Despite the absence of Kevin Durant, the Warriors managed to sweep Portland to make a 5th straight NBA Finals appearance. Naturally, this has fans and media alike suggesting that they’re actually a better team without him. Although their record without KD is very impressive, this article takes a look at why they’re simply better with him in the lineup.
Record Without KD
It’s no secret that the Warriors have fared very well in games without Kevin Durant. Since his arrival, they’ve gone an outstanding 31-1 in games where Steph Curry has played but he hasn’t.
This includes an impressive 6-0 in the playoffs, with the last 5 of these occurring in 2019. Punters have taken note of this impressive run, instilling them as comfortable $1.47 favourites for the NBA title.
Both Steph Curry and Draymond Green have been the primary benefactors without KD. They’ve both taken on more of a ball-handling role, reminiscent of their excellent 2015-16 campaign. Draymond’s passing has been absolutely impeccable, especially down the stretch in games 2 and 4 of the Western Conference Finals.
The final four Warriors buckets to close out Game 2 were all created by Steph Curry drawing two defenders pic.twitter.com/vcBSGJSeB0
— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) May 17, 2019
That said, I don’t think this record tells the full story. Here are 5 reasons why the Warriors aren’t better without KD.
Regular Season Domination
While this record is no doubt impressive, it is heavily weighted towards the regular season. The bulk of this occurred towards the end of the 2017 regular season, where their excellent play down the stretch secured the #1 seed.
Golden State were only underdogs in 1 of the games where Steph played and KD didn’t, indicative of a relatively soft schedule. Even without KD, the Warriors are still better than the vast majority of NBA sides they come up against. In what were all meaningful games, it’s very likely they pull off this same win streak with him playing.
Warriors are more fun without KD.
They are not better.
— Thomas Duffy (@TJDhoops) May 17, 2019
Equally, their playoff wins without him haven’t been all that impressive, aside from the win in Houston in game 6. All of the other post-season wins came against a Portland side that they match up incredibly well with. Especially given some of the deficits they had to overcome, they likely struggle against a better opponent.
KD’s Offensive Impact
While Draymond Green is a very solid on-ball offensive player, he just isn’t Kevin Durant. He just doesn’t have Durant’s size or athleticism and can’t create his own shot reliably.
Golden State is simply a much more efficient and reliable offence when KD gets more of the ball than Draymond. Not only is he a 4-time scoring champion, he is also an elite playmaker for himself and others. There’s a reason Golden State has been one of the most efficient offences in NBA history over the past 3 seasons.
What the Warriors coaching staff likely realises from this run is that the ball should be in Steph Curry’s hands more. Curry had a phenomenal Western Conference Finals, averaging over 36 points and 7 assists.
If Durant returns healthy for the NBA Finals, we could see a lot more two-man-game between their best players. Given the success they had running it with Draymond, incorporating KD will likely see even better results.
Overmatched Portland Side
The main reason this topic has garnered national attention is because of the Warriors clinical sweep over Portland in the Western Conference Finals. While Portland had an impressive season and surpassed all expectations, they just aren’t at the level of a usual NBA Conference Finals team.
Having been swept in the first round the last 2 years, they benefited from a relatively easy playoff schedule here. Oklahoma City were just atrocious in round 1 and the epic 7-game series with Denver took a lot out of them. Jusuf Nurkic’s injury was also a key factor, evidenced by Enes Kanter’s atrocious defence guarding Curry over a screen.
Enes Kanter was in the paint AGAIN on this Curry 3 (Dame has to ice this screen. He can’t let Curry get over the top) pic.twitter.com/qG3O1I3vxD
— Drew Shiller (@DrewShiller) May 15, 2019
Despite that, Portland still managed to have a lead of 17 or more points in 3 of the 4 games. Not only that, they actually led for the majority of the series and outplayed the Warriors in large stretches. If this series occurred against Houston without KD, I’m not sure we’re here talking about a Warriors win, let alone a sweep.
Based on former Knicks legend Patrick Ewing, the Ewing theory suggests that NBA teams actually play better in the short term without their star player. With fans and media alike counting them out, each man on the roster ups his game.
This appeared especially true with the Warriors game 6 win in Houston to take the Conference Semis. Golden State were huge 7.5-point underdogs for that clash, with most analysts assuming a game 7 would be inevitable.
While this added fuel to the fire for Golden State, it likely ended up making Houston much more complacent. After barely playing all series, guys like Quinn Cook, Jonas Jerebko, and Jordan Bell all made a huge impact.
That said, this improved level of performance for fringe players tends to be unsustainable over the long term. Most of these guys will struggle to get minutes against a better opponent in the NBA Finals, putting a more strenuous load on their starters.
How this Impacts the NBA Finals
Without KD, I can see the Warriors opening as underdogs against a historically elite side like Milwaukee. They’d struggle immensely to contain Giannis, who would have no trouble guarding Draymond on the other end.
— Warriors on NBCS (@NBCSWarriors) May 17, 2019
This would in turn put a ton of offensive pressure on Steph and Klay against an excellent switching Bucks defence. With no timetable currently given on the KD injury, there’s an outside shot that he misses the start of the Finals. Currently at $3.15 for the title, there still appears to be solid value for Milwaukee backers.
Even if the Raptors pull off an upset, Golden State would also struggle to contain Kawhi and Pascal Siakam. The best sides in the NBA all have elite two-way wing players that need to be accounted for and this is where the Warriors can struggle without KD.
While Golden State are still a very formidable side, they simply aren’t better without KD. Not only are their stars older than during the 73-win season, the supporting cast isn’t what it once was. I think a relatively easy Conference Finals match-up has people now overrating their abilities without him. Should he remain out for the NBA Finals, they’ll likely struggle to land that elusive 3-peat.