With the odds stacked against him defending a two-on-one fast break during Game 1 between the Golden State Warriors and Portland Trail Blazers, Draymond Green showed why – in spite of Splash Bros. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, in addition to undisputed superstar Kevin Durant – the two-time first team All-Defensive member is the heart and soul of the Warriors.
The 35th overall pick from the 2012 draft, Green immediately gobbled up two-time All-NBA point guard Damian Lillard on one side of the court, before turning his attention to Noah Voneleh – who had the look of a deer in the headlights.
Vonleh received the pass – and with his teammates all standing on the bench in anticipation of a throw down dunk – Green hustled back instantly into the play where he would meet Vonleh at the rim.
Green would proceed to take Vonleh’s soul, along with his lunch money, with the ensuing block.
The similarities between Guerschon Yabusele – the Boston Celtics’ 16th pick from the 2016 NBA draft – and Green are natural, just ask him.
“I think we have kind of the same game – play with a lot of energy,” Yabusele told me at a Maine Red Claws shootaround during the first round of the D-League Playoffs.
Listen to Cory Prescott’s Podcast Interview With Guershon Yabusele
“This new style of power forward in the NBA, I really compare my game to him.”
If Yabusele is going to reach Draymond-esque heights as a pro baller, he’ll certainly need to tidy up on the defensive end.
After pushing the Shanghai Sharks of the Chinese Basketball Association to a 32-11 record, with averages of 21 points and 9 rebounds per game (it’s difficult to assess the validity of the statistics given the level of play), Yabusele was eventually thrust into D-League action in a somewhat difficult position.
The Maine Red Claws signed Yabusele on March 29, and after a kerfuffle with his green card, Yabusele suited up in the final two regular season games for Maine, the tail end of their playoff push.
In light to his sudden arrival, Yabusele posted the worst individual defensive rating on the team (117.5, according to D-League statistics), and was at times caught flat-footed in one-on-one situations.
In addition to being thrown right in the mix, Yabusele was also going up against the best teams, plus elite D-League talent in those playoff games, like Georges Niang, Tyler Hansbrough, and Pascal Siakam, all players with current or former ties to NBA clubs.
DraftExpress noted during their pre-draft evaluation of him that, “The challenge for the bruising big man moving forward will be on the defensive end.”
The draft guide also noted that defensive rebounding may be a challenge for him, yet head coach Scott Morrison seemed to believe that Yabusele greatly contributed to the rebounding-challenged Red Claws during his short time with the team.
“I was saying to the guys, ‘they’re going to have to have a spare game ball ready,’ because one of these times he’s going to go up and bust that thing,” Morrison said following a game in which Yabusele had nine rebounds. “When he grabs it, he grabs it with a force, he gets it above the rim. He’s really made an impact on all areas of the game, but especially on the glass.”
If the speed of the game from the CBA to the D-League was an adjustment, as Yabusele indicated to me, then making that next leap to the NBA will most certainly be as well.
What instincts the Dreux, France, native may lack on the defensive end currently, he surely makes up with a soft touch on the offensive end, the ability to play in isolation, as well as the pick and roll, and an uncanny ability to move his feet fast at such a large size – hence the Dancing Bear nickname that was given to Yabusele by Celtics assistant coach Micah Shrewsberry.
The sequence below encapsulates the fascination with Yabusele.
With Fort Wayne point guard Marquis Teague speeding his way to the basket, Yabusele recognizes the need for rim protection, scooting away from his man to authoritatively swat away the layup attempt.
A Fort Wayne player inexplicably saves the blocked shot from going out of bounds, electing to throw the ball up for grabs.
Sensing the change in possession, Yabusele shifts gears to prepare for the fast break, ultimately finishing the impressive sequence with an alley-oop dunk finish.
“That’s a testament to him,” Red Claws teammate, and perhaps soon-to-be Celtics teammate, Abdel Nader said of the particular play.
“He made that play possible with his defensive effort, and then he ran the floor faster than I’ve seen anyone run the floor in a long time.”
Yabusele simply needs to be accounted for on the offensive end.
He hit 38 percent of his three-point attempts in seven total games with the Red Claws, averaging 14.4 points per game in the process, and even displayed an ability to pass creatively.
Yabusele’s runs to the rim also create extra passing lanes and scoring opportunities for his teammates.
And that energy that the 6’8, 270 pound Dancing Bear plays with?
Well, his teammates certainly took note of it.
“It’s extremely contagious,” Nader, the D-League Rookie of the Year and All D-League Second Team member this past season, said of Yabusele’s infectious play. “A very skilled player that plays with a lot of heart like that is hard to stop.”
Yabusele – who soaked up his month long stay as a cult hero in Maine by taking smiling photos and signing autographs for fans – clearly thrives off feeding off of a crowd’s energy.
“When you have a crowd like that you just want to keep going,” Yabusele said of Maine’s energetic playoff turnout. “This is the best way to play. We just like it as a player, it really pushes you to do stuff harder and fight for 48 minutes.”
Playing hard and exploiting matchups will likely by Yabusele’s calling card once he reaches the NBA. The question does remain, however; When will that be?
“I was saying to the guys, ‘they’re going to have to have a spare game ball ready,’ because one of these times he’s going to go up and bust that thing," -- Head Coach Scott Morrison on Yabusele's strength in grabbing rebounds
According to Yabusele, the Celtics haven’t offered him a contract yet (although they own his draft rights), and the team is already loaded with young talent.
Teammates Jordan Mickey and Demetrius Jackson both possess non-guaranteed deals for next season.
Nader was chosen by the Celtics in the second round of the 2016 draft with the idea that he would sign with the Red Claws this season, allowing the Celtics to keep his rights. He’ll most certainly look to compete for a roster spot in Boston this upcoming season.
Ante Zizic, the other international prospect from 2016 along with Yabusele, appears to be a lock to be a Celtic next season. With Boston’s need for size and strength up front, Zizic looks more than ready to compete.
The team also possesses four draft picks this summer, including a Brooklyn Nets pick with the highest percentage chance of being No. 1 in the entire draft.
That’s also not counting a current roster that includes a healthy dose of non-guaranteed deals and unrestricted free agents. With the Celtics expected to be potential players in the trade and free agent market, anything is possible with the 21-year-old.
That seems to be life in the NBA.
In light of his travels from France to the United States, from the United States to China, a brief stop from China to France, and back to the United States to finish out his hectic season, Yabusele jokingly corroborated with me that he just goes where he’s told to go.
His up-in-the-air-status won’t take away his already trademarked smile, and it certainly won’t take away his enthusiasm for the game.
Nearly one year after the fact, Yabusele remains just as enthused regarding his draft day from June 2016.
“It was the most beautiful day of my life so far.”