Faceoff: Kevin Durant, Are the Warriors better without him?

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The Golden State Warriors lived up to their expectations and well on their way to getting in this year’s NBA Finals.

Having lost two key men in the crucial stretches of the playoffs should deter them from breezing through the playoffs.

The thing is, the Warriors seem to be immune to the loss of DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant, Durant especially, and still win the toughest games. They did win Game 5 against Houston and eliminated them at the Rockets home floor when Stephen Curry erupted for 33 second half points in Game 6 without both men.

Then, they proceeded to take down the Portland Trailblazers in Game One of the Western Conference finals with ease.

Which brings us again to a mind-boggling question that seems to refuse to die: Are the Warriors better without Durant?

The criteria

This is not whether Durant is the best, most talented player in the Warriors line-up (which he clearly is) nor is he the most valuable player in the Golden State line-up (I give this to Curry).

It is about whether the Warriors are better off with or without him. Do the team’s championship chances increase if he is out of the lineup?

The Arguments

Let’s not forget that the Warriors won a championship against Lebron James and that they went 73 regular season wins without him. They also cameback from a 1-3 hole against Durant himself while he was still with the Thunder during the Western Conference Finals some three years ago.

They may not have the same glamorous season record after Durant arrived but, hey, they are 2-0, and are about to be in a 3rd one,  in the Finals with him.

Further, I am someone who loves digging the numbers and using eye test in these arguments.

We did a similar comparison sometime last year. Let me update you about it.

(1) In the two years since Steve Kerr became coach and before Durant joined the Warriors, they were 140-24 (85.37%) in the regular season. They are 182-64 (73.98%) when they had Durant.

(2) Comparing how the Warriors performed in the Barnes and the Durant seasons, the Warriors were +16.65 for every 100 possessions whenever starting five HarrisonBarnes, Curry, Draymond Green, Klay Thompson, and Andrew Bogut were on the floor. They were +19.90 whenever their best five combination, Durant, Curry, Thompson, Igoudala, and Green, are on the floor. (This amazing stat analytical comparison is from pbstats.com)

(3) Comparing how the Warriors performed in the Durant, Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Andre Iguodala combination on the floor, the Warriors were only +18.16 for every 100 possessions when Durant sat  compared to the +19.90 when he is on the floor.

There seems a significant jump in wins when comparing the Warriors with Barnes but they are more efficient during Durant’s time. The Warriors, in the Durant era, have a slight drop in efficiency when he is sits.

The Winner

I say they should be better with Durant on the floor.

I agree with the Warriors when they gave Curry a max contract that may somewhat restrict the Warriors’ ability to retain their current player mix but I am also on the side of finding a way to resign Durant this off-season.

Look, the numbers don’t always tell the truth here.

It’s difficult performing any better after that 2015-16, 73-9, season. The mere fact that the Warriors still averaged 60 wins a season during the three years that Durant was with them says a lot. They maybe having the same winning record when somebody takes over for Durant but its different when this team has one of the top three players currently in the league.

Let’s not also forget they yielded a 3-1 series lead to the Cavaliers in their second attempt at the crown, although this finals loss could be appropriately attributed to the questionable in-game decision Green made that resulted to him getting a technical foul and subsequently being suspended for a game.

Durant’s value lies on match ups, offensively and defensively.

His presence presents a matchup nightmare for opposing teams.

See how the nasty, pesky defender Patrick Beverly, who gives about a foot in height, could not keep up with him, although the Clippers did get two games in their first round match-up.

On the other hand, let’s not also forget how he not only neutralized Lebron James on the defensive end during their last two Finals meetings but made him also work on the offensive end to create the perfect match-up both ends of the floor, allowing the other Warriors to create the mismatch in their favor.

Who could forget how he buried those top of the key threes over James’ upraised arms. He was only one of the few men who did something like that to Lebron. Compare this with the ones when its either Barnes, or Thompson, or Igoudala assigned to guard James.

The Rockets and the Blazers were a fine match up for the Warriors without Durant. Nobody in those lineups offered lopsided defensive or offensive mismatches for and against them. Their talent would eventually make them prevail, and it did, in these series.

It is the Giannis Antetokounmpo or Kawhi Leonard type of matchups that do give the Warriors fits. It is where Durant’s value is most needed.

He is the perfect neutralizer of Antetokounmpo on both ends of the floor.

His presence should be keeping Leonard burdened on the defensive side, again allowing the other Warriors to swing the mismatches to their favor.

Or, he should be overpowering somebody in the Toronto line-up should he be assigned a relatively a weaker defender in the event Kawhi takes on Thompson.

Milwaukee seems built to last long as an Eastern Conference power. Losing Durant in free agency will surely dampen the Warriors’ chances of repeating again if these teams constantly meet in the Finals, just like they did with the Cavs.

Banner artwork by Don Ray Ramos