A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

On Kevin Durant to Golden State

leave a comment »

kevin-durant-may-leave-nike-for-under-amour-30-mill-a-year-offer

The best regular season team in the league just added an MVP caliber player. Kevin Durant to Golden State could be one of the most seismic signings in NBA history.

Looking at it from the angle of each party:

Golden State

The Warriors loss to Cleveland and struggle with Oklahoma City showed “don’t fix what’s not broken” wasn’t a viable argument here. From an analytics perspective Durant to Golden State is terrifying. Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes combined for 10.3 WS last year, Durant and Zaza Pachulia combine for 20.5. Bogut and Barnes combine for 3.3 VORP last year to Durant and Pachulia’s 8.1. Multiplying VORP by 2.7 is meant to reflects wins above replacement, which gives 8.9 wins for Barnes and Bogut to 21.87 for Durant and Pachulia. These stats suggest the Warriors added upwards of 10 wins. While they went 73-9, they did finish with a Pythagorean wins of 65-17 which makes it less impossible that they could add the amount of wins WS or VORP reflect.

There’s the question of diminishing returns. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson took 37 shots per game last year and scored over 52 points per game. With Durant on their team the need to take less shots could affect their value and vice versa.

However in addition to the value of taking more open, efficient shots, a trend of stars playing together has been helping them save their energy for defense. Durant could be the biggest beneficiary of this, always having freakish length but tasked to heavily exert himself on offense. The Western Conference Finals was the best defensive stretch of his career. Part of Jerry West’s pitch was he could show other parts of his game in Golden State. Durant could use his length, mobility and intelligence to become a force on the defensive end now that he doesn’t have to score as often. Klay Thompson could find himself only a 17 or 18 points per game player based on the recent history of Chris Bosh and Kevin Love when pushed to 3rd option status. He could however recommit himself to becoming one of the best defensive SGs in the game and a perfect 3 and D SG. Stephen Curry is also a great defensive PG and could have the best all around seasons of his career from that, rebounding and passing. Draymond Green was already an elite defender but could continue to focus on his excellence there and passing.

Offensively Durant can’t be a better fit. He’s the best version of Harrison Barnes ever, far better at hitting open shots and likely having the ability to shift to the 4 in what is now the real Death Lineup. The Warriors off ball actions will be a perfect fit with his shooting game. The Warriors finished 25th in FT/FGA last year which proved a big weakness in the Finals when they needed easy points to stem Cleveland. Durant had 6.9 FTA a game last year and has had multiple seasons over 9 a game in the past.

The loss of Andrew Bogut is felt as a team who already regressed on defense last year and in some advanced stats like BPM Bogut still rates as one of the best per minute Warriors. But picking up Zaza for cheap at least gives them a dependable option at C.

It’s hard to deny it – the Warriors are looking at one of the best teams of all time.

Oklahoma City

The Thunder lost the rock of their franchise. For Russell Westbrook’s electricity and emotion, Durant was the stabilizing, dependable force.

They lost Durant because by 2016, the Warriors had more powerful teammates for him to play with. Where did it go wrong? It’s hard not to look at 2012. The team had Durant, Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Reggie Jackson all in their early 20s – and they had just made the Finals vanquishing the old kings in the Spurs in the process. The conference’s crown was being fashioned for them. The Harden trade is the move. The owners decided not to pay the luxury tax bill and given the task of staying under the tax. Even if given the task of staying under the tax, surely there had to be better options than trading Harden. Trading Ibaka instead and hoping 3 star talents figure it out was one route that could have turned out better. Say they traded Ibaka for a draft pick in 2012 and took a young big like Thomas Robinson, Andre Drummond, Meyers Leonard, John Henson. Disregarding how these players turned out such as if they took Robinson and he busted, at the time making the bet they could find another Ibaka level frontcourt anchor on a rookie contract could have been a worthwhile gamble, especially for one of the best drafting teams in the league. Or even if keeping both Harden and Ibaka, attach whatever picks it takes to dump Kendrick Perkins to give some financial breathing room. It’s hard not to think the Thunder just misjudged how good Harden was. Trading Westbrook was considered unthinkable at the time as the team’s 2nd star. But Harden already rated 2nd on the team by some measures like WS/48 and BPM. He was already a star. Furthermore as he was a year away from his deal kicking in, if the Thunder had suspicion he may be a superstar, they could have played him half a season more and then dealt him at the trade deadline. Either way, after the Harden trade the Thunder just became a little less special. They went from a 3 star team to a 2 star one. They no longer towered over the rest of the league in talent. They were caught by the peloton. That’s not to say they couldn’t have won the title, as they had bad luck with injury in multiple seasons. By 2016 with Westbrook and Durant in their absolute primes age wise, they only finished with the 5th best record in the league. They came close but were beat by the Warriors. Perhaps one of their best chances at a title in 2014 when some claim their WCF lost to the Spurs was tainted by Serge Ibaka’s injury. But after tying it 2-2 the Thunder got blown out in Game 5 and then had the Spurs beat them in Oklahoma City, despite not even being healthy themselves with Tony Parker’s injury. It’s fair to suggest in Games 5 and 6 the Spurs proved as much as you could expect, they were better than a Thunder team with Ibaka.

