Draymond Green remains one of the league’s most outspoken players, and that’s definitely not going to change during these turbulent times for the NBA.
The league, like all other professional sports, is dealing with this COVID-19 surge. What’s more, prior to the Warriors’ game Friday night against the Celtics, four players were pulled after being placed in COVID-19 protocols, including Golden State swingman Jordan Poole.
Green, who said he’s been vaccinated and received a booster shot, is one of several players confused about how they should operate off the floor when it appears the Omicron variant is spreading so quickly. The Celtics were without four players against the Warriors, including Al Horford, who already tested positive for COVID-19 during the preseason.
“I don’t know. I just need some answers,” Green said this past week. “What the [expletive] is going on? I told myself I was going to stop cursing, and it’s a challenge. What is going on? I can’t really put my head around it. It’s interesting.”
The NBA convened with the National Basketball Players Association this past week and added more COVID-19 restrictions in an attempt to prevent more postponements. The Bulls, who have been ravaged this season by COVID-19, had two games postponed this past week with nine players being held out.
Some of the restrictions from last season, when several games were postponed and positive tests bombarded the league, had been lifted entering this season. It’s uncertain how far the NBA will go to prevent another major outbreak, but the consensus among players is that if they agreed to vaccination and even a booster, they should be able to operate as they normally would.
“I’ve done all I can do to protect against it. I’m not worried,” Green said. “They say get vaccinated, right? So I did that. And I got a booster shot, so if I’m supposed to worry, then why did they ask me to get those? So no, I’m not worried if the vaccines are what they say they are. I wear my mask. But I’m not just going to sit in the hotel room, either.”
What do NBA players do? There is a state of confusion around professional sports, with Cleveland Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield complaining about being placed on the COVID-19 list despite following the NFL’s guidelines. NBA players are feeling a similar frustration, but it appears the league attempted to return to normalcy too soon.
“Because again I was told if you got vaccinated, you could live your life,” Green said. “So, I’m not an idiot. I’m not going to be reckless, go maskless. If I go near a crowd of people, I wear a mask and that’s it. Again, I’ve done everything I can do.”
The Warriors came into Friday’s game tied with the Suns for the league’s best record (23-5) and they have yet to get back former five-time All-Star Klay Thompson and promising second-year center James Wiseman from injury.
There is a lot at stake for this team and a major COVID-19 absence could result in slipping in the playoff seedings. Green said he understands the significance of staying healthy and safe for his team.
“I realize we’re having a great year and I’m aware of that and I know catching COVID can alter that, so I’ve taken all the precautions so I can live my normal life,” he said. “Hope I’ve done what is asked of me and [that I’m] doing the right thing.”
Green has no such concern about the on-court game. He said he’s pleased with the league’s emphasis on reducing foul calls and aiding defenders on contesting 3-pointers. For one of the game’s great defenders, the new rules have given him an added advantage.
The league average field goal percentage was 46.6 last season. That number has dipped to 45.2 this season. Free throw attempts have slipped from 21.8 to 20.4.
“Due to the point of emphasis, our game is better,” he said. “I enjoy watching the NBA again. I’m not looking at 144-148 in a regulation game. Those high numbers weren’t a product of great scorers, although we have some great scorers in this league. Those high numbers were a product of people casting threes and a lot of people just knowing how to draw fouls. That’s what the NBA was becoming: Who can draw fouls the best? I think it’s improved our game, I think we’re watching meaningful basketball now and I think we’re putting a much better product on the floor.”
Nowitzki adds an international perspective
Dirk Nowitzki changed the game because of his ability to shoot from the perimeter as a 7-footer. He was the original “Stretch Four” and that skill set helped revolutionize a game in which power forwards were previously bulky rebounders.
Nowitzki, 43, is simply waiting for his call to the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame. In October, he was named to the NBA’s Top 75 team, and is considered perhaps the greatest European player in history. While he won’t acknowledge that title, he expressed humility about being on the Top 75 team and his legacy in the game.
“I’m of course incredibly honored that I was named as part of the list,” he said. “As you know, it’s super hard to make that list, to pick players out of a list that’s basically — had players from whatever, since the league started existing. It’s hard to compare players from different eras, so I think it was extremely tough to find 75 guys. I did a little list for myself just to see how it is and how hard it is, and it was extremely, extremely difficult.
“But I’m very humbled and blessed that people would vote for me on that, and so I was very excited. I think I was very proud to be on that list with the best who have ever played in our sport and have represented the NBA. It was a very proud moment when I saw the final list.”
Nowitzki began the influx of European players in the late 1990s. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili later joined the league as teams began to fill their rosters with international players.
Nowitzki’s success spoiled teams, leading to a series of draft busts and a downturn on overseas players. That trend shifted back up in recent years with the success of Giannis Antetokounmpo and Luka Doncic. Nowitzki played a year with Doncic before retiring at 40.
“Honestly, when I first got in the league, I think every team had maybe one international guy, and now it’s numerous international guys,” Nowitzki said. “It’s guys that have an impact, not only on their team but they’re franchise players, guys that have an impact on the communities where they come to. Just the way basketball has grown so much . . . all over the world outside of the US, and it’s been just fun to watch.”
