Tag Archives: Golden State Warriors

Kawhi Should Heed KD’s Warning

Kevin Durant’s Warning to Kawhi Leonard

Kevin Durant’s injury proves Kawhi Leonard should stay in The North. Perhaps that is a bit too simple. Stated another way, their handling of Kawhi Leonard should lead him to re-sign with the Toronto Raptors. The Achilles tear suffered by the Warriors star is proof of the importance of managing injuries.

 

The Blame Game

Now, that is not to say that the Golden State Warriors brass handled Durant’s reported calf strain irresponsibly. And much has already been said about who is to blame for KD taking the floor in the first place. But the simple answer is everyone is culpable. From distraught Bob Myers to Steve Kerr to Durant himself.

Here’s where it gets interesting, though. There was no other course of action. Once Durant was cleared it was a no-brainer that he would suit up with the Dubs title hopes hanging precariously in the balance. And, if we are being honest, had he not played in Game 5 and Golden State lost, we are likely having the same conversation publicly that had reportedly been brewing in the locker room.

Pay Attention

This is not about Durant though. This is about why Kawhi needs to re-up with Toronto. At least the short-term deal he is rumored to be considering. They were willing to take the risk on him and his injured quad initially. But then they went the extra mile and sat him 22 games with the ever-popular ‘load management’ designation. That is a level of proactivity that he likely would not have gotten elsewhere.

Remember, the injury (and how it was handled) is what sent his entire relationship with the San Antonio Spurs organization downward. Not only did Leonard lose faith in the team medical staff, but he also had a very public (albeit one-sided) falling out with Head Coach Gregg Popovich. At one point, Tony Parker compared the injury to one he sustained, saying it was “100 times worse” than Leonard’s.

Ahead of the Curve

Toronto also managed a 17-5 record in games Leonard missed. The proven ability to not be burdened with carrying the entire load has to be appealing. If Kawhi is indeed concerned with his longevity, being overworked has to factor into that. This is another thing other teams cannot offer; rather they can promise it but Toronto has shown it. There is a big difference.

The other team rumored to be at or near the top of Kawhi’s destination list is the Los Angeles Clippers. He is, after all a California kid and had stated that L.A. was his preferred destination prior to being traded. They can offer much of what Toronto has provided Kawhi (load management, supporting cast, etc.) in theory with the obvious added bonus of location. Nothing Toronto can do about that.

West Coast or North Side

All things considered, the quote about the worth of a “bird in the hand…” might be the best way to describe this situation. Leonard can certainly go West and hope that the Clips can replicate what the Raptors have already set out to create. But then he would have to build up the type of trust that the Spurs lost and the Raptors have been trying to earn for a year.

One thing that might get brought up (by Raptors brass) is how Los Angeles handled their previous franchise star, Blake Griffin. They traded him after a lot of theatrics and a max deal. But I am old enough to remember when the Raptors traded their franchise star for a quiet, disgruntled player dealing with an injury. Funny how what side of those deals one is on can shape how they are viewed.

Durant’s Injury a Warning to Kawhi

You might have noticed that money is conspicuously omitted from the reasoning behind Kawhi needing to stay in Toronto. That is because we all know where he should be if securing the bag is his main objective. But he has shown that it is not necessarily money that drives him. That could lead him back home. It should have him making Toronto his new home.

In The End: An NBA Finals Story

NBA Finals a Matchup Years in the Making

Each year 2,460 regular season games are played. This year there have already been 76 playoff games played. But in just a few more hours the entire NBA universe will be laser-focused on Scotiabank Arena as the Toronto Raptors and Golden State Warriors square off for game one for the NBA Finals. It is a matchup two years in the making. Kawhi Leonard was forced from action by a Zaza Pachulia closeout in 2017 and the Dubs swept the San Antonio Spurs. Kawhi missed most of 2018, including the playoffs, and the Warriors took out the Spurs in five games.

 

Rap City

We haven’t really gotten to see a fully healthy Kawhi against the NBA’s latest dynasty. He had 26/8/3 in ‘17 before exiting. In his lone appearance against them this season it was 37/8/3, 58.3 percent from the floor and, 50 percent from deep. He averages 16.5/6.5/2.2 against Golden State, but that includes games before all parties reached their current peak levels. Who knows if he can keep it up, but the Klaw has been asserting his dominance all postseason.

