Kevin Durant’s Decision Broke Basketball. Here’s How.

“With this in mind, I have decided that I am going to join the Golden State Warriors.”

Nothing in sports is ever guaranteed. If you don’t believe me, look at the failures of the 2013 Lakers or any messed up superstar-trio experiment. Injuries could easily derail this upcoming Warriors team. But barring that, here’s a few reasons why the Warriors should be feared.

1. The massive jump in production/efficiency

The Warriors were already an all-time great scoring offense throughout the year. You don’t have to be a basketball genius to realize that their three-point shooting success was practically unparalleled in NBA history. That was with Harrison Barnes playing heavy minutes. Now imagine that team with Kevin Durant replacing Barnes.

Most of the Cavaliers’ defensive strategy in the NBA Finals was simple: play physical in the paint, limit the production of Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson from the arc and force role players like Barnes and Draymond Green to step up and hit open shots. In the NBA Finals, this worked to tremendous success, as Barnes practically cost his team so many scoring opportunities by bricking open three pointers, missing layups and taking ill-advised shots.

Replace Barnes with Durant in that series and there’s very little chance of the Cavaliers’ defensive strategy working. Unlike Barnes, who is primarily a shooter from beyond the arc, Durant is better at creating his own shot from there, playing off the ball and also a much better passer. That’s not even going into how monstrously effective Durant is at finishing near the basket and drawing fouls.

Last year, the Warriors’ “Death” lineup of Curry/Thompson/Andre Iguodala/Barnes/Green outscored their opponents 145 to 98 per 100 possessions. With Durant, that disparity is almost guaranteed to increase, making it maybe the best five-man lineup in NBA history.

2. The Warriors will have even better defensive rebounding

I just brought up the offensive benefits of replacing Barnes with Durant. What might be even more crazy than Durant’s superior scoring is how much better he is as a rebounder.

In both the series against the Thunder and Cavaliers, the Warriors were beaten on the boards, both with their small-ball lineups and against opposing big men. For segments of the playoffs, Golden State played rotations with Barnes and Green as the primary big men on the court. While this created offensive mismatches, it also opened up the Warriors to be physically beaten up on the inside, as they were by Cleveland and Oklahoma City’s big men.

Durant isn’t exactly the largest guy, but as a defensive rebounder, he’s about as effective as you can get for a small-ball stretch four. For comparison, Barnes’ defensive rebounding percentage through last season was 12.4 percent, while Durant’s was at 21.8 percent.

In basketball, lineups is often a game of trading one advantage or matchup for another. Small ball lineups are traditionally supposed to give more spacing and shooting on offense, but they’re also supposed to be at a disadvantage in the paint. With Durant, the Warriors get a rarity: a guy that can both provide additional size in the paint and shooting on the outside.

3. The Warriors have their second shot creator.

Although Golden State has a legendary offense, they’re actually enormously dependent on how Curry plays. Per 82games.com, the Warriors score 120 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court, while that number goes down to 106.5 when he’s off the court. If you don’t get the difference, it basically marks a change from between being the best offense ever to being average.

With Durant, the team can safely play lineups without Curry on the court and still succeed. Real Plus Minus grades Durant’s offensive RPM at 5.51, which ranks fifth in the NBA. Given the offensive success of the Thunder last season, Durant has proved that he can be the primary option on an offense and succeed if another player like Westbrook (or in this case, Curry) is torching their opponent.

The Warriors as a whole has great passing, but any offense needs not just good playmakers, but strong individual shot creators. As I’ve written earlier, Cleveland stands as an example of a team with multiple scorers that has an incredible offense. Golden State was already the best offense in the NBA with Curry on the court- with Durant, it looks to become even better.

How good will Golden State be?

It’s hard to imagine a 73-9 team needing to improve, but if the Warriors are healthy, there’s no reason to believe they won’t. Don’t confuse Durant joining Green and Curry with other “super-teams” like the 2011-2014 Heat. The level of talent gained on an already talented team is unprecedented in NBA history.

Golden State’s top eight players in terms of minutes played through the regular season were Green, Curry, Thompson, Barnes, Iguodala, Shaun Livingston, Leandro Barbosa and Andrew Bogut. They have five of those guys returning and one of the three leaving is being replaced with Kevin Durant. This is like if the Michael Jordan-led Bulls replaced Luc Longley with David Robinson.

I already touched on this earlier, but that’s how important it is: the gap between Durant and Barnes is incredible. Per number of wins provided to an NBA team over the course of a regular season, Durant grades at exactly 16 wins, while Barnes ranks only at 2.47. That’s not to say a 73-9 team is going to go undefeated, but it goes to show an increase in talent.

ESPN’s Kevin Pelton projected that the Warriors with Durant would win 66 games per RPM, but he also added that these predictions were often conservative given the nature of the statistic, mentioning how last year’s Golden State squad were lined up at 60 wins. Moreover, like Pelton said, total RPM doesn’t take into account how much worse the Thunder and opposing Western Conference rivals become.

Will this be an 82-0 team? Definitely not, but don’t be surprised if this team wins more than 66 games. The Cavaliers may be the defending champs, but come October, we’ll all know who has the biggest target on their back.

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