Kevin Durant’s decision to join the Golden State Warriors was met with a lot of criticism. From the outside looking in, signing with a team that just set the record for wins in a single season appeared to be a move aimed solely to give Durant a chance to compete for a championship.
The Warriors roster already featured some of the league’s best players in Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green. They were by far the league’s best team last season during the regular season, and were favorites to win the championship. Of course, we know how that story ended: With the Cleveland Cavaliers coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to win in seven games.
As NBA teams are now over the halfway mark of the season, it’s again looking like the Warriors will be favorites to emerge out of the Western Conference. They currently hold the best record in the NBA at 38-6 and have won seven consecutive games. While it’s easy to see the Warriors will have a great chance of winning their second title in three years, Durant maintains that wasn’t the biggest priority for him when he opted to sign with the Warriors.
“To be honest, I was just drawn to how they play the game,” Durant said. “All that other stuff will just take care of itself. I just love the way they play the game and you can see now that we’re playing at a good pace. At both ends of the floor, we’re doing a good job helping each other, so it’s a fun way to play.”
Once Durant made his decision, many began to question how it would all come together. With the league’s Most Valuable Player in Curry on the roster, the big question was how each player’s touches would be divided up. With perhaps four of the league’s top 20 players on the roster, would those players be comfortable sacrificing their own stats for the team? So far, it appears as though those questions have been answered.
As several players met with Durant during their free-agent pitch to him last summer, those questions were discussed. Players on the roster knew what adding a former MVP in Durant would mean and they all seemingly put any personal agendas they may have had aside in order to help the team win. Green has openly said in the past that he’s willing to sacrifice his touches in order get other guys involved. Having a player like that on the team has surely helped Durant as he transitions to the team.
“All these guys are great guys, for one,” Durant said. “They’re easy to get along with. A lot of guys just know how to play the game. I knew if I just come here and not think about myself, and just play within the offense, I’ll figure out how to be aggressive and score [and] try to make plays on both ends of the court. Whether it’s getting a steal or block, just playing good defense, rebounding [or] the little stuff; my scoring will come around. We’re still a work in progress, though. We’re still getting better.”
Joining the Warriors, Durant’s stats have hardly suffered at all. He’s averaging 26 points, 8.6 rebounds, 4.8 assists, 1.7 blocks and 1.2 steals per game. He currently leads the Warriors in scoring and blocks, and his 8.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks are both career-highs. He’s the only player to be ranked in the top 10 in scoring and field-goal percentage.
“He’s brought a lot,” Green said. “Obviously, he’s brought about 26 points per game for us. [He’s also brought] incredible defense. A guy who fits right into our [system]. A guy who brings a little fire, a winner, great competitor and just an all-out great person. He’s brought a ton to this team.”
“It’s been an adjustment just because you have a very similar core in me, Klay, Draymond, Andre [Iguodala] and Shaun [Livingston],” Curry added. “You add a guy like KD, [David] West, Zaza [Pachulia] in the rotation [and] even JaVale [McGee]. When you have a talented guy like that, that can infuse into the offense really easily [with] just his IQ, his skill set and balance out the things we already do well, it’s a good combo. We’ve gotten better since day one and that’s the mission.”
Green wasn’t interested in talking about Durant joining the Warriors solely to win a championship.
“I really don’t care what people say,” Green said. “If you don’t want to win anyway, I question you. I don’t really care what people say.”
The Warriors have been one of the most exciting teams to watch. The ball is constantly moving to find the open man on the floor. They have dished out 30 or more assists 30 times this season while no other team has more than eight 30-assist games. They had a streak of 10 games with 30 or more assists, which was the second-longest such streak in NBA history.
Many expected the Warriors to get off to a slow start this season while they were tasked with integrating Durant into the offense. In the early going, it appeared as though their second unit off of the bench might struggle at times this season, but those issues have been figured out. At one point the team’s defense dropped out of the top 20 in the league, but they now are ranked first in defense. Otherwise, they’ve basically picked up where they left off last season.
The Warriors’ recent stretch of play is just a reminder to the rest of the league that they’re going to be a tough team to knock out come the postseason. They’ve reeled off seven straight wins, including an impressive 126-91 win over the Cavaliers last week. They’ve endured a bit of a weird scheduling quirk over the past few days: Their plane from Houston to Orlando was delayed due to severe weather Friday night, causing the team to stay overnight in Houston. They were unable to practice on Saturday and then appeared in their first 12 p.m. EST start in nearly 20 years yesterday against the Magic.
While Durant will continue to answer questions regarding his decision to join the Warriors, the reality is this team will almost certainly be playing in their third straight Finals barring something catastrophic. Whether he wants to admit it publicly or not, that was likely a huge factor in his decision to join the team. Anything short of a title will likely be viewed as a disappointment.
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