Leonard averaged 26.6/7.3/3.3 in the regular season, one of only five players with those numbers. He also slashed 49.6/37.1/84.5, marks matched by only five others, none of whom are in the same breath as Kawhi. But in the playoffs, Leonard has been unconscious. He is averaging 31.2 points, 8.8 boards, and 3.8 assists on a 50.7/38.8/87.5 shooting line. The quiet superstar started this postseason with crazy efficiency (55.6/53.8/89.3 in the first round), and while that has waned, he has put the team on his back. Just in case you forgot, he did this.

The Western Conference Finals against the Milwaukee Bucks was different. Pascal Siakam was the Robin to Leonard’s Batman through the first two rounds averaging 20.8 points. Perhaps still bothered by an injured calf, he only averaged 14.5 versus the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals. Kyle Lowry and Norman Powell served as the cavalry. Lowry, in particular, has been big. His floor game has been steady, but he has also upped his scoring output from 11.4 in the first round to 13.1 in round two. He goes into the Finals scoring 19.2 points on 50.7/46.5/84.4 shooting versus Milwaukee.

If Toronto is going to pull off the upset, they are going to need more from their complementary parts. Siakam and Lowry have taken turns as top wingman. But the Raptors need the Spicy P from rounds one and two and for Lowry to stay hot. One has to imagine they will also need more from Marc Gasol and Danny Green. Gasol has done yeoman’s work in the playoffs, clogging the paint and generally making smart decisions with the ball. But he faces the real risk of being unplayable in this series should Golden State decide to go small. Green joins Powell, Fred VanVleet, and Serge Ibaka as contributors who will need to have a big game here and there to finish the job.

 

Dub Nation

When Kevin Durant went down, many in the NBA world questioned if there would be a significant dropoff. At a minimum, the expectation was they would need their best player eventually, right? Well all Steph Curry has done in the five games since is average 35.8 points on 46.6 percent shooting (41.7 percent 3PT) with 7.6 rebounds and 6.6 assists. Much has been made of the Warriors success sans Durant but with Curry in the lineup. Still, those are stellar numbers. Should Durant remain out and/or Steph stays en fuego, he is a good bet to earn his first FInals MVP.

Klay Thompson has found his stroke as well. He has put up 22.6 points per game since Durant’s injury. In fact, Thompson’s scoring output has gone up each round; from 17.3 in the opening round to 19.2 in the Conference Semis to 21.5 in the sweep of the Portland Trail Blazers. He will also be tasked with defending Leonard. It is a tall order indeed. But if there is anyone up to the task, it’s Thompson, perhaps the best two-way guard in the NBA. It will be two very similar players facing off. That is when Kawhi is not chasing Steph around a multitude of screens.

The elephant in the room, Durant has already been ruled out for game one. Most recently, the idea was broached that a Warriors title without him is the Easy Money Sniper’s worst nightmare. He would certainly bristle at the notion, but it should not be dismissed by the rest of us so easily. This could be used as an opportunity to diminish Durant’s standing in the league hierarchy. That will not happen here. It has already been noted that KD is so great is that the Warriors diverge from what made them great prior to his arrival.

Draymond Green is healthy and locked in this postseason. His job gets interesting this series as he will have to deal with Siakam. Green is the defensive anchor in the Bay. He roams the middle of the floor, setting the defense and playing center field. He will have to stay with Siakam, who despite seeing his numbers fall of late, is always active on both ends of the floor. He (Siakam) generates most of his offense in the paint but will likely play a bit more of a perimeter-based game to draw Green away from the basket. That is where Kevon Looney will have to keep giving solid minutes. That is, of course, unless Boogie Cousins makes his return to action.

In The End

There will have to be significant contributions by the benches, that should go without saying. But this series will undoubtedly feature a lot of 40-plus’s in the box scores for the starters of both teams. As things stand, the Warriors are still themselves, with or without KD and Boogie. But what do they do if they keep winning when those two are ready to return? Do they rush them back if they fall into an early deficit? Would either player try to force their way back into the rotation/lineup?

The Raptors are not immune to the nagging questions. This team is by and large the same group that wilted in the presence of LeBron James three straight years, including last year’s sweep. How will Lowry and Siakam perform this round? Especially if the Warriors defense shuts Leonard down. Will Gasol and Green provide stats that show up in the boxscore? Maybe more important than any of that, has Toronto done enough to secure the (sorry in advance) Klawtograph? Will they have to win it all to do so (and will that even be enough)? We are about to find out. 

