The Warriors already had the NBA’s back-to-back MVP, Stephen Curry, when they added the man who preceded him in winning the award, Kevin Durant, this summer.
Add in Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and 2015 NBA Finals MVP Andre Iguodala, and you have a lot of star power on one team, yet there were serious and founded concerns about how all the parts would mesh.
So Golden State spent the first half of the NBA season — yes, we’re at the halfway point — assimilating Durant into the fold. They wanted to make their new superstar feel comfortable on his new team, and they did everything they could to make his transition easier. (Durant being on a one-year deal certainly guided the Warriors’ hand as well.)
Durant wasn’t just playing Harrison Barnes’s role in the Warriors’ offense last year — the forward became the focal point of the Warriors’ offensive attack.
What was the downside? Who would argue with running the offense through one of the most gifted scorers in NBA history?
So Curry took a back seat for a bit, while Thompson, who wasn’t “going to sacrifice [expletive],” wasn’t really affected by the whole ordeal — that’s how Thompson is. The result?
The new-look Warriors have thrived — they’re 36-6 after a 121-100 win over the Thunder Wednesday; Durant has thrived — he’s in the thick of the MVP conversation and entered Wednesday’s game averaging 25.8 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.7 assists, and 1.7 blocks per game, only to drop 40, 12, and 4 on OKC; but Curry, despite his usage rating remaining high and his stats being similar to his first MVP season, has seemingly been relegated to a secondary role.
Durant’s win shares per 48 minutes are as high as they’ve been since his MVP season. Curry’s are as low as they’ve been since before he reached superstar status in 2012-13.
Now the Warriors are trying to recalibrate.
Steve Kerr and the Warriors coaching staff have clearly made a conscious effort to facilitate for Curry more since the Golden State’s Christmas Day loss to the Cavs — he’s receiving more screens and is handling the ball more, resulting in a scoring average of 26.1 over his last 10 games.
But Durant is averaging the exact same amount of points over the same stretch of time.
It almost seems as if Durant is better suited for the Warriors’ offense than the man who made the Warriors’ offense what it is.
It almost seems as if the Warriors are now Durant’s team.
It’s probably too early to make such a proclamation — there’s still a lot of basketball to be played this season — but at the moment, it’s hard to make the case that the Warriors are still Curry’s team. The reigning MVP hasn’t truly taken over a game (in the way only he can) since November, while Durant has only become more efficient (and therefore, more lethal) as the season has progressed.
We might be — again, might be — witnessing a bloodless coup within the NBA’s best team.
A big part of Durant’s rise to possible alpha status on the Warriors has been not his incredible offensive production, but his defensive impact. Durant, at 7-feet, has proven to be a much-needed rim protector at times for the Warriors this year, and the forward combination of him and Draymond Green is unarguably the best defensive duo of that ilk in the NBA.
Durant needs to be on the court for the Warriors at all times — he can win Golden State a game with his impact on both sides of it.
While Curry isn’t a bad defensive player, he’s certainly not a necessity for the Warriors on that side of the ball. Thompson defends the opposition’s top guard, and often the Warriors play a defensive system that allows Curry to float around the court, looking for steals. They have to scheme around Curry’s defensive deficiencies.
Like in the Warriors’ loss to the Cavs on Christmas — Curry sat on the bench for Cleveland’s final possession. Durant was on the court, though — he was guarding LeBron James.
It’s easy to differentiate two players when both are putting up similar offensive numbers but only one is on the court for the most critical moment of the year.
Still, it’s too early to declare the torch seized.
The Warriors are without a doubt the team to beat in the NBA this season and appear on a collision course with the Cavs in the NBA Finals again this June, but they still have one more question to answer, and it will tell us everything we need to know about who is the top dog in Oakland.
It’s the question we’ve been asking since July 4.
The Warriors have not been stellar in clutch situations this season — they’re 9-3 in tight games, but they’ve only posted a net rating of 0.4 when a game is within five with less than five to play.
Both Curry and Durant have put up similar offensive ratings in 12 clutch situations this year — 107 for Curry, 105 for Durant — but with less than one minute remaining in one-possession games this season, it has been Durant who has taken the most shots — 41 percent of them, in fact.
Curry comes in at 25 percent.
Luckily for the Warriors, Thompson, also at 25 percent, is accounting for more than half of the points in those scenarios.
It’s a small sample size — the Warriors have only been in seven games where that situation has arisen this season — but the volume of Durant shots could be telling.
Durant’s impact on the Warriors has been significant and encompassing. Curry’s impact has logically diminished a bit with the addition of an all-time great. Few expected anything different.
But when the chips are on the line in the second half of the season and especially in the playoffs, who are the Warriors going to trust to the control the game?
Who is going to have their ball in their hands with a chance to take the last shot?