NBA Courtroom with Wob & Moore: Are the Warriors Better Without Kevin Durant?

NBA Courtroom with Wob & Moore: Are the Warriors Better Without Kevin Durant? article feature image

Photo credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry

  • After the Warriors closed out the Rockets and swept the Blazers, a popular question arose in the NBA world: Are the Dubs actually better without Kevin Durant?
  • Matt Moore (@HPBasketball) and Rob Perez (@WorldWideWob) come together to argue both sides of the debate.

Now that the Golden State Warriors are through laying waste to the poor, innocent, mere mortal Portland Trail Blazers, all eyes turn to the NBA Finals, where the defending champions will surely have a tall task no matter the opponent.

With nine full days off from the end of their sweep to the start date of the Finals series, their banged-up stars will get some vital time off to heal their injuries. The most notable, obviously: Kevin Durant, whose return date is still up in the air.

So sit down … we got some time; let’s talk. I mean, for some reason, it’s the hot topic right now — are the Warriors better off without Durant in the lineup? We all saw what they just did to Portland; what exactly does that mean?

Welcome to NBA Courtroom, where Matt Moore and I will be representing our clients in front of you, the judge. I, Rob Perez, The Ankle-Breaker of Chains, Lord of Police Chases, first of his name, will be defending the defendant — “You are crazy if you think the Warriors are better without KD” — while Matt will be doing the same with the plaintiff — “the Warriors should stick to their roots.” — Rob Perez

What happens when Kevin Durant is on the floor vs. when he’s off?

Wob: I will not be wasting the jury’s time by throwing cherry-picked on/off advanced analytics at you, because the sample size of games in which Durant hasn’t been on the floor is simply too small.

I am not going to tell you that the Warriors have a +9.0 Net Rating these playoffs when Durant is on the floor and +3.2 when he comes off. I’m not going to tell you that the team’s true shooting percentage is actually higher (60.0%) when he’s playing than when he’s not (59.1%), and I swear I will not bring light to the fact that Golden State’s number of possessions with a score as the result of an assist is higher (67.3%) when the dreaded ball-stopping Kevin Durant is on the floor as opposed to when he’s off (65.9%). I would never do that.

Moore: My colleague is going to try and get you to ignore data, to slough it away. That’s fine; data doesn’t help tell the whole story. What does tell that story is when the data reflects what the eye test tells you.

You’re smart; you can see it. You know that the Warriors are different, more exciting, more fun and more explosive without Durant. You saw it vs. Houston when they took over that series the minute KD went down, and you saw it vs. the Blazers.

Mr. Perez gave you some nice general stats that count across all lineups.

But let’s be precise, because when we talk about the Warriors, we’re talking about three guys: Steph Curry, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. And those numbers? They speak for themselves.

Since dear Mr. Perez “didn’t tell you” about the true shooting percentage being higher with KD on, I won’t tell you that the Big 3’s TS% is higher with KD not on the court with them, or that their assist percentage is roughly even (67.3% vs. 67.7% with KD).

This all fits with what you’ve seen, right? They looked like a slog with Durant; they look explosive without him. They may not be better without KD, but man, do they play like they are. I don’t need to tell you what happens with KD off. You’ve seen it.

They look like the Warriors again.

What would have happened in that Clippers series if Durant wasn’t there?

Wob: While the plaintiff continues to scream “Strength in Numbers” into the abyss, let us not forget Kevin Durant had three straight 35-point games for the Warriors in the heart of the postseason when the Warriors needed it most.

The stat is impressive in itself, as no Warriors player had accomplished this since Rick Barry in 1967, but the real reason why we’re talking about this now is that he was there when Steph Curry and Klay Thompson were on the mend.

After that Game 5 at Oracle Arena where the unthinkable happened and the Clippers sent the series back to L.A., the Splash Brothers were licking their wounds both figuratively and literally. The man who stepped up and saved the franchise from yet another historic 3-1 collapse was Kevin Durant and Kevin Durant alone.

While the world was busy debating if Steph should keep getting a pass for his “injuries” and poor performance when the lights were brightest, Durant put the team on his back and dragged them to the finish line.

With this said, it is my hypothesis today that Steph and Klay would not be out there right now running around lighting the sky on fire like it’s 2015 without KD absorbing their scoring responsibilities at the end of the Clippers/beginning of the Rockets series. That time off from carrying the burden was a CRUCIAL break for Steph and Klay, and as soon as Durant went down with the calf injury, the Splash Brothers had regenerated like the T-1000 in Terminator 2 after getting shattered into a thousand frozen pieces.

They still talk about the Transcontinental Railroad to this day, but do you know the names of the workers who laid the steel for it to run? I didn’t think so.

Moore: [Dons Allen Iverson jersey and headband]

Clippers? We talkin’ bout Clippers? Not the Rockets. Not the Bucks. Clippers?