NBA Stars Shining

Stars Rising (And Falling) During Playoffs

Playoffs baby, playoffs! With all four series through four games, the NBA Playoffs second round has only built on the excitement of the first. Three of the four series are all knotted up at 2-2, while the fourth is 3-1. In the East, we are watching the emergence of the Greek Freak to the pantheon of the NBA’s best. Kawhi Leonard is reminding us of why his name was being bandied about in that same conversation not too long ago. The West has pitted two assassins against each other in Damian Lillard and Jamal Murray. And the Houston-Golden State series is everything we had hoped it would be.

 

Buck Your Luck

The lone series not at 2-2, Bucks-Celtics has brought to light two budding truths. First, Giannis Antetokounmpo is good. Like really, really good. Averaging 28.4/11.8/4 in this postseason, he has upped it to 30.5/11.5/4.5. The boards are (ever so slightly) down, but are offset by the scoring surge and slight boost in assists. He is shooting better from deep and on free throws, going from 34.4 percent from deep and 66 percent at the charity stripe to 46.7 and 68.3 percent, respectively. His free throw numbers are especially astounding as he is averaging 15 for this series and 12.9 for the playoffs.

Boston is bizarro-Milwaukee at the moment. As the Bucks star has emerged, the Celtics have seen their guy go borderline-M.I.A. as they have fallen into a 3-1 hole without the benefit of home court. Playoff-Kyrie’s scoring is down about a point from the regular season and his rebounding has dipped a smidge. His assists are also up, but he is shooting (39.9/33.3/89.5 playoffs, 37.3/24/90.5) has been extremely suspect, especially from deep. The jokes about need a certain former teammate have inevitably arisen, but the biggest takeaway might be that Irving just doesn’t fit well in Brad Stevens’ team-first scheme.

 

Oakland, We Have a Problem

Last year the Houston-Golden State series went seven games. This year looks like we might get our first encore from last season. James Harden, who got dogged for running out of gas against the Dubs last year, is putting up 35.8/7.3/5 with 41.7/34/89.7 shooting numbers. Last year, he had 28.7/5.6/6 on 41.5/24.4/88.5 shooting percentages. A slight bump in drives (20.6 to 21) only partly explains his jump in free throw attempts from 7.4 in 2017-18 to 9.8 this postseason. He reportedly came into the season in the best shape of his career (surprise) and this series with the Warriors is testing that notion.

https://twitter.com/HoustonRockets/status/1125769758912143360?s=19

Golden State heads back to Oracle Arena for what they hope is not the last time this postseason. A thought that was a non-starter when the year began is now a distinct possibility. Kevin Durant has arguably been the MVP of this postseason but he is the only Hampton 5 member consistently producing. Steph Curry (21/4/5) and especially Klay Thompson (15/6/2) have been…bad. They have somewhat gotten passes because Curry is always one shot away and Thompson draws the toughest defensive assignment, but this more than any stress of the upcoming offseason, is hindering them.

 

North of the Process

No sooner had the proverbial ink dried on this piece about Durant’s ascension to NBA’s best did Kawhi put everyone on alert. He missed last year, including the playoffs, so it isn’t really surprising that people forgot how good he is. Well, averaging 38/9/4 (32.3/7.7/3.4 in the playoffs) will certainly get folks’ antennae up. Not only is he doubling the scoring output of his next closest teammate this series, but he is doing so on incredible efficiency. Leonard is slashing an inhuman 61.8/46.4/82.9 and taking seven threes a game. He will need more from his teammates but he is firmly placing himself in the ‘best player’ discussion.

Coming into the postseason, one might have wagered on the 76ers starting five against any other in the Eastern Conference. Warts that showed in the first round are still apparent. Ben Simmons has gone from 17.2/6.6/7.6 to 10/7/4.8 as his lack of a perimeter shot has opened him up to a slew of criticism. Joel Embiid has gone from 24.8/13.5/3.5 to 18/8/4.3 as he’s dealt with knee and an illness (more knee issues). The only one of the Philly Big 3 to step up their game has been Jimmy Butler, who has gone from putting up 15.8/4.8/4.6 in the opening round to 22.8/8.3/5.8 in the second.

