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OAKLAND — When NBA teams interview prospective draft picks, many of their questions are really the same question, asked over and over in different ways: Who are you?

When Draymond Green went through that wringer in 2012, he kept hearing a different query: What are you?

“They used to ask me, like, are you a three?” Green said after a recent Warriors shootaround. “And my answer was always no, I’m not a three. Because you take away some of the things I can do as a four-man if you just make me a three. And if you make me a four you can take away some of the things I can do as a three. So don’t limit me, just let me play. Put me on the floor, I’ll figure it out.”

The NBA executives and coaches were speaking the common numerical code of their league. For several decades, they have broken down players into five classic positions. The point guard is the 1, the shooting guard is the 2, the small forward is the 3, the power forward is the 4, the center is the 5.

But Green and other NBA players are increasingly challenging that taxonomy, defying the desire of basketball fundamentalists to place them in one of the five boxes.

“I’ve just never followed the guideline, you know?” Green said. “I think people create whatever guideline they want, and expect you to follow. And they say that’s right. I’ve never really agreed with that in my life.”

Granted, there have always been basketball players who blurred the positional boundaries. In fact, there was a time when the five slots were not set in stone. When Jerry West and Gail Goodrich played together for the Lakers in the 1960s and again in the early 1970s, which was the point guard and which was the shooting guard? No one seemed to care much as they made three consecutive all-star games as a tandem.

Ever since, there have been genre benders. Magic Johnson and Charles Barkley played clear roles but looked wrong for the parts. Scottie Pippen and Kevin Garnett had skill sets that were hard to pin down. And teams occasionally shifted guys around in bigger or smaller lineups.

“I mean, Don Nelson invented small ball, Steve Kerr didn’t,” said Eddie Johnson, a 17-year NBA veteran and sweet-shooting scorer who now hosts “NBA Today” on SiriusXM NBA Radio. “Small ball has been around forever, just not as prevalent as now. I played on the Phoenix Suns in the late ’80s, early ’90s, and we went small all the time. The fast pace has been around. They took Kareem (Abdul-Jabbar) out of the lineup for the Lakers, and they went small.”

But through the 1990s and 2000s, the 1-2-3-4-5 system was dominant. Players entering the NBA were asked to pick a number, any number.

Green credits his maternal uncle, Bennie Babers, for unshackling him from this restrictive system. Green played center as a young boy, but Babers insisted he learn every position, and every skill. At each successive step of competition — high school, college at Michigan State, the Warriors — Green had to convince his coaches to let him do more than rebound and post up.

His current teammate, injured forward Kevin Durant, is another unique entity. Durant is listed at 6-9 but is more or less a 7-footer when he unfurls his arms. He is a valuable shot blocker. Yet he is best known for his deadly perimeter shooting.

To hear Durant tell it, it was his lanky build that saved him from conventionality.

“I’m still small, but I was very skinny at that point. Coming out of college I looked like a guy that could just shoot threes,” Durant said. “So I played the two, and I got labeled a scorer, and a volume scorer. A guy who gets a lot of shots up. They called that, so I tried to see if I could switch my mindset and worry about efficiency, worry about just playing the right way, being patient at both ends of the court.”

You can call his attempt a success. Durant was an NBA Most Valuable Player with the Oklahoma City Thunder, and was looking like a top-five vote-getter this year until injuring his knee against the Wizards on Feb. 28.

We might still be locked into the 1-to-5 classification if it weren’t for the stretch 4s. And LeBron James.

Starting in the late 1990s and picking up steam in the 2000s, teams started looking for power forwards (or power-forward-sized people) with a reliable outside shot to draw bigger defenders out to the perimeter — that is, to stretch the defense. Robert Horry was at the front end of the trend. Guys like Dirk Nowitzki, Rashard Lewis and Kevin Love took it to another level.

