After a 5-year reign in the NBA, the Golden State Warriors dynasty came to an end after being struck by a slew of long-term injuries to key players. The Bay Area fans can still feel the pain when Kevin Durant went down in the 2019 NBA Finals. The team's chances of a three-peat became even slimmer when Klay Thompson joined the former OKC Thunder star in the locker room after going down with an injury as well.
Let's take a quick recap of the series that took place right before the 2019 NBA Finals: the Western Conference Finals. The matchup of the Portland Trailblazers and the Golden State Warriors seemed more interesting, as Kevin Durant was out of the series with a calf injury.
What happens when arguably your best player goes down with an injury? Let's remove the best player from each of the 29 other team's rosters. We will be able to come to an obvious conclusion that losing their best player will hurt a team's chances of winning. Not the Warriors, though. Despite Kevin Durant out injured, the Golden State Warriors Warriors swept Portland and ended the latter's season in just four games.
Back in 2017, Kevin Durant joined a team that went 73-9 in the regular season the previous year. It wasn't a case of KD joining a 40-win team and elevating them to the top.
The dominating and unexpected win over Portland led many to believe that Kevin Durant was a luxury and not a necessity. Nevertheless, adding Kevin Durant to a 73-win team pushed the Golden State Warriors from 'too good' to 'unbeatable'.
Five reasons why Kevin Durant's absence may not hurt the Golden State Warriors
Now that Kevin Durant has left the Warriors to play in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, New York, let's take a look at some statistics and analytics to see where the Warriors stand without him on the roster, and five reasons why the absence of Durant would not hurt the team.
#1 Ball Movement
The Golden State Warriors' offence doesn't move as fluidly with Durant in the lineup. Durant's iso-heavy game saps the Warriors of much of the magic that made them so fun to watch in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
Moreover, his game doesn't do as much to elevate everyone around him as Stephen Curry's does. That's why, even over the last three seasons, the Durant-less Warriors performed significantly better than the Curry-less Warriors.
Another point to note is that without Kevin Durant on the court to isolate for himself, the remainder of the Golden State Warriors squad has more freedom to operate.
The Warriors' playing style is dependant on constant off-the-ball movement. Instant screens and quick releases lead to buckets that demoralizes their opponents. This is backed up by the fact that Curry led the league in distance travelled on the court.
Curry, often regarded as the greatest shooter tin the NBA, commands double teams from 30 feet and beyond from the basket. Even when the opponent team manages to get the ball out of his hands, Curry never stops moving. With more than three to four screens set in each possession, Curry and Thompson come off more screens than any other backcourt in the NBA.
#2 Pace and Transition
The Golden State Warriors don't play much isolation compared to when Kevin Durant is on the floor. The Warriors rely on instant screens and quick releases to get an open look.
The one aspect of the Golden State Warriors' play is their increased pace. Kevin Durant is one of the league's most prolific scorers ever, yet his propensity to isolate and get a bucket is something that slows down the Warriors offense. His 34.5 points per game have been clearly useful, yet the Dubs are at their best in transition when the pace is being pushed.
The absence of Kevin Durant has led Draymond Green to be in action more than before, and the latter has delivered every time. Without the constant need to feed Durant, the Golden State Warriors run the offense far more smoothly and are free to operate in any way.
Interestingly, the Golden State Warriors score three times the points in transition with Draymond than with Kevin Durant.
In the Houston's Playoff Series against the Golden State Warriors in 2019, the Warriors played at an average pace of 96.3 possessions per game. A total of 62% of their points were assisted on while the team scored an average of 111.7 points per game.
Compare this to the 2019 Conference Finals when Durant was injured: the Dubs played at a pace of 98.5 possessions per game with 69.6% of their points being assisted on and 113.3 points per game.
The ball moves around more than ever with Kevin Durant out of the lineup. Durant is ball-dominant; his scoring aptitude makes him a constant threat and gives him multiple opportunities to isolate. But it takes away from the system that has made the Golden State Warriors so potent.