 

Blazing Trails in Mile High

Damian Lillard has cooled from his scorching the Thunder to the tune of 33/4.4/6 down to 27.3/4/6.3 as this series is nowhere near as emotional. Lucky for him, and the team, C.J. McCollum is dropping 26.5/5.8/3.5 after putting up 24.4/5.4/4 in the last series. They have expectedly done the heavy lifting, but contributions from Enes Kanter and Al-Farouq Aminu have been huge. Even Rodney Hood has come up huge for Portland against Denver. If Maurice Harkless returns to the form he had against OKC and/or Seth Curry gets hot, look out.

Nikola Jokic might be the best center in the league. He has been the best in these playoffs. He is averaging 24.5/12.5/9.3 for the playoffs and 26.8/13.3/9.5 against the Blazers. The list of players to average that during the regular season in empty. He is not alone either. Jamal Murray is quickly becoming one of the league’s more feared scorers. He had 18.2/4.2/4.8 in the regular season up to 21.7/3.6/4.3 so far this postseason. Against the Blazers he has 26.5/5.3/4.5 while shooting 44.7 percent from the floor, 36.4 percent from three, and is perfect at the free throw line. This series should probably come down to the last shot.

 

Stars Rising (and Falling) to the Occasion

A round and a half into the playoffs and it is highly unlikely that anyone is complaining about the action on the floor. Even those who say the eventual champion is in any way a foregone conclusion have to be at least pausing for a moment. Of course, the boys in the Bay are still the favorites, but we see there is no shortage of players and teams looking to assert themselves as the NBA’s best. Who ultimately earns that distinction is anyone’s guess. But the juice, as they say, has been worth the squeeze during the 2019 NBA Playoffs.

 

All stats and information courtesy of Basketball Reference and NBA.com, unless otherwise noted.

Is KD NBA’s Best Player?

Making the Case for Kevin Durant as Best Player in NBA

With no Lebron James in the playoffs (much to the chagrin of many), Kevin Durant has an opportunity to solidify his place as the best player in the NBA. It is a conversation that many believe is long overdue. Now before anyone gets riled up, let’s take inventory of why this is significant. Several factors make this a bigger deal than most people realize.

For starters, the obvious cause for pause is the team that Durant plays for and the players he plays with. Steph Curry is a two-time (and first unanimous) MVP. Klay Thompson is one of the best two-way guards in the NBA. And Draymond Green is the heart and soul of the group as well as a solid defender himself. But Durant, Durant is the difference.

Easy Money Sniper

Sure, the Warriors won a title without KD. They also came back from down 3-1 in the Western Conference Finals against Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder in 2016. Golden State would go on to lose the ensuing Finals against Lebron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. That led to a parking lot phone call from Green and the rest is two more Larry O’Brien trophies for the Dubs with two Finals MVP awards for Durant.

 

Despite averaging 25.8/7.1/5.4 while slashing .524/.384/.883 during his time in the Bay, Durant has often been looked at as the ‘1A’ to Steph’s ‘1’. When looking at the numbers since Durant joined the Warriors, one might conclude that they are more equals than any sort of hierarchy. Curry’s 26.3/4.9/6 (.476/.424/.911) since they became the ‘Hampton’s Five’ rivals Durant’s output and even exceeds it in some aspects.

When parsing the numbers, however, the two superstars’ playoff numbers paint a different picture altogether. During the two championship runs with both Curry and Durant, the former averaged 26.9/6.2/6.1 and slashed .468/.407/.919. The latter put up 28.8/7.8/4.5 on a .514/.379/.898 line. What we see is while Curry is still a key component, but Durant’s scoring and rebounding (i.e. more scoring opportunities) set him above his teammate.

Chef’s Kitchen

Detractors (and Curry truthers) will almost certainly point out Golden State’s 25-9 record sans KD. Compare that to their 19-15 record minus Steph and the opinions start to formulate. Aside from the two interestingly missing the exact same amount of time the two years prior to this one, Golden State appears to miss the presence of the Chef more.

The problem is, all the missed game data is from the regular season. And we have already shown the disparity between the two in the postseason. But barring injury (please, no) there will be no sample size to draw from in the playoffs. So how can we determine who is the more important factor? This could be a case of Occam’s razor.

If the simplest answer is usually right, what is it? It is this: Kevin Durant is the most important player to the Golden State Warriors championship aspirations. Now, that’s not to say that the Warriors would fall off a cliff if Durant were not there (more on that later). But for as good as the Dubs are as a whole they are, for the most part, not iso players.

