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2016-17 Warriors Season Review: The case for Kevin Durant as the best player on the NBA’s best team

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Kevin Durant took his talents to Oakland, blocked out the noise, won a ring, and ignited his legend.

NBA: Finals-Cleveland Cavaliers at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

I have a friend in Austin, Texas who loved watching a spindly Kevin Durant dominate on the Longhorns and then for the Oklahoma City Thunder. His profound admiration for Kevin Durant, enthusiasm for pets, and out-of-college millennial instinct inspired him to buy a dog. He named her K.D. A few months later, Kevin Durant signed with the Warriors. I thought of the pup, and solicited my friend’s opinion regarding Durant’s decision. “Win or lose, K.D. is still a bitch,” he said.

While he was referencing his newly acquired mutt, his strong language represented the general sentiment among non-Warriors fans after the Durant acquisition. “He sold out for a ring,” the people said. Durant and his new teammates, remained unfazed.

After the signing, Draymond Green welcomed Durant to the Warriors:

The target was on Durant’s back. The Dubs transformed overnight from a couple of baby-faced assassins (and Draymond) to public enemy number one. Harrison Barnes, our favorite Ultra Light Beam, moved on to a newfound fortune in Dallas. The Warriors replaced him with Durant, one of the most talented players in NBA history. For Dubs fans, there was reason to reflect, but better reason to rejoice.

Stephen Curry is the face the of the franchise. Draymond Green is the manic heartbeat of the team. Klay is a video-game combo of the team’s defining attributes.

Kevin Durant is simply the best player on the NBA’s best team.

The Regular Season

KD’s 2016-2017 Regular Season Statistics

G MP PPG FG% 3PT% FT% REB AST BLK TO PER VORP
G MP PPG FG% 3PT% FT% REB AST BLK TO PER VORP
62 33.4 25.1 0.537 0.375 0.875 8.3 4.8 1.6 2.2 27.6 5.2

Durant is an offensive unicorn. He scores at will. His height and shooting ability allow him to literally shoot over opponents. He’s quick enough to draw fouls, and strong enough to score easy baskets in the paint and at the rim, and find post-up opportunities.

Despite adapting to a complicated new game plan, Durant reduced his turnover rate this past season— from a career average 3.2 turnovers per game down to 2.2 in 2016-2017.

Durant led the team in scoring, and he spaced out the floor, helping the team take advantage of open shots. He became more efficient, setting a career high .537 field goal percentage, five percent more accurate than his career average. That said, the sum of Durant’s inaugural Warriors season was greater than his incredible individual offensive performances.

On a team of lanky, committed defenders, Durant’s help defense and speed made it difficult for opposing teams to score the ball inside.

As he closes in, his length challenges smaller opposing guards and forwards to launch quality shots.

Durant’s physique and athleticism mixed with Thompson and Green’s guarding tenacity create a nightmare for opposing teams. He guarded LeBron James for much of the 2017 NBA Finals, but also shifted inward as a rim protector to guard the 4 or 5. The Warriors’ array of offensive options maximized Durant’s value by freeing him to work harder on defense.

What About Steph?

I’m a Steph Curry guy and there’s a compelling argument that Steph is the best player on the team. Steve Kerr might even agree. Curry’s Offensive Real Plus-Minus (ORPM) in 2016-2017 was the highest in the league (his RPM was third). In fact, most advanced metrics show Curry and Durant were even last year—or Curry was a margin ahead of Durant in Win-Shares and VORP. Keep in mind, Durant missed a month of the season.

Durant sustained a knee sprain at the end of February and sat out 19 games. In his absence, the Warriors went 15-4. The injury did little to affect Durant’s overall season performance. In fact, Durant’s rehabilitation could have been a necessary precursor to the Warriors playoff gauntlet run.

Durant’s Finals performance this season is what did it for me. On plays Durant defended in the Finals, he allowed just 47% shooting at the rim and had an unreal 70% True Shooting Percentage. Durant was the one going head to head with LeBron. And if he was defending another player, it was Kevin Love. The Finals are a tiny sample size, but when the stakes were highest against Cleveland, Durant played like the best player on the team. Perhaps my opinion weights the Finals too heavily, but from day one, we knew this would be the matchup. It was, and Durant was the man.

The Finals

KD’s 2017 NBA Finals Statistics

G MP PPG FG% 3PT% FT% REB AST BLK TO
G MP PPG FG% 3PT% FT% REB AST BLK TO
5 39.7 35.2 0.556 0.474 0.927 8.2 5.2 1.6 2.2

We know what happened here. Durant played the best basketball of his career against LeBron and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He shot over 55 percent from the field, averaging a series-leading 35.2 points per game. Beyond the arc he was almost as good, shooting 47 percent. His 18 three-pointers were one short of tying Curry for the team lead.

In Game 1, we were thrust into an alternate universe where Durant discovered a new, better brand of Gatorade— like how the Looney Tunes discovered water against the Monstars. Durant posted 38 points, 9 rebounds, and 8 assists with a +20 in Game 1. In Game 2, the Warriors won by 20, and Durant led with 33 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists, and a +20. We all know what happened in Game 4. And then for Game 5: Glory. It was Game 3 though that defined Durant’s season.

The “Legacy Game”: Game 3 of the NBA Finals

In Game 3 of the Finals, KD scored 31 points, with 9 rebounds and 4 assists. With 45 seconds left, down by two, he cemented himself as Finals MVP and began carving his nook in NBA Finals lore. After Kyle Korver heaves a three-point attempt, Durant grabs the rebound, strides like a baby giraffe down the court, and without hesitating, pulls up over LeBron’s outreached arm and hits “the shot”.

It was the type of shot taken, but rarely made, by a confident friend as a heat check in a pickup game. It’s the shot that kids around the world, from Oakland to Manila, will practice in driveways, parks, and gyms for hours.

Last time I saw K.D., my friend’s dog, she wouldn’t stop jumping on me. “K.D., chill out and sit down,” he told the dog. She had no plans to stop her behavior as she stepped right on my crotch on her journey to the couch. Like her namesake, she had one priority: block out the noise.

[Durant gifs via Kevin O’Connor at the Ringer]

[All stats via www.basketball-reference.com/]

Poll

How would you grade Kevin Durant's 2016-17 season?

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  • 93%
    A
    (547 votes)
  • 4%
    B
    (26 votes)
  • 0%
    C
    (2 votes)
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    D
    (0 votes)
  • 1%
    F
    (10 votes)
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