It feels as if the NBA has turned into somewhat of a soap opera recently. The NBA is a player-driven league, and the driving factor of interest for a lot of people that follow basketball is the drama of those clashing personalities. A byproduct of this is that the KD signing is about as big of a basketball story as the Cavaliers winning the Finals this year. Of course I have an opinion on the signing from a drama perspective, but letís be honest, you donít care about my opinion. Itís either similar to yours, or itís different; youíll either agree with me, or not. Talking about this KD drama is like talking about politics, one article wonít change your mind. So, instead, I just want to talk about the signing from a basketball perspective. No matter your opinion, the signing creates arguably the greatest basketball team ever assembled. The expectations are immediately this high for a reason. No team has fielded four All-NBA Team performers from the previous year, no team has had the three best shooters in the league at the same time, and no team has had two different MVPs in their prime since the 1950s. But itís more than their collection of talent, unlike the 2010 Heat these Warriors should mesh seamlessly with each other.
To understand how Durant will fit into the Warriors beautiful game so well, and so easily, it is important to first understand how their offense is structured. Last year Golden State was near the bottom in pick-and-roll frequency, yet lethal in their efficiency. It was their go-to weapon that they could save for opportune times, and with Steph Curry and Klay Thompsonís ability to hit threes out of this action, their lead over the second most efficient pick-and-roll team was .078 points per possession. That disparity is the equivalent of the space between the second ranked Raptors (.902 PPP) and the thirteenth ranked Miami Heat (.819 PPP). Curryís sheer range stretches defenses to the breaking point, and when the big comes up, he can get right by for a pull-up, a layup, a floater, and a variety of other skilled shots. The exceptional Spurs-esque ball movement that Kerr has installed has unlocked much more from the Curry pick-and-roll by way of creating wide open perimeter shots for multiple players. Kevin Durant is no stranger to spotting up, he did this eleven percent of the time in OKC last year, and of the 83 players who spotted up last year at least 200 times he ranked tenth in efficiency (1.129 PPP, 56.4% aFG). The Thunder utilized the Westbrook pick-and-roll to free up open shots for KD on the weak side. And itís easy to see the similarities between these actions and how seamlessly Durant will fit into the Warriors offense. Having a guard as ball dominant as Russell Westbrook has ironically helped Durant learn to be effective without the ball. In a way, Russ has been training Durant to be on the Warriors his whole career. It isnít hard to picture KD playing Harrison Barnesí position a lot of the time, causing him to more than likely boost his already ridiculous spot up efficiency. The Warriors offense routinely goes through a lot of natural movement in their offense before they even attack by way of the pick-and-roll. This movement is another key to the success of their pick-and-roll in the way it scrambles the oppositions defense. The motion the Warriors use isnít all that different from what the Spurs do, or mid-2000s Suns used to do, the difference in success is having the shooters the Warriors have. Chasing Steph and Klay (and countless other sharpshooters) through this motion in the half-court and on the break is physically and mentally draining over the course of a 48 minute NBA game. The Warriors offense is as good of an offense ever invented for talented shooters. This had to be one of the biggest selling points for Durantís camp when weighing whether he wanted to take his talents to the Bay Area or not. This offense, that already has two of the three best shooters in the world, would surely be bolstered by the addition of another top three shooter.
But Durant is more than merely a shooter, he has good ball control and dribble moves, making him capable of initiating the offense himself. Throughout his career KD has been an elite pick-and-roll ball handler. When Steph struggled to get going in the playoffs this year it would have been helpful to have a player like Durant shoulder that entire load. Durant was able to create incredible amounts of space with players like Russ, Roberson, Ibaka, and Adams when he had the ball in his hands. Imagine what he could do with people like Steph, Klay, Iggy, and Draymond on the perimeter. There were moments where the Warriors allowed Harrison Barnes to bring the ball up and set high screen-and-rolls that would lead to open Barnes threes. I would presume they could run the same types of plays with KD.
