Warriors Prepare for Life Without Durant

The entire outlook of the rest of the NBA season changed when Kevin Durant went down with an injury Tuesday night. Durant injured his knee in a collision with Zaza less than two minutes into the game in his hometown of Washington DC against the Wizards, and after hobbling through a few possessions he asked to come out of the game and didn’t return. Durant had an MRI on the knee that revealed a grade 2 MCL sprain and a tibial bruise. What does that mean for those of us who are not doctors? It means he has a chance to return this season but the injury is significant. The Warriors have said Durant is out “indefinitely” and will be reevaluated in four weeks. With the playoffs about 6 weeks away, the Warriors haven’t ruled out Durant returning before the end of the regular season, but realistically that will be a long shot.

In the wake of the injury, the Warriors have gone out and signed free agent forward Matt Barnes. Barnes is a former Warrior who will bring a veteran presence and a tough defensive mentality, but make no mistake about it, he is not Kevin Durant. They are also bringing in free agent guard Jose Calderon to fill the need of another reserve point guard and playmaker.

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In losing Durant, the Warriors are losing their top scorer, rebounder, and shot blocker. For a guy who has a reputation for his offense, it has been his defense that has had the biggest impact on the Warriors. When the Warriors have the big four of Curry, Thompson, Durant, and Green on the floor, they have a mind boggling offensive efficiency of 120.8 and defensive efficiency of 98.2. The plus 22.6 efficiency tells you exactly why the Warriors are blowing out their opponents every night. The interesting thing is when you put Durant on the bench and the other three are still on the floor, the offensive efficiency actually increases to 122.0. The big difference is that the defensive efficiency drops to 109.4. Granted, the plus 12.6 efficiency without Durant is still championship caliber, but Durant’s plus 10.0 difference can’t be overstated.

With Durant out, the Warriors will likely plug newly acquired Barnes, or rookie Patrick McCaw into the starting lineup in his place in order to leave Andre Iguodala in his usual 6th man role. That said, expect Iguodala to see an increase in minutes to try to help lighten the blow of losing Durant. The pressure will be on the Warriors to finish strong in order to hang on to the top seed and home court advantage going into the playoffs. They currently have a 4-game lead on the Spurs, but they only lead by 3 games in the loss column with 10 losses to San Antonio’s 13. If San Antonio finishes the season very strong, and Golden State slips at all in the wake of the injury, San Antonio could steal home court advantage.

If Durant can’t make it back for the playoffs, just how far can the Warriors go as currently constructed? They should still be able to win in the first round with ease with a huge talent advantage over any team that will end up in the 8 seed. The second round is when things start getting dicey. They would likely face the Jazz or Clippers in the 2nd round who are both very good teams. With still having Curry, Thompson, Green, and Iggy, they should be able to take care of either team, but don’t be surprised if it takes at least 6 games and is more of a struggle.

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Assuming they can get through the 2nd round, the West Finals could be the end of the road. They’d likely run into the Spurs in the West finals, and although the Warriors core is still as good as any, they may lack the depth needed to beat as complete of a team as the Spurs. The Warriors core minus Durant has won a championship in the past, but with a much deeper team. They sacrificed that depth to get Durant, so losing Durant is then an even more significant blow. Even without Durant, this would be a true heavyweight contest that would likely go 6 or 7 games, but the edge would probably have to go to the Spurs. Whoever comes out on top likely has LeBron waiting for them in the finals with a freshly restocked roster.

Can the Warriors still compete for a championship without Durant? Sure. Any team with Curry, Thompson, Green, and Iggy needs to be taken seriously in any playoff matchup. The difference is, with Durant the Warriors were beating teams by historic margins, and the rest of the league could only hope to compete. Without Durant, the Warriors will have their hands full just to get to the finals, and will certainly have difficulty finishing it off. Their chances will drop from heavy championship favorite to championship hopefuls. 

What do you think? Will Durant even make it back this year? How far can the Warriors go without him? Comment and let us know! Stay tuned for more current sports stories. Don't forget to follow us on social media. You can find us on Facebook, Instagram @beyondthemetrics, and Twitter @byondthemetrics