clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Michigan State Basketball: How Draymond Green became the perfect example of a Tom Izzo player

Former Spartans star Draymond Green is the best example of a player from the Tom Izzo era--and he has plenty of time to add to that legacy with the Golden State Warriors.

Is there anyone who better embodies Tom Izzo and Michigan State basketball than Draymond Green?
Is there anyone who better embodies Tom Izzo and Michigan State basketball than Draymond Green?
Andy Lyons/Getty Images

This past Tuesday, Draymond Green did more than win the 2015 NBA Finals with the Golden State Warriors. With a triple-double in the Finals—16 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists—during what was arguably the most important game of his career, the former Michigan State Spartans star became the quintessential Tom Izzo product.

And it only took him three years after leaving the Spartans to prove it. In a sense, he's a 6'7", 230-pound version of Izzo.

Green, who played in East Lansing from 2009 to 2012, put forth one of the most complete four-year careers on record at Michigan State, in any sport. Now a three-year NBA veteran, he’s found similar ways to flourish as a professional. Having found a niche as a do-all, Green has evolved into one of the league’s best plug-and-play options and is on his way to big money.

His nickname of "Money Green" will be most appropriate once he sings the max-deal that some feel he’s about to get. If not a max-deal, it'll be something with a lot of commas and zeroes.

One series, regardless of implications, can’t define a player. Of course, having a breakout postseason—and shining brightest in the Finals—is never a bad thing. It certainly helps one’s stock. However, since his freshman year at Michigan State, Green has demonstrated incredible leadership capabilities. It’d be safe to say that most never saw this type of success coming, but most knew that Green would squeeze his way onto a roster somehow, some way, and do just fine.

From verbally assisting a teammate—Derrick Nix—during the 2009 national title bout vs. North Carolina, to proclaiming that he’s "back" vs. the Cavaliers during this year’s Finals, Green continues to speak up and play up at crucial junctures.

This isn’t new, though.

It all started as a kid in Saginaw, while helping lead The High to consecutive Class-A titles in 2007 and 2008.

"I told everybody a couple years ago that when you take a player as talented as Day-Day and throw in his basketball IQ, you’ve got a superstar," former Saginaw coach Lou Dawkins told Hugh Bernreuter of The Saginaw News in 2010. "Nothing he has done is surprising me. He has the perfect mentality to continue to improve. He has the willingness to listen to criticism and the ability to let all the accolades coming to him now go in one ear and out the other."

In all likelihood, Dawkins probably didn't see all of this coming. Not many, if any, did. But he's probably wasn't shocked to see Green play a vital role during Golden State's quest for it all. Really, not many, were completely floored by his output. Call it pleasantly surprised.

Green is the definition of a system player. He does what he's told and does what needs to be done, and that's why he'll have a job in the NBA for a long, long time. Warriors coach Steve Kerr got the most from Green this year, but Izzo wrote the book on how to use Green, nearly a half-decade ago, at the Breslin.

Look at the numbers. They say it all. Rebounding, defense and consistency are hallmarks of the Izzo touch.


  • 3-star recruit (No. 122 overall in 2009, per Rivals)
  • 2012 NABC National Player of the Year
  • Associated Press All-America team (2011-12)
  • Michigan State’s No. 1 rebounder (1,096)
  • Big Ten's No. 1 rebounder
  • One of three players at MSU with 1,000 points/rebounds
  • 40 career double-doubles, three triple-doubles (No. 2 behind Magic)
  • Averaged 16.2 points and 10.6 rebounds as a senior at MSU
  • No. 1 in Big Ten win-share in 2011-12 (3.6, per Basketball-Reference)
  • No. 3 in NCAA win-share in 2011-12
  • No. 2 in defensive NBA win-share in 2014-15 (5.2, per Basketball-Reference)

Too small to be effective in the front court? Too slow, too. Not even close to being strong enough, either.

That’s what they said.

But Green—who is 6’7" in shoes—proved otherwise during the playoffs by holding his own against Cleveland’s Timofey Mozgov, who is every bit of a 7-footer, and against former Spartans standout Zach Randolph, whose Memphis Grizzlies were among the fallen on the Warriors’ championship trail.

This past season, Green finished second in NBA Defensive Player of the Year voting behind San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard. Green actually received more first-place votes, but Leonard won by an overall count. Instead of dwelling on the uncontrollable, Green took the high road by comparing himself to former Presidential candidate Al Gore, who won the 2000 election’s popular vote but ended up watching George W. Bush take The White House.

Here’s the gist: Green’s good at D-ing up just about anyone. An award would be nice, but he doesn’t necessarily need one for validation. Four years of banging against NCAA giants with the Spartans prepared him for that, and more, in the NBA.

There are others who deserve consideration as the "ultimate" Izzo era player. Mateen Cleaves of the Flintstones, for instance, is the one most commonly associated with Izzo, who named his son after the 2000 national championship game MVP. Sure, Cleaves helped lead the Spartans to back-to-back appearances in the Final Four and a national title, but that type of success didn’t happen for him in the NBA.

Morris Peterson, another four-year Flintstone, had a respectable NBA career; however, he never won an NBA championship. Shannon Brown won two rings with Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers—but he only stayed three years with Izzo.

Cleaves made an everlasting impact on Michigan State hoops. So did Peterson. They’re two of the greats. Really, Cleaves is one of the greatest college point guards of all time. But when combining NCAA and NBA careers, Green has done more with less than anyone before him during the Izzo era.

That includes Cleaves and Peterson.

Green wasn’t on super-loaded teams like the Flintstones, nor did he play for a team like Brown’s 2005-06 Spartans—which was arguably Izzo’s most athletically talented team in 20 years. Green put great stats with good teams in college.

Back in 2012, Golden State used the No. 35 overall pick to select Green— who was a fringe late-first-rounder in the eyes of some analysts. Some thought it was a wise selection, while others shot it down as too much of a stretch.

But Green didn’t mind being overlooked. He was used to it. Izzo beat that into his head for years.

"It wouldn't be right for me to go in the first round," he said after being drafted, per Joe Rexrode of the Detroit Free Press. "That just doesn't go along with my story."

Follow Adam Biggers on Twitter @AdamBiggers81