Kevin Durant hasn’t yet been playing with Stephen Curry for two full seasons, but he already finds it strange having to tackle the competition without him.
This much was made clear by the lanky MVP after the Golden State Warriors fell to the Minnesota Timberwolves, who were playing without Jimmy Butler. Curry is on the shelf for at least the next couple games dealing with an ankle injury, and Durant left little time lamenting his absence, per ESPN.com’s Nick Friedell:
“It’s weird not having Steph out there,” Durant said after a 109-103 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday. “And Andre [Iguodala] and D-West, Jordan [Bell], so we’re missing a lot, and we’re just kind of playing on the fly each possession.”
Okay, sure, Durant wasn’t just talking about Steph. Andre Iguodala has perked up of late at both ends, so losing him to a wrist injury is a big deal. Rookie Jordan Bell has been a revelation when he gets to play the 5, and David West provides some serious small-sample booms.
But Curry’s absence is at the heart of his weirdness, if only because it’s the most important one. Any time Durant spends without Curry is often a reminder that the two-time MVP remains Golden State’s most indispensable player
Yes, Durant is the better individual talent. He’s more versatile at the defensive end, as both a rim protector and strong iso stopper, and he is more equipped at 6’9″ going on 7’1″, to get off shots over defenders in the half-court. But Curry remains the basis for everything the Warriors do. Merely having him on the floor, as a theoretical threat, manipulates the way opponents must play, opening up opportunities for everyone else.
This bears out when looking at the Warriors’ on-off splits. Their point differential per 100 possessions declines by a greater margin without Steph than it does for anyone else, according to NBA.com. They also play better when he’s the only star on the court than when Durant goes it alone, again per NBA.com.
That isn’t meant to detract from Durant’s value. Ditto for Draymond Green and Klay Thompson. But it is meant to remind us that the Warriors’ identity, and the foundation for their dynastic run, hinges on the health of their point guard more than it does anyone else.