By JASON MARTIN (@JMartZone – May 17, 2019)
There’s a difference between “better” and “more fun” or “favorite” in entertainment.
Whereas Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof’s mystery, Lost, remains my personal number one show of all-time, I also recognize Breaking Bad and The Wire are probably the two BEST series of my lifetime, and both are way up there on my entertainment list, with Gilligan’s epic being in the two spot.
There are also some shows that I recognize as well-made and filled with talent that simply aren’t for me. American Horror Story, for example, is extremely good. I gave it a shot and thought I might be writing about it when it first premiered, but quickly discovered I wouldn’t be watching it long term.
It’s important to discuss nuance as it relates to these things, and it also applies to sports. Right now, the Golden State Warriors lead the Portland Trail Blazers two games to none in the Western Conference Finals. In Game 5 of the semifinal round, Kevin Durant, arguably the best player in the NBA, went down with a calf injury that has him sidelined for an undetermined amount of time. Last night, Warriors coach Steve Kerr remarked KD’s condition was a little more serious than originally thought. It’s possible his return could be next season…and, depending on free agency, in a new uniform.
Without question, you’re not a better basketball team without the top player in the league, a multi-time scoring champion, and probably the most indefensible guy in the game. But, there’s a delineation you can make between a superior team and one that’s more pleasing to the audience. Without Durant, the Golden State Warriors are just a better TV show on the court, and this nostalgia trip back to 2015 isn’t exactly an unwelcome journey in the DeLorean.
We can at least enjoy it while it lasts.
It’s just inarguable, even as we’re awed by isolation basketball, it’s not a pretty brand of hoops to watch. We see it in Houston, where the Rockets play a lot more one on five than anything else, and in similar fashion to the Warriors, the offense runs through a shoot-first star in James Harden.
What left many underwhelmed by Durant’s decision to leave Oklahoma City to join Golden State is that he was leaving a team on the cusp of winning a first ever Championship to join a 73-win team that probably would have won another title that season had it not been for a Draymond Green suspension in the NBA Finals against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Warriors had already won a Larry O’Brien trophy, and almost assuredly would win more.
Durant joining the Oracle Avengers would do one thing, however. It would make it easier to win more.
Golden State’s pre-KD game was based on spacing, ball movement, and player motion away from the ball. Stephen Curry was the centerpiece, forcing defenders to guard him well beyond the three point line, which just increased the room to operate for the rest of the team on the offensive end. He remains the engine that makes that vehicle go. Per Tom Haberstroh of NBC, in the past 30 games with Steph on the floor and Durant out of the lineup, the Warriors are 29-1. Both Curry and Splash brethren Klay Thompson are more efficient and seem to shoot a higher percentage without Durant on the floor.
Draymond Green in November got into a locker room expletive-laden shouting match with Durant where, according to Yahoo Sports, he remarked, “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.” The implication was clear. KD gravy-trained them to get the title he couldn’t alongside Russell Westbrook. Even when up 3-1, the Warriors won three in a row and eliminated him. That was the last straw. It wasn’t fun for him anymore.
But, take a look at Green without Durant on the sideline or in the lineup. As good as KD is, this Warriors team seems to enjoy playing together much more WITHOUT him on the floor. There’s a claustrophobic feel to the offensive iso sets with KD out there. Without him, the ball movement and the speed of the game have changed and the spacing is miles better. Steph Curry is back in full force, playing more like the Hall of Famer he is. In the three games without Durant this postseason, Steph has put up 33, 36, and last night 37 points.
These are closer games than they likely would be with Durant, but again, it’s so much more fun and entertaining to watch the classic Warriors stuff. This is the greatest hits album, rather than the new one where the band decides it’s time to “change things up” and go in a new direction. The diva mentality and the “too many basketballs to go around” knocks don’t exist. Golden State put up 30 assists last night, and the role players were all crashing the boards and finding ways to contribute to the victory.
Even against the second best backcourt in the game, Curry and Thompson were superior again, particularly down the stretch, to Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum.
It’s weird, because as I keep looking at it, the argument for this team actually being better without Durant comes more into focus, but it still isn’t true. I mean…it just can’t be, right? However, should he leave, and for his sake (or if he cares about his own legacy), I remain convinced he should, Golden State is likely to be all smiles as they make a free agent acquisition of their own, re-sign Klay, and lock down Draymond long term.
More from Haberstroh’s piece last fall, there’s no question whose team this is, and no question who the top commodity is on this roster. These numbers haven’t really changed since this article, and again, 29-1 is impossible to deny, especially when the Curryless game W/L numbers are
With Curry rolling solo, the Warriors are still plus-14.3 in 216 minutes of action. That’s without the help of an MVP, a former Defensive Player of the Year and perhaps the second-greatest shooter ever not named Stephen Wardell Curry. The offense scores 116.6 points per 100 possessions in these lineups, which would be the league-leading offensive rating this season.
To recap, the Warriors go from plus-16.9 to plus-14.8 to plus-13.9 to plus-14.3 as you keep removing an All-Star from Curry. But as these numbers show, Curry is impervious. He’s teammate-agnostic. For those that think Curry would struggle in another organization or in another system, it’s clear: He is the system.
Now, let’s take Steph off the floor. What happens when Durant, Thompson and Green go without him? Uh, oh … plus-4.9 in 591 minutes without Steph. So, you take Durant off the floor and the Warriors are still juggernauts (plus-14.8). But you take Curry away from the equation? They go from dominant to merely solid.
What if we looked at what happens with a solo Durant? If he truly is a better all-around player than Curry, it would stand to reason that he’d be able to fill in more gaps without stars around him. Remember, solo Curry still obliterated opponents without the help of other stars.
The scoreboard with solo Durant: Minus-0.5 in 417 minutes
I get extremely anxious when I can’t find a stirring stick for my coffee. But I only need one. The straw that stirs the drink in Oaktown is the star of Facebook Watch’s new reality series, not the seven footer that serves as the evolution of George Gervin. Both are total studs and outstanding players, but Golden State’s mixer…
…is Stephen Curry.
You want a walk off stat? How about this one. In the past five years, the Warriors are 297-62 with Stephen Curry on the floor. Without him? 26-26.