Upgrade Your Fandom

Join the Ultimate Denver nuggets Community!

"He's the engine to what they do" Inside the Nikola Jokic, Draymond Green matchup

Harrison Wind Avatar
April 13, 2022

Across four matchups this season, the Nuggets and Warriors are all square. Denver beat Golden State in three out of the four meetings this year, but the aggregate scoreboard reads 439-439.

There’s one massive caveat to the Nuggets’ and Warriors’ season series, however. Draymond Green, the soul of this Warriors team and heartbeat of Golden State’s dynasty run from 2014-19 didn’t play in any of those four matchups. His presence is top of mind for Michael Malone ahead of Game 1 of the Nuggets and Warriors’ first-round series Saturday in San Francisco.

“Draymond to me is the guy who makes that team go,” Malone said after Denver’s Wednesday practice.

“It’s going to be a completely different animal with him playing.”

The Nuggets will pour over the tape from their meetings with the Warriors this season ahead of Game 1, but it won’t completely prepare them for Saturday. Green changes everything for Golden State. On offense, he’s the Warriors’ Nikola Jokic, setting Steph Curry up for 3-pointer after 3-pointer and dictating the pace and flow of Golden State’s attack.

Defensively, he’s the Warriors’ anchor, their captain and conductor who can guard every position on the floor.

“It’s his IQ. IQ of knowing the plays, personnel, knowing how to play without fouling, being able to guard multiple positions,” said Jeff Green when discussing what makes Draymond Green such a polished defender. “We have guys that can do the same. We have to find ways to get the best matchup, the best shot for us. He’s one guy, but he’s the engine to what they do.”

The last time the Nuggets played Green was late last season. Fans were barely back in the stands and Denver was just four games removed from its previous matchup with Golden State when Jamal Murray tore his ACL. In the Nuggets and Warriors’ April 23rd matchup last year, the final game of the season between Denver and Golden State, Will Barton went down with a bad hamstring injury in the first minute of the first quarter that kept him out of the lineup for roughly the next two months. Facu Campazzo was starting at point guard. Michael Porter Jr. led Denver in scoring with 26 points.

Jokic didn’t have a typical MVP performance that night. In a 118-97 Nuggets loss, he finished with only 19 points on 7-16 shooting, 6 rebounds and 6 assists. Denver was outscored by 18 points in Jokic’s 33 minutes. The Warriors pretty much matched Green with Jokic’s minutes all night.

Here are the seven possessions from that matchup where Jokic attempted a shot when he and Green were matched up 1-on-1. He went 5-8 from the floor in those situations. It looked like he got most of the shots he wanted.

Jokic also went 0-3 from 3-point range that game and missed some makeable looks in the paint when Green wasn’t guarding him.

The Nuggets know Jokic will see a lot of Green throughout the series, particularly late in games.

“Quite a bit,” Malone said regarding how much Green will match up with Jokic. “I think they’ll probably start how they usually do with Kevon Looney (at center). I think their closing lineup is going to be Draymond at the five, (Andrew) Wiggins at the four, Klay (Thompson) at the three, (Jordan) Poole at the two and Steph (Curry) at the one.”

The Jokic-Green matchup could determine the series. Historic offense vs. generational defense. One of the most versatile and unique offensive forces that the NBA has ever seen, going up against the most versatile defender in the league. Arguably the top two highest IQ players in the game right now squaring off in the playoffs for the first time.

If Jokic is the best version of himself — I’m talking A-level games every single night — the Nuggets have a fighting chance in the series. But he has to be the dominant offensive force who shot 65.2% from two-point range this season, which led the NBA (minimum 10 attempts per game). He has to be able to score at will from the block and maintain something close to the 1.17 points per possession he averaged on post-ups, which also led the league (minimum 100 total attempts). He probably has to rediscover his 3-point shot too. Jokic converted just 33.7% of his attempts from 3-point range this season but is a career 40.6% shooter from distance in the playoffs.

It won’t be easy. Green is arguably the best defender in the NBA on a Warriors team that was the second-best defense in the NBA this season. He has the muscle to bang with Jokic inside and the IQ and intangibles to disorient Denver’s offense. Golden State will be throwing coverages and schemes at Jokic and the Nuggets that Denver hasn’t seen this season.

Malone said Wednesday that Murray is doubtful to play in the playoffs, although he did go through parts of practice and the Nuggets are still leaving the door open for his return. Unlike Murray, who looks to be in great spirits and has been ramping up his workload before games and during practices, Porter’s progress in his return from back surgery seems to have stalled. That’s simply my read from observing him on Wednesday. Porter has been on a training table getting worked on by Nuggets team doctors to end each of Denver’s last two practices.

Aaron Gordon, Monte Morris and Will Barton can swing the series too, but Denver’s playoff life depends on Jokic. He’ll have to put the Nuggets in position to have a role player win a game with a momentum-turning quarter or half no matter who’s guarding him.

He’s readying himself for whatever the Warriors throw his way.

“I expect everything,” Jokic said.


Share your thoughts

Join the conversation

The Comment section is only for diehard members

Open comments +

Scroll to next article

Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?
Don't like ads?