If it isnít obvious yet, screens really are where the Warriors really generated so much of their success. Naturally, with two deadly shooters like Curry and Thompson, running them off of bigs to get a sliver of daylight is a no brainer. The way they could stretch the floor off those screens made their offense almost impossible to stop. To give you an idea how often they used off ball screens Ė their frequency was 3.5 percentage points higher than the Pacers. The same amount of difference between the second ranked Pacers (8.3% of time) and the 18th ranked Orlando Magic (4.9%). Kerrís offense used them in a variety of ways. Frequently as a simple action to begin the possession where they can catch the defense off guard with a solid screen, or pin down, and a quick release from there. KD was no stranger to this type of action, as the OKC offense tended to run pin downs for him exclusively, and in a similar fashion. That said, the Thunder offense moved much slower to get into these actions, and itís clear that with an increased pace these looks should get even easier for him next year.
The best option the Warriors run is their low post split. And what is exciting about this play is that Durant can play any of the positions in the set and be lethal. When you have Curry and Klay screening for each other itís almost impossible to switch. And if the screen is set well, you are going to see an open shot. The defense has to be so focused on the movement on the perimeter it would open up lots of easy shots for KD 1-on-1 in the post. The screening and cutting action around him also serve to open up jumpers. The kind of shots KD hits in his sleep. It was remarkable how few cutters the Thunder sent off the post for him. This made it easier for his man to stay with him, and caused his post up to be much harder. He was an elite post up scorer regardless, which is a testament to his incredible skills in the face of all these though shots, the kind he will not see much anymore in Golden State. Now instead, Durant could screen and cut around the perimeter with either Curry or Klay screening for him coming around. Picture the split being run on the weak side for Curry, the defense gets sucked in by his gravity on the cut, and would open up easy threes for Durant to either attack on the dribble or take his uncontested shot. Durant could also be the feeder to the post, screen for Curry, watch his man try and switch this, and give him free run to the rim all game. In fact, OKC ran this type of action with him and Russ, and there was usually good motion into a post up for him on the weak side as well. More indication that Durant will be more than comfortable operating in the Warriors offense. Being able to get Zaza and David West for cheap will prove extremely valuable. It gave them the ability to retain Livingston and Iguodala and still have more than viable talent in the post when they decide to go big.
I didnít even delve into the defensive side of the ball, but it is safe to say that Durant is a better defender than Barnes. And from what we saw in the playoffs from him against these same Warriors, there was real evidence that Durant could be a lockdown defender as good as Kawhi Leonard. And if thatís the case, then the rest league better figure something out quick, because the Warriors will be the prohibitive favorites to win the title every year for at least the next five years.
Warriors GM Bob Myers told Kevin Durant: ďWithout you, we can win another title or two. Without us, you might win too. Together? We'll win a bunch.Ē Jerry West, Steve Kerr, and Warriors players reportedly had similar messages to send to KD. Kevin has said that the Warriors focus on the basketball part of their presentation impressed him, and was a key factor in his decision to choose the Warriors. Itís pretty easy to connect the dots here and notice that Kevin made this decision because he thought it would be best team, with the best opportunity to win titles now and in the future. I donít think you have to read this article, or even particularly know all that much about basketball to agree with that. Next to nobody would disagree. And heís a villain for this?
NBA fans, writers, and even players, have created a culture that could be best characterized as RINGZ culture. We want to compare great players to previous great players, and we judge it on one statistic, one word: RINGZ, and how many Zs are at the end of it. Maybe Kevin Durant has succumbed to this public pressure, maybe he just wants to win for himself. Either way, how can we paint him a villain for it? Not expressing an opinion, only asking you to question yours. Kevin Durant undoubtedly chose to take his talents to the Bay Area because he felt it would give him the best opportunity to win the NBA Finals. Because it will.
We just might be privy to some of the best basketball ever seen. Not just from the Warriors, but from a certain opponent theyíll likely see in The Finals. How long until the NBA season again? How long we have to wait for the playoffs? For The Finals? I finally understand this Bart Scott interview.