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Barber: Warriors' Draymond Green tries to teach, not yell

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SAN FRANCISCO — One minute and 14 seconds into Friday night’s game at Chase Center, the ball went through the net for the first time. It was a spot-on 3-point shot from the elbow, launched by none other than Draymond Green.

There was a time when a long-distance shot from the Warriors power forward would have caused some eyebrows to arch, in sort of a pass-the-ball-to-Steph-or-Klay sort of way. But Stephen Curry won’t play for at least the next three months, and it will be a miracle if Klay Thompson sees the court at any time this season. Even Kevon Looney is out with a strangely unresponsive hamstring injury.

So Green will be asked to score some points this season. And so, so much more.

“For me, I went from like second brother in line to the older brother, which is a completely different thing,” Green said after the Warriors’ morning shootaround, a few hours before a 127-110 loss to the San Antonio Spurs at Chase Center. “I’ve never been that in my NBA career. So that’s an adjustment, but one that I’m excited about. And on the court, leading in all facets. Offensive end, the defensive end, being more aggressive.”

This was always going to be an arduous season for Green. With Thompson rehabbing his ACL, Golden State’s leadership council had been reduced to Green, Curry and Looney. Now the whole thing is on Green’s shoulders.

“Right now he’s kind of the lone survivor, so he’s got to help all these young guys and teach them what we’ve been about, help to mentor them, and the most important thing is to carry on with the way we’ve gone about our business over the last five years plus,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said before Friday’s game. “In terms of preparation, work ethic and joy and everything that we’ve been about, it’s got to carry forward because that’s what the culture is about. The players are the ones who really carry that, and so we will be relying heavily on Draymond for that.”

If anyone can hold up under such a burden, it’s Draymond Green. But man, it’s a lot to ask.

This season will be a challenge for everyone in the Warriors organization, but no one more than Green. He’s a player who relies on guile and sequential thinking, surrounded by young players still learning the finer points of the game. He’s a lock-down defender on a team that has yet to prove it can play even passable defense. He’s a three-time NBA champion on a team that suddenly looks destined for 28-54.

So far, at least by the coach’s reckoning, Green has embraced the role.

“He’s been great in our meetings, practices,” Kerr said. “He’s taken on a real leadership role. He understands how much our young players need him and he’s been fantastic. He’s also one of the most competitive people I’ve ever met in my life, and so this will be a big challenge for him and for everybody.”

It’s a model that could be incredibly valuable for the Warriors’ younger players. Or it could explode in everybody’s face.

Green is a natural teacher. He sees the game from all angles and likes to discuss its finer points. He is also — and you may have received a few subtle hints of this over the past seven years — an emotional athlete. His veins course with pride and exuberance and aggression and, sometimes, rage.

In past seasons, the Warriors needed that rage. True, it came back to bite them on occasion. But mostly it drove a team of quiet superstars like Curry and Thompson and Kevin Durant, pushed them to stay focused and to the throttle the opponent when they got the chance.

That’s not the Draymond the Warriors need this year. He could probably break some of these kids if he came down on them with full force. Anyway, shouting isn’t what’s going to make them better.

“I don’t think it’s so much about toning it down,” Green said after posting a modest line of six points, eight rebounds and seven assists. “Like, how can you expect something of someone who just don’t know? So before you want to ramp it up and try to get whatever it is you want out of ’em, you gotta teach ’em first.”

The challenge for Green in 2019-20 is to dispense more wisdom than criticism. And to subdue his own frustration.

Consider a couple plays from Friday’s game. Early in the contest, Green gave Jordan Poole a short on-court lecture/pep talk after the rookie had fouled San Antonio’s DeMar DeRozan. It was a mentoring moment. But later in the fourth quarter, as the Spurs were beginning to pull away, Green bounced a baseline pass to Poole. Unfortunately, Poole was late breaking to the basket, and the ball went out of bounds. Green shot the rookie a look of mild exasperation before heading downcourt.

Oh, and the Warriors gave up 70 points to the Spurs in the second half. You have to wonder how many defensive errors and unrequited passes Green can witness before blowing his stack.

He’s trying, though. And as Green attempts to manage his patience, Kerr will manage his star’s playing time. Before Friday’s game, the coach made it clear that with those other All-Stars out of action, he would not be riding Green too hard.

“Well, the one thing we won’t do is run him into the ground,” Kerr said. “We have to maintain a good schedule with Draymond minutes-wise and games-wise. If he’s banged up, we should make sure we take care of him.”

And guess what? Green is banged up, par for the course in this nightmarish start to the season. His left hand was sheathed in a soft brace after the game.

“I hurt my finger,” he said. “Ligament action.”

Asked to elaborate, Green said, “It’s pretty sore. I couldn’t grip the ball the whole entire, probably since the second quarter. Which is why I was making a lot of one-handed, right-handed shots, dribbling left with my right hand. Because I couldn’t really grip the ball.”

It was one more piece of bad news for the Warriors, one more reason to count them out. With everything that has gone wrong lately, you have to wonder if players will start to give up on the season. It could happen. But Green won’t be the first to cave.

“Hell, no. I hate losing,” he said. “I’m trying not to show that, but I hate losing.”

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

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