Get out of here with the Clippers. KD could have sat at halfcourt, and the Warriors could have played 4-on-5 and still won that series if they were fully engaged. The Clips took two of them with effort, which the Warriors didn’t have with Durant because they are clearly disengaged in spirit in every minute they are on the court with him.

Durant was magnificent vs. the Clippers. Incredible, unbelievable. A truly awe-inspiring performance vs. a team they were never, ever going to lose to. This is peak Durant-on-the-Warriors.

He was transcendent… when they needed him the least. The only reason that series went long was precisely because, with Durant, they’re prone to these lapses of mental focus because, hey, why should they lock in? — they have KD.

Without KD, they rock and roll to an exciting sweep.

Is the “Strength in Numbers” Warriors team better or just more fun?

Wob: Kevin Durant is a ball-stopper. That is not an admission of guilt when you are as talented as this man is at scoring the basketball. He is one of, if not the only player on Earth, who when he calls for the rock 18 feet from the basket with his back turned to the rim, you pass it to him without hesitating and it is a good play.

When you are as good as Kevin Durant, the offense revolves around you. No questions asked. Even the most electric offense in NBA history that spawned a unanimous MVP bows to the power of the almighty bucket-getter.

The moment Draymond called him from the parking lot was the moment the Warriors were willing to build over the roots of which the franchise was constructed. “Strength in Numbers”: the pace-and-space, free-flowing, walking, breathing highlight reel of an offense built around Steph Curry as the focal point — creating for his teammates and recording usage rates in the atmosphere of Russell Westbrook’s triple-double season — will forever be sexier than what the Warriors have evolved into.

It’s why so many fans despise the Warriors now, because they didn’t really need Durant, and the infinity gauntlet of talent he wields — and, subsequently, “Strength in Numbers” — was sacrificed for the soul stone. But just like “Avengers: Endgame,” the Warriors have gone back in time to fix their mistakes, resurrect the past and change the future.

Is it for the better? Only time will tell, but remember this: You don’t know how good something is until it’s gone.

Moore: They’re different. They’re not better, they’re not worse, they’re just different. It’s wrong to say that the Warriors are better without Durant. He’s Kevin Durant. He makes them unbeatable.

But their ceiling is still higher without him. They can’t be “The Warriors” with Durant because he needs his ISOs and post-ups to prove to everyone how good he is so he can go drop notes about it on social media.

The biggest thing is that with KD they’re always “really good” because you can throw Kevin Durant on the floor with Klay Thompson and three schmoes and bang on whoever because he’s Kevin Durant. But you’re rarely transcendent because you can’t have a transcendent team where one guy is constantly looking to validate his greatness.

That’s just not how basketball is. You’re either all together as one complex organism or you’re individuals — and with Durant they’re always stuck between evolutionary stages … neither fauna nor mammal.

Is the timing of Draymond Green’s resurrection a coincidence?

Wob: Only to the eye test. With Durant out, the Warriors are playing faster, freer and flashier. Nobody is standing still; nobody is consistently posting up, demanding for the ball and telling everyone to go away.

But that doesn’t change the fact Draymond Green has been, is and will continue to be the most important player on the team. He may not be the best, but between his play, leadership and intangibles — he is most certainly the most vital.

In 603 minutes this season with Dray on the floor, the Warriors’ Net Rating is +11.6. When he sits? It drops all the way to -10.9. Those numbers include samples of both Durant in the lineup and without. Draymond is going to be a beast no matter what, and it is SUCH a false narrative that KD not being in the lineup “unleashes” him.

That whole Cold War thing they had at the beginning of the season is completely irrelevant; they have a common enemy now, and it will always supersede personal agenda until the season ends.

What Kevin Durant’s presence does is diminish what we hear about Draymond — but if you’re listening, you’ll learn that KD actually makes him better (as KD does with just about every member of the Hampton’s 5). Dray is a great player in the Warriors system, but let’s not act like he takes over games like Jordan when Durant is not there — he simply fills the void.

Moore: Let’s be real. The guy who is constantly barking at KD in timeouts — there were so many that weren’t even covered in last year’s WCF — the guy who said “we don’t need you” earlier this year, is now suddenly thriving with the ball in his hands.

Go watch Game 4 of the Blazers series and how hard he pushed the ball down the court. He’s a genius with the ball, and he never gets it when KD’s on the floor. He’s just a defender. It takes away what makes him brilliant. Without Durant, he’s back to being Draymond.

Who knows if that lasts beyond this season or into the next contract. Green is always one “let himself go” offseason away from spiraling into oblivion, but Green has both stepped up when he was needed and absolutely proved a point.

Draymond has always been the heart and soul of the Warriors. With KD off the floor, he finally gets to pump some blood again.