The Golden State Warriors are through to the 2019 NBA Finals and their journey back to the championship series was different this year.
Golden State lost Kevin Durant to injury in Game 5 of their second-round series against the Houston Rockets. KD got hurt in the third quarter of that game but the Rockets could not take advantage as Steph Curry and Klay Thompson delivered one big basket after another. The Warriors survived Game 5 and the Splash Brothers delivered another classic outing in Game 6 as Golden State clinched the Rockets’ series.
During the 2019 Western Conference Finals, the Warriors played like the dominant 2015 team. Steph Curry waxed hot as the Dubs swept the Blazers to advance to their fifth straight NBA Finals appearance. With the Warriors’ golden performance, the so-called experts and critics have made a claim that Golden State is better off without KD. But are they, really?
Durant’s On/Off Numbers
According to basketball reference, the Golden State Warriors had an offensive rating of 120.9 points per 100 possessions during the regular season with Kevin Durant on the floor for the champs. When Durant is out of the game, the Dubs’ offensive rating went down to 106.9 points per 100 possessions. That’s a huge difference of 14 points per 100 possessions which could affect the outcome of many ball games.
During the 2018-19 playoffs, the story has been different though. The Warriors are putting up an offensive rating of 118.6 points per 100 possessions with Kevin Durant playing on the basketball court. When he is off-cour, and this includes when he is resting on the bench and the time he’s been out due to injury, the Warriors’ offensive rating decreases to 116.9 points per 100 possessions or a net difference of 1.7 points per 100 possessions.
By any means, Durant is still valuable because there is an increase of 1.7 points per 100 possessions when he is around. However, if you compare that to the statistical difference he makes on offense during the regular season, there’s a huge difference of 12.3 points per 100 possessions. That’s on offense.
On the defensive end of the floor during the regular season, Durant was a net -2.8 in their opponent’s offensive rating. That means that Golden State’s opponents scored 2.8 fewer points per 100 possessions when Durant plays. In the postseason, Durant was a net -1.6 points per 100 possessions in their opponent’s offensive rating. While it still says that Golden State defends better with Durant on the unit, his overall effect on the defensive end decreased by -1.2 points per 100 possessions.
If you add up the offensive and defensive numbers, you’ll end up with KD being +16.67 points per 100 possessions for the Warriors during the regular season. During the current playoffs, Durant is a net plus 3.3 for the Dubs when he is on the floor. That means that Golden State has been able to mitigate his absence due to injury by having more production from other players, most notably Steph Curry.
Reverting To The 2015 Team
The Warriors’ two-time MVP only had one 30-point game through the first 11 games of the playoffs. He’s had five straight games with at least 33-points per game. Curry averaged 36.5 points per game during the Blazers’ series and he is making an average of 6-three-pointers per game in their last five playoff games played.
On the other hand, Curry’s Splash Brother Klay Thompson only scored 20 or more points thrice in the first 10 games of the playoffs. Thompson had four straight games of at least 24 points before finishing the Portland series with 18 and 11 points. Still, the difference in Thompson’s scoring is material.
Aside from the Splash Brothers, Draymond Green and Andre Iguodala have also stepped up during the current playoffs. Golden State has also gotten big plays from role players like Kevon Looney, Shaun Livingston, Jonas Jerebko, Jordan Bell, and Andrew Bogut have also done their share to make up for KD’s absence on both ends of the floor.
In short, the Warriors have been winning without Kevin Durant because their players- from top to bottom, have stepped up in his absence. To say that the Warriors are better without Kevin Durant would be incorrect. We saw the on/off stats. No matter what the numbers, the Warriors still had plus points per 100 possessions with Durant on the floor. Without talking about how much, Kevin Durant does make the Golden State Warriors better.
However, the Warriors play a different brand of basketball with and without him. With Durant around, the Warriors have the best offensive machine in the game and they can just give the ball to Durant on offense and let him do most of the scoring, including the big baskets.
With Durant out, Golden State’s offense has resembled the 2015 team which featured the Splash Brothers leading the way with their vaunted shooting. That team was also known for its outstanding ball movement and, fast pace and high shooting percentage. Without a predictable scorer, the Warriors have distributed the scoring to plenty of players. This was the Strength in Numbers of the era before Durant. So while I conclude that Golden State is a better team with Kevin Durant, they are a more dangerous and versatile team without him. So if you’re the Toronto Raptors, just pick your poison.