In his 21-year career, Nowitzki was a 14-time All-Star, 12-time All-NBA, the 2006-07 MVP, and 2011 NBA Finals MVP. He is sixth on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
“Guys coming in and having a huge impact on their teams and on their communities makes me, of course, as an international player, pretty proud, and where the league has gone,” he said. “It’s gone to a fun sharing-type basketball. The bigs can all shoot now, and the game has really evolved in 20 years, and I think it kind of plays into the hands of the international players that are very skilled and can make shots, and bigs can make plays off the dribble.”
Doncic, despite having conditioning issues, has become one of the game’s premier players because of his immense skill set. Because of previous busts such as Dragan Bender, Georgios Papagiannis, and Mario Hezonja, there were doubts as to whether Doncic was worthy of a top-10 pick. Not only has he proved worthy of being a franchise cornerstone but he is considered the future face of the NBA.
“I think Luka is, of course, for me, as the guy that’s on the top of the list because he’s only 22 years old,” Nowitzki said. “He still has so much upside and stuff to learn, and I get to basically see him every other night. His creativity, the way he reads the game, the way he spreads the ball, the way he can score really from the post all the way out to half court, there are no holes in his game.
“That, at 22, is unbelievable. Yeah, to me he, of course, has the biggest upside. But if you look at [Nikola] Jokić, who’s got an MVP season already and Giannis has back-to-back MVPs and championships, so I mean, there is great, great international talent in this league, of course, and representing.”
Doncic’s skill set is similar to Nowitzki’s because of his size, but he also possesses point guard skills.
“But for me if we talk upside, I think Luka has the best upside out of those at age 22,” Nowitzki said. “Talking about the one-legged fadeaway, that’s something that I just came up with as I got older.
“I think I’ve told this story before, that when you’re young, you’re full of energy, you drive, you get fouled and you get up and you shoot your free throws all the time. As you get older, you lose a step, you get a little slower, it’s a little harder to drive and it’s a lot of pounding, so I wanted to create a shot that basically gives me a little bit of room and I step back a little bit, I bump the defender off, and it gives me a little separation from the defender, and in that way with using my height and my length, I can still basically shoot over anybody. So that’s how it worked.”
What was a means of extending his career for Nowitzki has turned into a primary weapon for Doncic and others. The one-legged stepback jumper has become a major weapon for players such as Kevin Durant and LeBron James, an unblockable shot against any defender.
“I just tried to take some of the pounding away and create a shot where I could still be an efficient scorer, even in my older age,” Nowitzki said. “I started to shoot it more when I was just over 30, and I shot it some in our championship run in 2011, and it just was working for me, and so I just kept shooting it more and more, and then it kind of became my signature shot. Of course, other people putting it in their repertoire is a huge honor.
“That’s great for that shot to be used, and it shows that if you’re talented, if you have touch, if you have a good feel for the game that anybody can really learn how to shoot it. It’s not that hard of a shot.
“I’m happy that it’s in the current game. I’d have to say obviously Kevin Durant shoots it so easy and so smooth. He’s so long. He’s got unbelievable touch, and he’s athletic. When he shoots it, I sometimes say, ‘Yeah, this is better than the real thing. This looks amazing.’ ”
The Trail Blazers said guard CJ McCollum is making progress from the collapsed lung he suffered recently against the Celtics. The Blazers are in major transition with general manager Neil Olshey fired for mistreatment of team employees and also new coach Chauncey Billups slow in trying to implement his defensive system. The Blazers went into the weekend having lost seven games in a row and are plummeting in the Western Conference with McCollum out and Damian Lillard suffering through a career-worst season. The Blazers have been candidates to acquire Ben Simmons from Philadelphia, but the 76ers want Lillard, not McCollum, which is a nonstarter for Portland . . . Before getting the start on Saturday night in place of Derrick Rose, former Celtic Kemba Walker had been sitting on the bench for the Knicks, as he was taken out of the starting lineup by coach Tom Thibodeau because of his defensive struggles and the team’s rating with him on the floor. Walker hadn’t played in a game since Nov. 26, meaning he wasn’t even getting garbage-time minutes. The Knicks would like to move Walker, but his contract at nearly $9 million per season is guaranteed through next season and their benching of him had zapped all of his trade value. The Knicks found out what the Celtics did last season, if Walker isn’t scoring 20-plus points, there is little reason to have him on the floor because of his defensive shortcomings . . . The same Brandon Boston who scored 27 points against the Celtics and 18 in the second quarter for the Clippers was available to every team in the draft before falling to 51st overall. The Grizzlies drafted Boston but traded him, and he has worked his way from a prospect to rotation player in a few weeks. Boston had an uneven freshman season at Kentucky but should have been taken higher than 51st. Another Boston tie for Boston was his close friendship with the late Terrence Clarke, as the two were working out together in Los Angeles and were part of Klutch Sports. The Clippers have nabbed Boston and Terance Mann in the past few years. Mann, a Lowell native, was taken 48th overall in the 2019 draft and has turned into a starter. It’s an example of how valuable second-round picks can become . . . Former Celtics forward Semi Ojeleye remains out with a calf injury. He has turned into a solid defender for the Bucks after the Celtics did not re-sign him in free agency.