The painful part for the Thunder is Victor Oladipo, Steven Adams, Andre Roberson are young and if trusting advanced stats could be on the way to being fantastic players. With Westbrook and Durant the team was there to be great. Not to mention if Durant had committed now it would appear the Thunder had confidence they could get Al Horford, the ideal 3rd option for the team. A Thunder with Horford could have been as terrifying as the Warriors going forward. Without Durant, a team with an MVP caliber star Westbrook and those other quality pieces on the Thunder could be be top 5 in the West next year and only go up from there. The Thunder have proven time and time again how good they are at drafting and within a few years Sam Presti could find more gems.

But after Westbrook shot down attempts to renegotiate and extend, their hand may be forced to trade him or lose him for nothing. Getting a star of Westbrook’s caliber is so hard that even the chance of him resigning after next year could be worth it. But considering the Thunder’s history of getting value for players when they have the chance and replenishing the asset base, it would fit their profile if they turned around and moved Westbrook now for assets. The ideal partner may be the Celtics who have been collecting the assets for years for the next star to hit the market. A package like Isaiah Thomas and Jaylen Brown for example would replace Westbrook and Durant’s positions with an all-star PG and a young freakishly athletic SF.

Kevin Durant

The polarizing figure in this is Durant with some considering him to be spineless by taking the easy road to a title instead of trying to win his own in Oklahoma City. In 2010, Lebron left a Cavaliers team who’s best players around him had been guys like Anderson Varejao and Mo Williams. The Heat represented high end talent he’d never had. Durant both joins a team more stacked than the Heat would have been without Lebron and he leaves a far better alternative for talent in the Thunder. Not only is the Thunder’s core with a superstar in Westbrook and others like Adams and Oladipo a great team, but the potential to add Horford could have been made them a juggernaut. Staying with the Thunder and attempting to slay the beast in the Warriors would have been a just fine decision. With that said one of the problems with this plan is where Westbrook’s at. This is speculation, but say Westbrook had one foot out the door of Oklahoma City this whole time. This would have made it difficult for Durant to make the long term instead of 1+1 commitment needed to sell Horford on signing.

In Golden State he gets to potentially be a part of history. The max upside of the Warriors is now one of the great dynasties of all time with the Russell Celtics and Jordan Bulls. More-so playing with the Warriors could have just seemed like more fun. They play beautiful passing and up tempo basketball. They’ll make the game easy for him. They’ll be unselfish. The Warriors seem like a fantastic group of guys in the locker room. After reports of Serge Ibaka’s unhappiness last year it’s possible playing for the Thunder wasn’t so fun on a human level recently. Durant also joins two of the other most devout players in the league in Curry and Andre Iguodala.

In the end you can’t blame someone too much for wanting to win multiple championships and be a part of something special. I have more respect Durant for leaving to win more than I do stars who leave just to play in a big market.

The rest of the league

Barring health, winning the title over the Warriors is now a prayer. The Cavaliers still have Lebron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love and the potential to outspend everyone. The Spurs had a top 10 regular season of all time last year.

With that said, even if they ended up losing to the Bulls, fans of teams like the 90s Jazz, Supersonics, Suns, Knicks still won something in their hearts, or likewise for a team like the Kings or Suns in the 2000s who didn’t pull it off. They were memorable, great years for those franchises. The NBA has increasingly become about “ring culture” as seen by stars changing teams at the top and teams tanking at the lottery, but it’s never been just championship or bust. Even if the Warriors roll, there’s plenty to fight and build for in fans of other franchises. Not to mention no reign lasts forever. Curry is 28, Durant is 27, Thompson and Green are 26. When the Heat got to together Lebron was 25, Wade was 28 and Bosh was 26. After four seasons they looked spent. If the door shuts on the rest of the league, it may only be for a few years before opening again.

Advertisements

Written by jr.

July 5, 2016 at 1:16 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: