One week ago, the Golden State Warriors were 11-2, Steph Curry was the MVP favorite, and everyone was laughing at the Rockets. Five games later, the Warriors are 12-6, deep-seated personality differences have surfaced, and Curry is out until after Thanksgiving. All is not well, and after an 0-3 stretch through Texas last weekend, one thing has become abundantly clear: Steph Curry is the most important player on the Warriors.
Steve Kerr has said in the past that Kevin Durant, not Curry, is the second-best player in the NBA behind LeBron James. Setting aside any possible political motivations Kerr could have for stroking Durant’s spiderweb-fragile ego, Durant is obviously good as hell. His body is shaped such that he never really has to take a contested shot, and the zeal with which he’s thrown himself into becoming a tremendous defender has been admirable. But he’s still not the Warriors’ most important player. The statistical case is a simple one:
In the two-plus seasons since Durant linked up with the Warriors, the team is 21-20 when Durant has played and Curry has not. When Durant sits and Curry doesn’t, the team is 25-9. This season, Golden State is +118 in Curry’s 399 minutes, and -8 in the 470 minutes he’s sat out. In the six games he’s missed, the Warriors make five fewer threes per game and dish out six fewer assists per game. Klay Thompson is 15-for-55 from three without Curry, and Durant is 3-for-21 from the same distance over the same period.
The numbers bear out what the eye test plainly shows: the Warriors just don’t pass as much or as effectively without Curry, thus taking worse shots and making them less often. Durant is a supremely gifted scorer, but he too often reverts to late-OKC-era isolation ball when he’s given the reins to the offense. It’s not that Durant is unfit to lead the Warriors or that he’s any less talented than Curry; rather, Curry’s penetration, court vision, and gravity open up the court for his teammates more effectively than any other player in basketball. Not only can he pop it from the half-court logo when he wants, he breaks the fabric of the game with his drives and tees up all manner of open shots for his teammates.
The Warriors’ sudden turn to a clumpy, ineffective offense over their last three games can also be chalked up in part to Draymond Green’s absence with a toe injury, since Green is also a skilled playmaker. Durant told reporters after the Spurs loss that the Warriors just aren’t going to be able to play their trademark style with the players they have right now:
“I mean … we’re just trying to get good looks,” Durant explained. “I know Warriors basketball is 5, 6, 7 passes in a possession, but we’re not going to get that at this point. We throw it five or six times and it’s going to end up in a guy’s hands who is trying to give it back to somebody else.
Steve Kerr also talked about the team’s current predicament as a return back to reality after years of Steph-driven absurdity:
“I’ve had a dream run for four and a half years. We’ve had such a charmed existence the last four seasons. This is the toughest stretch we’ve been in.
“This is the real NBA. We haven’t been in the real NBA the last few years. We’ve been in this dream. And so now we’re faced real adversity and we got to get out of it ourselves.”
Wow, perhaps only one man can save the Warriors’ season.