Isolated

For all the talk of beautiful basketball, Durant is one of only nine players to average at least three iso attempts per game during the regular season. Of those nine players, only two (Lebron and John Wall) failed to make the playoffs. When things slow down in the playoffs, teams need players that can get their own shot. Steph and Klay only had 1.3 and 0.9 attempts, respectively.

So far this year in the playoffs, Durant is fourth in ISO attempts. Last year’s postseason he was third. Year one in Oakland was different, though; he ranked 20th. One interesting tidbit, he is actually taking fewer shots (3.6) in ISO this year but is shooting just 36 percent on those plays. That is down from 44 percent on 5.7 shots a game last year.

Golden State led the league in assists for the fifth consecutive season, even with Durant’s ISO usage. Clearly, he is by no means a ball stopper. But he is still just as unique a circumstance on his whole team as he is in the league as a whole. A team founded offensively on making the extra pass is largely reliant on a player that plays 1-on-1 at a rate three times higher than his next closest teammate. Every year since KD has arrived, his ISO attempts have risen as Steph’s have fallen.

King of the Castle

You know who teams switch up philosophies for? Their best players. Just look at James and the Lakers. When wooing a franchise-altering type of talent, organizations acquiesce a little. Said talent (rightly) becomes the focal point within the scheme. Well, some players are so good they alter the way teams execute their scheme inherently.

Durant has impacted the Warriors in that very way. And it wasn’t through a hostile takeover. It was the gradual progression of his game meshing with the Golden State system and the ball finding the best player. They say “ball don’t lie” for a reason. But what about the man that many have said KD has been following in the path of, with conspiracy theorists even pointing to their championship poses as evidence.

Lebron is still in the NBA, despite the void his absence may have left in our playoff-lives. The King still, in year 16, averaged 27.4/8.5/8.3. That was better than his first years in Miami and returning to Cleveland. It is also better than Durant’s numbers, but is the gap wide enough to say James still reigns over the Association? We may have to wait till next year to get the definitive answer on that after the tumultuous season the Lakers had clouded the situation.

You Know Who He Is

When Durant sat in front of the media gallery and made the proclamation, “I am Kevin Durant. You know who I am” I felt that. It felt like a player finally fully comfortable in his skin. His transformation from babyface to heel is well documented, but his acclimation to not being universally beloved was not as quick or smooth. Clashes with the media (and teammates) overshadowed a player’s game superseding the system he was determined to be a part of.

There are those who will argue Durant has been the best player in the NBA since 2014, his MVP-winning season when he averaged 32/7.4/5.5 with a .503/.391/.873 slash line. Since then he has averaged 27.5/7.3/5.3 at .514/.387/.881 clips. James has averaged 26.5/7.7/7.8 while shooting .530/.353/.712 over that same span. The numbers are again comparable, Durant scores more and with better efficiency from deep and the free throw line. Bron’s do-it-all game has him ahead in rebounds and assists and shooting a higher percentage from the floor.

In the playoffs, the discussion gets even more interesting. Durant, over the past two postseasons, put up 28.8/7.8/4.5 on .514/.379/.898 shooting. James has put up an insane 33.5/9.1/8.5 while shooting .550/.376/.725. Their head-to-head Finals match way back in 2012 favored a prime James (28.6/10.2/7.4, .472/.188/.826) over a third-year pro in Durant (30.6/6/2.2, .548/.394/.839), though the latter was the more effective and efficient scorer even then.

Say That to Say This

We can get into the off/on stats (hint: the Warriors are by and large better with Durant on the floor) but we already know the answers. Golden State’s best player is Kevin Durant. Curry may be their most important, but that is an entirely different conversation in my opinion. And that is where the KD’s path may take him away from the team he sacrificed more than Thanos to join.

The rumors have swirled all year that Durant may leave while seeing and hearing the stories and dustups with media and even the man who made that history-altering phone call from the parking lot. KD can be a tough person to get a read on. But even before becoming the hyper-sensitive turned at-peace superstar, he let it be known his goal was to be the best player in the NBA, a goal that seems impossible to achieve in the Bay.

No matter what he does, Durant will never reach the heights in the eyes of the public as long as he is on the Warriors. They will always be ‘Steph’s team’. That is why it makes so much sense for Durant to move on after achieving his goal of winning championships. It is also why the stories rubbed him the wrong way and why the spat with Green occurred. This feels like both the last hurrah for the Hampton’s Five, and in many ways, the start of the Kevin Durant-era in the NBA.

 

All stats and info courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball Reference unless otherwise stated. Accurate through 04/29/2019.