As posted back in April, the Big Ten managed to produce a decent number of players to participate in the NBA Playoffs this season. Like last round, however, former Spartan Draymond Green is the last player currently playing that is supporting the conference. While Green may be the last remaining Big Ten alumni active, he's definitely more than held his own this playoffs as he as emerged somewhat surprisingly as a breakout NBA player this season. The former second round pick wasn't exactly seen as the second coming when selected, which is quite common once we get into the second round.
Green actually joined the Warriors as part of a sizable 2012 Draft Class that included four picks, two of which (Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli) were drafted above him in the first round. Green was seen somewhat as an awkward fit thanks to his size, assumed to be a bit too big to play the small forward, yet undersized enough to not handle the larger power forwards in the league. While lottery pick Harrison Barnes started 81 games his rookie season and Festus Ezeli added 41 starts, Green only started once and averaged a mere 13.4 minutes per game. While it took Green a bit of time to get rolling out on the west coast, Green followed up 13 starts his first two seasons with a 2014-15 campaign that saw him start every game he participated in (79). And what a year it was.
After two seasons of being a role player off the bench, Green would go on to finish as the runner-up for the Defensive Player of the Year, as well as runner-up for the Most Improved Player Award. David Lee's health issues opened the door for Green in his third season and the second rounder responded emphatically, averaging 11.7 points, 8.2 rebounds and 3.7 assists per game. Once seen as a bit of a tweener, Draymond exploded onto the seen defensively and became a lock down defender, helping spark a massive improvement in Golden State's defense. Once seen as too big to play at the three and too small to handle the four, Green flourished all over the court and could even front a small ball lineup from time-to-time. That small ball lineup was huge for the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, with the lineup sparking a 21-4 run to close the first half versus Houston, leading to an impressive rally from 16 points down in the second quarter.
Besides becoming a key clog on defense, Green finally found his way offensively as he had just enough of a perimeter shot to demand attention, while still finding a way inside to attack the rim when necessary. The fact that Green only measures in at 6'7" was never lost on him, either, making up for his slightly undersized measurements by bringing a pit bull mentality to the court and becoming an extremely vocal team leader not willing to back down from opposing players. At times his impact may go a tad under noticed by fans that don't routinely watch the Warriors, but his impact on the team has been a key reason for their 67-15 regular season record and run to the Finals. It's why Green's performance has led to speculation of him possibly earning some serious money when his next contract is signed, even if most people see him somewhat as a product of his teams system.
That being said, it's going to be interesting to watch Green battle it out in primetime against the Cavaliers as the two teams square off to see who's the best in the league this year. It's been mentioned before, but I'm actually a Golden State fan so I've been able to enjoy Green well beyond his days playing under Tom Izzo in East Lansing. Either way, while a number of people have criticized a somewhat underwhelming playoffs this spring, it looks like we'll finally have an exciting match set for the finale. Here's to hoping former Michigan State forward Draymond Green will continue to spark the Warriors as Golden State searches for their first title in 40 years.