If winning NBA championships was easy, then everyone would do it. But as we all know, some of the best players of all time went their entire careers without ever experiencing the sweet joy of the champagne shower. This past summer, to the disappointment of many, Kevin Durant made a decision in the hopes that his name wouldn’t join this list one day.
By signing with the star-studded Golden State Warriors, KD essentially announced to the world that, in his mind, it was “championship or bust.” This was his choice and no amount of hate — or haters — would make him feel bad about doing what he believed was necessary to get that ring. Yet, as we’ve seen before, even great teams have a tendency to come up short.
Although many folks believe the addition of KD makes the Dubs the team to beat, we’re not quite ready to gift them this year’s championship. In fact, it wouldn’t surprise us if Durant actually never won a title. Here’s why.
1. “Oh, you fancy huh?”
The Warriors’ offense has a chance to be historically great. Through the first 36 games of the 2016–17 season, this group boasts the top offensive rating (116.3) in the NBA and averages a league-leading 117.5 points per game. More importantly, the Dubs, with their willingness to share the rock, have exemplified selfless play, averaging an NBA-best 31.2 assists per game. These exceptional qualities should have the rest of the league running for the hills. However, there’s something to be said for getting “too fancy.”
As Durant notes above, Golden State has a tendency to “over-pass,” giving up quality shots in an attempt to find the perfect look. When this is working, it’s a beautiful sight to behold. When it’s not, it’s simply another example of a team trying to get “too cute.” Come playoff time, this is the last thing the Warriors want to get caught doing. We’re just not sure they can help themselves.
2. No depth on the roster
KD didn’t join the Warriors this offseason because of the team’s exceptional bench. He took his talents to the Bay Area in order to team up with Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green. With the power of these four combined, Golden State amassed one of the most lethal starting lineups the NBA has ever seen. Unfortunately, it didn’t come without a price.
On last season’s 73-9 team, 11 Warriors averaged at least 11.6 minutes per game. This year, that number dipped to nine. This might not seem like a big deal at the moment; after all, the Dubs hold the best record in the NBA at 31-5. But trust us, quality support from the bench is vital to a team’s success in the postseason. The loss of reserves like Brandon Rush, Leandro Barbosa, Marreese Speights, and Festus Ezeli will be felt.
3. Dubs lack size
Although the Warriors averaged 36.2 defensive rebounds per game (first in the NBA) and 46.2 total rebounds per game (fourth in the NBA) last season, the overall lack of height, size, and length nearly cost this group dearly in the postseason. This was never more evident than when the Dubs fell behind 3-1 to the Thunder in the Western Conference Finals. Given this season’s roster, it’s hard not to imagine the same thing happening.
Durant and the Warriors can shoot the lights out (we all know this), but the team only has four players who are at least 6-foot-10. This limits the Dub to just 36 defensive rebounds per game (fourth in the NBA) and 45.1 total rebounds per game (13th in the NBA). Should Golden State find itself in a position where shots aren’t falling, this lack of size and muscle could lead to the team’s undoing.
4. Will his body hold up?
It’s been two years since KD suffered the foot injury that limited him to just 27 games during the 2014–15 season. While he came back with an absolute vengeance last season — finding a way to be even more efficient as a Warrior — you never know the long-term effects of this sort of injury. That is always worrisome; a Jones fracture is no joke. It’s thwarted the careers of many a superstar.
Of course, the basketball gods can be cruel. Early in a recent game against the Wizards, Durant hyperextended his left knee and was forced to sit out the rest of the game (Golden State lost 112-108). Doctors diagnosed the injury as an MCL sprain and bone bruise, so Durant may be able to return by the end of the regular season. Whether he does or does not may heavily dictate both his future and the rest of the Warriors’ season.
5. It’s exhausting playing the villain?
Many fans and haters alike did not react positively when Durant signed with the Warriors. Folks talked about everything from his “disloyalty” to the Thunder to the obvious notion of “ring chasing.” Durant tried to take it all in stride, attempting to make it seem as if he didn’t care what others thought. But, let’s be honest, we all know the truth.
Durant has been a fan favorite ever since he first entered the league. Part of that probably had to do with his ability to take a lowly OKC team and turn it into a contender. Joining a “Super Team” like the Dubs changes the conversation — and not necessarily for the better. KD’s never been the villain before; he’s never had to deal with negative backlash. But after a while, it definitely takes its toll. Just ask LeBron.
6. Youth movement out West
Right now, the conversation about the “best in the West” tends to revolve around the Dubs and Spurs. Sure, the Rockets have made a resurgence this year, but we can’t put them among the elite until the group shows it can be consistent over the course of a few seasons. However, make no mistake, the Western Conference is chock-full of talented young players, and they are hungry.
The Pelicans may have hindered the growth of Anthony Davis, but at some point, a team like the Minnesota Timberwolves — with the core Andrew Wiggins, Karl-Anthony Towns, Zach LaVine, and Kris Dunn — will break through. Golden State’s championship window may not open as long as Durant would like. If he can’t win a title now, when can he?
7. Cavs have the Warriors’ number
Until further notice, the Eastern Conference belongs to LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. As much as they don’t want to admit it, this is not a good thing for the Golden State Warriors — and by extension, Mr. Durant.
Dating back to last year’s Finals, the Cavs have beaten the Warriors four consecutive times. This sort of mental edge can seriously mess with a team’s psyche. If KD joined the Warriors to win titles — we all know this is the case — and Cleveland has Golden State’s number, the crown could easily remain with the King.
8. Too reliant on the three
The Warriors are among the best three-point shooting teams in the league. They put up 31 triples per night (fourth in the NBA) and knock down an average of 11.8 per game (third in the NBA). When they’re firing on all cylinders, the Dubs are almost impossible to contain. As we all know, however, this can’t happen all the time.
Being a jump-shooting team is risky. There’s no telling when you’re going to get cold, and good defensive squads know how to force you into taking bad shots. We’ve seen this happen to the Warriors before. Adding an extra shooter like KD to the mix, no matter how uber-talented he is, could cause stress down the line. Speaking of which…
9. Too many cooks in the kitchen
The Warriors are currently doing a nice job of spreading the wealth among their three best shooters. Thompson leads the team in field goals per game with 17.3, followed by Durant with 17 and Curry with 16.9. Head coach Steve Kerr has to love this, as the Dubs don’t appear to be too reliant on one particular player. However, can the squad really remain this harmonious forever?
Golden State has four All-Stars in the starting lineup and just one basketball to go around. This seems like a good problem to have. Until, of course, it’s not. Come crunch time, who will have the ball in their hands? Will it be Steph? Will it be the Durantula? Will it be a combination of the two? And what’s going to be Klay’s role? Sometimes, there’s such a thing as having too many options.
10. Talk about pressure
The Golden State Warriors are expected to win the NBA championship. At least, that was the consensus the moment Durant signed on the dotted line. Which means that anything short of a title is considered a massive failure. That sort of pressure can be hard to handle.
The Dubs have a monumental bullseye on their back. Each and every night, teams will come at them harder than ever before; all with the intention of toppling the league’s latest “Super Team.” The Warriors will either rise to the occasion or buckle under the weight of the world. No pressure.
Statistics courtesy of Basketball-Reference.