Photo Credit: totalprosports.com
One of the few teams Kevin Durant, the consensus number 1 free agent for this upcoming free agency period, has narrowed down his options to in terms of where he may sign in the upcoming free agency period is the Golden State Warriors team, a team that won the 2015 NBA championship, won an all-time record 73 games in the 2015-2016 season, won an all-time record 88 games in the 2015-2016 regular season and postseason combined, has been to 2 straight NBA championship games, has the 2-time defending MVP, has 3 All-Stars, and has 2 of the league’s top 6 players in MVP voting. That team should dominate the league, right? Yes. But, as the Oklahoma City Thunder and Cleveland Cavaliers showed, the gap that the Warriors have over the rest of the NBA is smaller than we all thought, and since the Cavaliers are currently the MVP champions, that gap may not even exist anymore.
Just days and weeks before the championship, the Warriors seemed to be out of the Kevin Durant sweepstakes, with the common consensus being that the Warriors did not need him, as it would only ruin the chemistry among the rest of the already-dominant player on the team. However, seeing as how the Warriors blew a 3-1 series lead over the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA Finals, it appears as thought adding Durant may not be as silly as once thought.
Adding Kevin Durant to upgrade the Warriors’ 2nd weakest spot in the starting rotation, the small forward position, would look, on paper, like it would improve the Warriors’ roster big time. Although there are definitely way in which it would improve the roster, there are also ways in which it wouldn’t. It all would depend on how Durant is used.
There is nothing wrong with small forward Harrison Barnes, who, like Durant, is an upcoming free agent. Last season, Barnes averaged 11.7 points per game, 4.9 rebounds per game, 1.8 assists per game, 0.6 steals per game, and 0.2 blocks per game in an average of 30.9 minutes per game this past season. His field goal percentage was 46.6%, his 3-point field goal percentage was 38.3%, and his free throw percentage was 76.1%. Those are all respectable statistics for a starter who is playing alongside 3 NBA All-Stars and not getting the ball as much as he would on a weaker team.
Durant had much better stats than Barnes, however, being on a team with 3 other All-Stars (point guard Stephen Curry, shooting guard Klay Thompson, and power forward Draymond Green), as opposed to being on a team with 1 other All-Star in Oklahoma City with point guard Russell Westbrook, would likely mean less ball time and shot attempts for Durant. Still, his stats were monumentally higher than Barnes’ stats this past season. Last season, Durant averaged 28.2 points per game, 8.2 rebounds per game, 5.0 assists per game, 1.2 blocks per game, and 1.0 steal per game in an average of 35.8 minutes per game. His field goal percentage 50.5%, his 3-point field goal percentage was 38.6%, and his free throw percentage was 89.8%.
Durant only played a little bit less than 5 minutes more than Barnes each game, however, he averaged twice as many shots, putting up an average of 19.2 shots per game compared to Barnes’ 9.6. Plugging in Durant at small forward instead of Barnes definitely looks like it would be an improvement for the Warriors on paper, but because of the minutes played per game differences and the shot attempts per game differences between the 2 players, plugging in Durant instead of Barnes is not going to result in the dramatic improvement in the Warriors team that you may think. Will they most likely become the best team in the NBA again if it happens (if they’re not already)? Probably. But only because the margin the Cavaliers MAY have on them is very slim.
First off, if Durant goes to the Warriors and takes the same amount of shots as he took in Oklahoma City, it would decrease the number of shots taken by some of the other Warriors’ stars, such as sharpshooters Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, who are without a doubt 2 of the best 3-point shooters in NBA history. Decreasing the amount of shots Curry and Thompson take is probably not in the Warriors’ best interest, especially with their deadly accuracy from beyond the arc. With Durant shooting the same amount he did in Oklahoma City, which is far more than Barnes shot with Golden State, this decrease in shots for Curry and Thompson would happen unless the Warriors as a team start moving the ball faster and putting up more shots, which, in itself, is HIGHLY unlikely due to the fact that they already shot the 3rd-highest amount of shots of any team in the NBA last season, averaging 86.9 shot attempts per game. In addition, shooting the basketball faster each possession will inevitably result in a drop in shooting percentage, and possibly even scoring, simply because rushing to get something done is not a healthy habit in anything, especially shooting the ball each possession, as shot accuracy will decrease.
Secondly, if Durant goes to the Warriors and takes about the same amount of shots as Barnes did with the Warriors this past season, decreasing shot attempts for Curry and Thompson would not be an issue. They would get roughly the same amount of shot attempts per game, and it would likely result in a similar production. Taking half the shots he took in Oklahoma City this past season to match Barnes’ average shot attempts per game this past season would result in Durant scoring roughly 12.8 points per game, which is slightly higher than Barnes, but is certainly not what Durant wants. Durant, too, regardless of how many shots he takes, is a better rebounder than Barnes, so getting more rebounds will allow the Warriors to take and make more shots, so that 12.8 points per game appears to be lower than even the absolute minimum that we could expect from Durant. Even still, an 8.2 rebounds per game in 35.8 minutes per game ratio is equal to roughly 7.1 rebounds per game in 30.9 minutes per game (average minutes played by Barnes this past season), so the improvement in rebounding from Barnes to Durant would not be all that high either.
Although, even through the entire mathematical thought process, it would appear that adding Durant to Golden State would benefit the Warriors, you cannot ignore the fact that team chemistry has played a huge role in the recent success of the Warriors franchise. Durant is not the kind of player that wants to sit back and be simply a contributor, much less one getting paid less than what he should be getting paid just to be on a championship-caliber team in hopes of winning his 1st NBA championship. I say that because since the Seattle SuperSonics relocated to Oklahoma City, Durant has never averaged below 25.3 points per game. Yes, for 8 consecutive seasons, Durant has already averaged 25.3 points per game or more.
In conclusion, Durant going to Golden State and shooting the same amount of shots he shot per game at Oklahoma City would not benefit the Warriors because it would decrease the productivity of the other stars on the Warriors’ roster (particularly the 2 star guards, Curry and Thompson), and being limited in the amount of shots he would be able to take, despite the fact that it would improve the Warriors overall as a team, would certainly not please him, as it would make him more like just a contributor and it would add tension to this Warriors’ roster regarding who the true superstar of the team really is, which is something that the Warriors, who are currently one of the if not the most well-balanced and well-rounded teams in the NBA, do not need to deal with.
Overpaying for Durant would be the wrong move for the Warriors, especially since Harrison Barnes, who knows the Warriors’ system well and has been with the Warriors for 4 straight seasons, all of which playoff seasons, said he would like to return to the team despite being an upcoming free agent. The only way I could see adding Durant benefitting the Warriors in a big way is the fact that is if the Warriors add him, other teams that may actually be able to get the best possible performance out of both he and their current team together will not be able to add him, thus making them less of a threat to defeat the Warriors when it matters most in the postseason.
Signing Durant and benefitting from it is much more complicated than it looks for the Warriors, so it will all come down to what the Warriors have in mind for Durant’s ideal number of shots per game, and how that compares to what Durant truly wants on the next team he signs with, and whether or not he truly cares about being a team’s superstar player.