better passer. He's a better ball-handler. He's already used to playing a kind of hybrid forward role like the one Singler will most likely be expected to play in the NBA. Neither guy is particularly athletic, but Green's more accustomed to guarding perimeter players after last season. Check out what DraftExpress wrote about Green prior to last season:
If he can find a way to continue to improve his shooting range and show better defensive versatility than we're giving him credit for, he could possibly make a stronger case for himself for the NBA.
Anyone who watched Green last season can easily point out that Green did just that. His 37 percent 3-point shooting was a 24 percent improvement from the previous season. And the fact that his steal rate went up also suggests that he at the very least got more comfortable guarding players one-on-one, even if he's not going to be considered a lockdown perimeter defender. Green has shown significant improvement in key areas at Michigan State. Heading into his senior year, if he makes another leap, how can he justifiably be kept out of NBA prospect conversations? A scout who talked to Chad Ford thinks it's conceivable Green could get NBA looks:
He's undersized for his position and he's not the most ripped guy in the world. But when it comes to basketball IQ, shooting touch and feel, he's one of the best big men in college basketball.
Coming into the tournament a number of scouts said they didn't believe Green was a prospect. They thought he was too slow and too small to do what he does in college in the pros. But after three straight big games from him, one NBA scout was a little more sold: "He's growing on me," the scout said. "The league loves guys who can spread the defense and shoot it.. He's not going to be a star, but you look at how hard and intelligently he plays and I think there's a place in the league for guys like that."
Those couple inches that Green gives up are going to be hard for him to overcome, as the NBA very rarely overlooks physical weaknesses in favor of production. But the fact that intangibles were a great help to Singler in getting teams to overlook some of his weak spots should prove to only help Green if he has another productive season as a senior.