Kevin Durant Has Been Everything the Golden State Warriors Hoped For

Michael Pina@@MichaelVPinaFeatured ColumnistNovember 19, 2016

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors goes after a loose ball against Marcus Smart #36 of the Boston Celtics during a game on November 18, 2016 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Brian Babineau/NBAE via Getty Images)
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

BOSTON — Friday afternoon, hours before the Golden State Warriors squashed the Boston Celtics 104-88, Kevin Durant folded his impossibly long frame into one of TD Garden's baseline chairs to answer questions from the small army of media that immediately enveloped him with cameras, cellphones and digital recorders.     

After a few questions about the Boston Celticshow their fanbase would react to his first appearance against the team he spurned over the summera reporter began his question by telling Durant he’s on pace to shatter his career high for dunks in a season. 

"I am?" the seven-time All-Star replied with genuine surprise. "Oh wow."

The trend is simple but reveals much about how the 28-year-old’s on-court life has been too easy over the past few weeks.

"I’ve always been a guy that tries to finish over the rim," he said. "When you get the ball out in transition, I think, just running out, grabbing rebounds and, you know, we have so many shooters, it’s allowed me space to kind of operate."

The demolition continued in Boston, as Durant surgically dropped 23 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He attacked in transition, routinely shot over the top of smaller defenders (Jae Crowder missed his eighth straight game with a sprained ankle), cleaned up the glass and finished with a season-high seven assists. The Warriors outscored the Celtics by 32 points with Durant on the floor.   

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 18:  Stephen Curry #30 and Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors celebrate during a game against the Boston Celtics on November 18, 2016 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

A four-time scoring champion who's widely appreciated for how effortless he makes getting NBA points look, Durant has seen his first dozen games in a Warriors jersey come and go without any real hiccups. Compared to his last season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, Durant is an even sharper scorer, in part because he doesn't need to create as much for others.

"I’ve got to be more aggressive," he said. "I think I can get to the free-throw line a little bit more and maybe finish a little better than I am now." 

That's a horrifying quote for the rest of the league. 

Durant entered Friday night with the highest true shooting percentage of his career (an astounding 66.4—good for the league’s fourth-best). According to Basketball-Reference.com, he’s never attempted more shots within three feet of the rim and, more notably, never been more accurate.

That's what happens when the two best scorers of a generation are on the same team, and another all-time three-point threat lingers beyond the arc as a deadly spot-up weapon. Opponents can only focus on so many players at once. 

"We go over our offensive stuff a lot," Warriors head coach Steve Kerr said. "But to be honest, I could roll the ball out, and we’re gonna score a lot of points." 

But not all is perfect.

The other side of the ball has been a bit less smooth, though that was expected to start the season considering the Dubs lost two plus defenders in Andrew Bogut and Harrison Barnes.

Golden State surrenders 112.5 points per 100 possessions when Durant sits. That number lowers to 101.8 points per 100 possessions when he plays, but the former MVP has struggled at times to adapt on that end while playing heavy minutes as a small-ball 4.

"I think his defense has been up and down," Kerr said. "When he really asserts himself he can be dominant because of his length and his speed. But he hasn’t played a ton of power forward in his career. At OKC, they generally stayed big most of the time, and he played the 3; so he’s playing a lot more 4 for us, which brings a lot more responsibility. So he’s still getting used to that, but he can get better." 

Any team with championship aspirations can't have one of the 10 worst defenses in the league. But it's not even Thanksgiving, and the Warriors already have the league's top attack with 113.2 points per 100 possessions (even more impressive when you consider how often they have to face a set, organized defense).

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors handles the ball during a game against the Boston Celtics on November 18, 2016 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by do
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

Durant has been even more dominant with the ball when embedded inside those reserve-heavy, five-man units. But some groups are still going through growing pains as the Warriors no longer employ competent role players such as Leandro Barbosa, Festus Ezeli and Marreese Speights and instead focus on a megastar. 

"That’s probably one of our challenges early on," Kerr said. "This year’s group is much different, and the dynamics are different because we have KD—which is great, obviously, he’s a phenomenal talent. But it makes for different sets, different concepts offensively, and so we’re still finding our way."

The onus for adjustment mostly falls upon Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston, Golden State’s leftover linchpins. Both have been staples for one of the league’s most reliable bench units over the last couple of years, and their ability to orbit Durant is key for this team to reach its ceiling.  

Now almost 33 years old, Iguodala’s minutes per game (24.5), PER (10.7), free-throw rate (18.4) and usage percentage (9.9) are all at career lows. Some of that’s due to age-related decline, but some is from a franchise-altering personnel change.

Nonetheless, regardless of who joins him on the floor, Iguodala still approaches his role the same way. 

"He [Durant] draws a lot of attention. I mean, top two, three best player in the world, right?," Iguodala told Bleacher Report. "So you’ve got to be ready for open looks. We’re just figuring out where he likes the ball, which block, we’ve kinda figured that out. And then knowing how to space for him. If he gets double-teamed, where his open guys are and you want to finish when they give you an open look."

Currently stuck in a particularly troublesome slump—only 16.7 percent of his corner threes have gone in—Iguodala should eventually capitalize on the opportunities Durant constantly creates. (He scored eight points on seven shots against Boston.) The Warriors need him to knock down these shots, especially when they go small in the postseason. 

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 18:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Golden State Warriors dunks the ball during a game against the Boston Celtics on November 18, 2016 at TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by down
Brian Babineau/Getty Images

The play of Golden State's supporting cast is key, but how their new All-Star performs is far more integral. 

Durant isn't running as many pick-and-rolls as last year, and his average seconds per touch is over half a second shorter. That may change as the campaign goes on, and the Warriors will leverage Durant's unstoppable one-on-one prowess in certain matchups. 

The game has never looked easier, and once he becomes comfortable guarding pick-and-rolls as a small-ball 4 on a consistent basis, it'll be hard to identify any noticeable flaws in his contribution. 

When asked how Durant makes the Warriors different, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens boiled things down to a sobering bottom line. 

"He’s a top whatever player in the league, one of the best scorers and has been for his entire career," he said. "And you add that to a 73-win team."    

   

All quotes in this article were obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. Statistics courtesy of NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com and are accurate as of Nov. 18.   

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