Mears: Will We See the Old Warriors Without Kevin Durant?

Mears: Will We See the Old Warriors Without Kevin Durant? article feature image

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry

  • With Kevin Durant out for the rest of the Rockets series, what should we expect from the Warriors?
  • They were excellent in the fourth quarter of Game 5 without him, but should that be the expectation moving forward?

With Warriors superstar Kevin Durant officially out for the rest of the series vs. the Rockets, this matchup will look much different on the court than it has. Stephen Curry will almost single-handedly run the show, and while he, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson proved very capable in the fourth quarter of Game 5, what should we expect moving forward?

What Have the Warriors Looked Like With Durant Off the Floor?

Once it was announced that KD would be out for Game 6, I immediately was intrigued by the over in this game. Last year, literally all Warriors players saw their pace increase with Durant out of the game, including Curry, who averaged 105.31 possessions per 48 minutes. He posted a 121.3 Offensive Rating on 38.6% usage in that time without KD.

In the eight games without Durant last year but with Curry, the Warriors averaged 121.4 points per game and a 102.7 pace. In the seven with Curry and Klay Thompson, they averaged 123.6 and 103.8. They were fast and still offensively excellent without Durant.

The over went just 7-7 in games without KD last year, but note that six of those came without Steph, too. In those six games, the Dubs averaged just 95.0 points and a sluggish pace of 91.95. I thought that sample would muddy the waters on the betting market identifying value on the over, but now I’m not so sure.

That’s because this year the Warriors have averaged just 106.0 points per game in their four affairs without KD. And perhaps more importantly, they’ve averaged a pace of 98.6 possessions. Take a look at how the Warriors have looked without KD on the floor last year vs. this year (in all minutes with him on the bench):

They’ve obviously been much more average in terms of Net Rating, but the thing that stands out is how less frequently they’ve been getting out in transition. Last year with Steph on and KD off, the Dubs pushed in transition 22.1% of the time; that number was 17.1% this year. They pushed off steals much more frequently, along with attacking off live defensive rebounds. All of those numbers are drastically down this year.

This season, the pace numbers for Steph, Klay and Draymond have all decreased with Durant off the floor. They all saw their Offensive Ratings tank, too, although Matt Moore showed in his piece that hasn’t been the case in this series against the Rockets.

I’ll admit: I am not sure the reason behind those changes from last year to this. Maybe it’s more difficult to switch back to the Warriors of old after so much time with KD on the team? Maybe it’s due to the core Warriors aging?

In Game 5 without Durant, the Warriors dropped significantly in pace without him; Steph in his 15 minutes averaged a pace of 83.8 (although a stupid 147.6 Offensive Rating). That said, that could easily be explained by a player going down mid-game and the difficulties of adjusting on the fly to that. It was also in the fourth quarter, so they were milking the clock with a lead.

It would make sense for the pace to increase, like it did last year. Moore has detailed how ISO-heavy the Warriors have been with KD playing, and the data bears that out:

In the regular season, the Warriors averaged 320 passes per game. In this series, that number is down to 278. Back in 2016, before Durant showed up, the Warriors averaged 315.5 passes per game. They’re just not moving the ball.

In the playoffs, Curry is taking 18.2% of his shots “very early” — 18-22 seconds left — in the shot clock. ISO Durant is at 13.9%. Things should move more quickly and passing should increase without Durant, although the broad team-wide numbers haven’t necessarily reflected that. Maybe it’s less of a Steph issue and more about the worse supporting cast.

The point is: The data is pretty inconclusive at this point about what to expect from the Warriors moving forward in these playoffs without Durant. They were fast and offensively excellent last year without KD and with Steph; that was less true this year. Is that for systemic reasons because KD’s style is more ingrained into this team? Or will they flip the switch and become the Warriors of old again?

Looking Ahead to Game 6 and Beyond

There were glimpses in Game 6. This is certainly the old Warriors, with Curry shooting early in the shot clock:

This is, too: The Warriors loved getting Curry on a big like Clint Capela and having him either attack or get to his step back:

If the Warriors go back to that, Capela will have a difficult time staying on the floor in Games 6 and 7. But if the Rockets go small with P.J. Tucker at center, what will the Dubs do? Curry is taking just 19% of his shots around the rim this season, which is his lowest mark in the current Warriors era. He’s taking 58% of his shots as 3-pointers, which is his highest mark. If the Rockets switch everything with Tucker, will Curry be able to punish them with penetration?

Of course, it wasn’t all Curry at the end of Game 5. We also got the Draymond of old, who absolutely dominated defensively and even hit some clutch 3-pointers — something he hasn’t done in quite a while:

That 73-win Warriors team wasn’t historically great simply because of Steph. He was the engine and provided the spark and spacing, but guys like Klay and Draymond were able to capitalize on those juicy opportunities. Will Draymond be able to step up offensively if needed moving forward without Durant?

We don’t know when Durant will be back, just that it won’t be this series. But in trying to handicap how this team will perform without him, for however long that will be, I think Game 6 will provide us a blueprint for the Warriors.

Will Steph & Co. be able to recapture that magic of old? Or has Durant truly put his stamp on this team in a way that’ll make it difficult to shift late-series with success?