And as teams have increasingly encouraged their big men to shoot from distance, traditional back-to-the-basket NBA centers have become rarer than working phone booths. In October of 2012, the league acknowledged the shortage and stopped asking fans to vote for a center on all-star ballots; instead voters were asked to pick two guards and three “frontcourt” players. This year’s Eastern Conference all-star roster did not include a single center.

David West, the veteran Warriors forward, said big men now are simply expected to be able to “knock down a 15-footer and put the ball on the floor for a couple dribbles.”

“Because you’re not gonna play (if you don’t),” West said. “I’ve got a friend of mine that runs big-man camps through the summer, and he uses Draymond as an example of how bigs, if you’re not running the floor, rebounding, blocking shots on a consistent basis, a guy like Draymond is gonna take your minutes.”

It isn’t just stretch 4s undermining the old paradigm. Singular players are breaking the mold in other ways. James is the classic example. He has the physique of an NFL defensive end at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, but he sees the court and passes as well as anyone in the game. You certainly wouldn’t call James a point guard. Yet he has averaged 7 assists per game throughout his career with the Cavaliers and Heat. This year he’s dishing out 8.9 a game.

Other rule-breakers followed. James Harden, Andre Drummond, Serge Ibaka, Paul George, Channing Frye, Anthony Davis, Marcus Smart. Who’s a 2? Who’s a 3? Who’s a 4? Who can say?

“The whole traditional one-two-three — I mean, we still use those positions, but players may not fit what they look like,” West said.

Actually, not everyone is using the old terms. Boston’s Brad Stevens, on the short list of candidates for coach of the year, is said to break down players into three positions: ball handlers, wings and bigs.

Muthu Alagappan went further. He was a Stanford senior and an intern at a data visualization company called Ayasdi in 2012 when he created a “topological network,” sort of a multidimensional graph, using statistics for all 452 NBA players that year. Alagappan found clusters of data that he used to define 13 new positions that included Shooting Ball-Handler, Defensive Ball-Handler, 3-Point Rebounder and Paint Protector — categories that make perfect sense to a lot of basketball insiders.

And excepting the Warriors’ recent slide, the epicenter of the position-less NBA has been here in the Bay Area.

Green, a barrel-chested 6-7, 230-pounder, is clearly constructed like a power forward. But like James, his greatest asset (other than defensive tenacity) may be passing. Green leads the Warriors with an average of 7.1 assists. Stephen Curry, who has evolved into a bona fide point guard, retains the rapid catch-and-shoot ability of a 2 guard. Durant has spent his career destroying the position of small forward. And when Durant got hurt, the Warriors signed another shapeshifter, Matt Barnes, to replace him.

“We can literally throw him in at the two, three or the four,” coach Steve Kerr said. “He fits right in with our style, which is kind of positionless anyway.”

On defense, this quirkiness allows the Warriors to switch effectively off of screens because so many of their players can guard multiple positions. On offense, it makes them especially difficult to defend. You can’t just say, “OK, our two will guard the Warriors’ two, and our four will guard their four.”

“I think we are a little harder to game-plan because it’s not traditional,” Green said. “All the schemes you’ve played your entire life, or some coaches have done their entire career, you see them completely changing their schemes and everything they believe in. Because it’s not the traditional way of playing.”

As the LeBrons and Draymonds and Beards of the NBA have opened minds to the power of versatility, the trend is trickling down to college and even high school basketball. Scouts and coaches seem more willing to let a player’s game define his role, rather than going by that five-chaptered book on positions.

That’s definitely a change. Asked whether those NBA execs appreciated his confidence when he told them he was a basketball player and not a 3 or a 4, Green said: “No, they hated it. And that’s probably why I was a 35th pick. But … ”

And here Green paused and his smile grew wide as an overextended defense. “It all worked out,” he said.

You can reach staff writer Phil Barber at 707-521-5263 or phil.barber@pressdemocrat.com. Follow him on Twitter: @Skinny_Post.

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