The Golden State Warriors have a ridiculous amount of talent, a fantastic head coach, and the best record in the NBA with just over a month left in the regular season — which is all to say Kevin Durant's team should be just fine so long as he returns from his knee injury in time for the playoffs.
Yet with that said, Golden State will be a very different team with Durant out over the next four weeks or so. Here are five ways the Warriors' tactics drastically change without their best player.
Stephen Curry will fully embrace going back to "the old Steph"
If you thought the two-time MVP was in the process of rediscovering his old, 3-point-chucking, dribble-driving, trash-talking form prior to KD's injury, just wait until you see what Curry has in store over the next month.
With Durant on the sideline, Curry doesn't have to worry about integrating another superstar into the flow of the offense. He'll have the green light to pull up for 30 footers and drain 3s off the dribble. Those 20-point flurries we were so used to over the past two seasons? They're right around the corner once more.
Draymond Green will be the primary playmaker once again
As Curry chucks and breaks down the defense, someone has to pass the ball to open teammates. The Warriors are about to go back to their old bread-and-butter, the Curry/Green high pick-and-roll.
And if you watched Golden State at all during the previous two Finals runs, you can close your eyes and see how that action plays out. Two defenders try to corral Curry, who makes the pass to Green, who drives to the elbow, sucks in the defense, and makes the pass to the open man.
Rinse, repeat, take a quick break for a backbreaking Curry 3, then high-five as you walk to the bench during the opponent's subsequent timeout.
The small forwards will become centers, at least in spirit
A quick note before we get into the Xs and Os of replacing Durant: I am terrified of the prospect of Matt Barnes playing with the Warriors. His emotional disposition could bring out the worst in Draymond Green — either leading to a fight between the two or amplifying Green's own proclivity for barking at the refs. This could be very, very bad.
Assuming that doesn't happen, though, Barnes and the rest of Golden State's small forwards have two jobs for the rest of the season.
First and foremost, find Klay Thompson on every possession and set as many off-ball screens as you possibly can for the Warriors sniper. Thompson's ability to get loose away from the primary action was one of the biggest keys to Golden State's pre-Durant offense; the more room he has to shoot, the better off everyone will be.
Second, Barnes et al. must lock down on defense. KD has been the Warriors' best defender this season, and that's where they'll likely miss him the most.
Speaking of which ...
The biggest problem will emerge on the other end of the court
The Warriors will figure out a way to replace Durant's scoring. They have all of the offensive firepower to turn back the clock to 2015.
The defense is a different story. Golden State has the second-best defense in the NBA this year because of KD's versatility. Without typical big men and stoppers on the perimeter, the Warriors depend on Durant to fly in from the wing and clean up messes at the rim with his ridiculous length.
So long as Durant is on the sidelines, that scheme falls apart — and Golden State will have to outgun teams for the rest of the season. While that won't be an issue against most teams, there is one aspect of the offense that falls apart with KD out. It's just not what you think.
Gary A. VasquezGary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The JaVale McGee pick-and-roll won't work without KD
McGee reinvigorated his career this season in Golden State in large part because the Warriors use him to the fullest extent of his ability. Steve Kerr asks McGee to set solid screens, roll to the rim, dunk the basketball, and play defense. That's it — and he does all those things astoundingly well.
Yet McGee's success as an offensive weapon is contingent on the spacing provided by the Warriors' fantastic shooters. Smart defenses will cheat a step further into the lane without Durant on the court, clogging up the paint and disrupting Golden State's precision offensive machine.