No two teams in the seventy-year history of the NBA have ever met in the Finals three consecutive years. That will change this year. Yes, even with Kevin Durant’s potential month long absence. When Kevin Durant went down with a Level 2 MCL Sprain, many were quick to assess that the Warriors are no longer favorites to make the Finals. This notion is absolutely absurd.
In fact, this Durant blunder, I would argue, is a blessing in disguise for the Warriors. This injury will not hinder the Warriors’ chances to redeem themselves from last year’s embarrassment. Instead, it will strengthen the team’s weaker areas that the media and fans have criticized this year.
DISCLAIMER THOUGH: The Warriors will not win a championship without Kevin Durant. They are obviously worse without Durant. It is evident in their first game against the Chicago Bulls where they realized that they don’t have enough offensive weapons as years past. Defensively, Durant also adds much needed length. However, because the former MVP will only be sidelined temporarily, this will give the team time to patch up its biggest weaknesses.
The lovable team of the Warriors who attracted bandwagoners from coast to coast no longer exists. Durant’s move last July created more enemies than friends. Now, over the past 72 hours, opposing fans poke fun at Durant’s injury as something “he deserved” for making the unpopular decision. The critical tweets and memes are pouring in like a flood.
The haters are now hoping that Durant’s recent injury will allow other teams such as the Spurs or the emerging Houston Rockets to overtake the Warriors in the Western Conference. This will hardly be the case.
It is evident that this team has more than one Achilles heel. The loss of Kevin Durant will allow the team to find a protective shield for these weaknesses to prepare themselves for the road ahead. Then once Durant comes back for the Game 1 of the Playoffs, the Warriors will be ready with sharpened knives ready to pierce their way to the Finals.
Improvement of Role Players:
Over the summer, the Warriors lost Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Maurice Speights, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezeli – players who may have been as important as the Splash Brothers. Bogut’s inside defensive presence and Barbosa’s scoring off the bench contributed to important victories in last year’s NBA finals. Last year’s role players played with much more cohesion and impact than this year’s bench consisting of Patrick McCaw, Javale McGee, and Ian Clark.
Last year’s bench had an Efficiency Recap Difference (Deff) of +6 while this year is a -1. In addition, the bench is scoring about four points less than last year’s. With Durant’s absence, Steve Kerr can find a way to give the role players more minutes and opportunities to score more efficiently during the last six weeks of the season. A vital bench is crucial for potential games against the Spurs and Rockets, whose bench players far supersede those of the 2015 NBA champions. If the bench can go on a hot scoring streak during these next few weeks, the team can carry that momentum heading into the playoffs.
Relying on Klay and Draymond:
Compared to last year, Draymond Green takes two less shots per game, averages four less points, and shoots less efficiently from the field. With Durant’s absence, Green can get a few more touches during the last 20 or so games. He has an opportunity to get back to last year’s averages and instill a sense of confidence to attack first when he receives the ball. His attack first mentality will be crucial in potential playoffs series against teams with strong front lines such as the New Orleans Pelicans.
Similarly, Klay Thompson will slide back to the #2 option role for the remainder of the season. That will give him an opportunity to have more of those big scoring nights and gain more consistency before the playoffs come around. There are numerous nights this year where Thompson’s field goal percentage looked like a baseball batting average. That should not be the case heading into the playoffs. Thompson played the biggest role in saving the Warriors from a Western Conference Finals exit. He needs to the same this year.
The Warriors will face potential frontcourt stars in the playoffs. Whether its Nikola Jokic in Denver, Anthony Davis and Demarcus Cousins in New Orleans, or LaMarcus Aldridge and Pau Gasol in San Antonio, rebounding will be crucial in order for them to coast in the playoffs. The Denver Nuggets for example, is the best rebounding team in the league. The Golden State Warriors actually rank 23rd in Offensive Rebounds. This may be in part to Steve Kerr’s fascination with small ball.
With Durant gone, the death lineup will be tweaked. It’s important for Kerr to find potential deadly rotations that include Javale McGee clogging the middle. Durant’s absence will allow Kerr to experiment with lineups that include bigger guys and may assist the team in the rebounding department. These lineups can then be used against the taller and more energetic teams that they will face come playoff time.
Stephen Curry will be relied on more than ever:
Curry’s scoring average dipped six points compared to last year. He attempts three less field goals per game. Last year, Curry was 9th in points scored during fourth quarters. This year, he ranks 49th. The two-time reigning MVP needs the ball in his hands late in the fourth. With Durant gone, Curry can once again experience what it is like to have the entire team in his shoulders in crucial moments. No one can bail him out this time. At least for six weeks, the plays in last two minutes will be drawn up for him alone. If he can carry a hot streak of being clutch during the final 21 games of the season, then the Warriors will truly have two polished weapons ready to fire in any late game situation during their playoff run.
This team has three other stars that will not allow the team to fall below the Rockets or the Cavaliers. The Warriors have 21 games left. In order for behind these two teams, they would need to lose about 9 games while the Rockets and Cavs would need to play perfectly the rest of the season. That thought is ridiculous. The Warriors with Stephen Curry, Draymond Green, and Klay Thompson will not go .500 the rest of the season.
Thus, the only team that the Warriors need to worry about catching them is the San Antonio Spurs. If in the end of May, the Dubs have to play a seventh game at San Antonio’s home court in the Western Conference Finals, so be it. This added strength from Durant’s absence would prove to play more of an impact than home court advantage.