It’s grim, I know. And if you want to curse me for jinxing things, I wouldn’t blame you for a second.
But it bears discussion.
The NBA has been hit hard this year with serious injuries, especially to good teams. Six minutes into the season, the Boston Celtics lost All-Star Gordon Hayward to a (presumably) season-ending ankle injury.
DeMarcus Cousins of the New Orleans Pelicans ruptured his achilles a few days ago, and Andre Roberson of the Oklahoma City Thunder is out for the year with a knee injury. The Memphis Grizzlies just announced that Mike Conley will have season-ending surgery, and the San Antonio Spurs’ Kawhi Leonard is out indefinitely.
The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to right their ship, but offseason acquisition Isaiah Thomas hasn’t looked the same since a hip injury that ended his 2016-17 season.
Injures are a part of basketball, and a narrative in every NBA season. But this year they’ve been even more prevalent.
And, unfortunately, it forces the question: What would the Golden State Warriors do if one of their star players was lost for the season?
Let’s take a look at how the team would fare with each of their four All-Stars out, and see what they’d need to do to bring home their third title in four years.
What happens if Steph Curry is injured?
Outlook: This is the big one. There’s a case that Kevin Durant is the Warriors’ best player. And many people claim that Draymond Green is the most valuable, or indispensable piece.
But here’s the reality: Steph Curry is, by far, the most important player to the Warriors. Not only is he one of the top players in NBA history, having arguably the best year of his career, but he is the engine, chassis, and frame that Golden State’s vehicle was built on.
Need proof? Per NBAWowy, the Warriors outscore teams by 15.2 points per 100 possessions with Curry on the court. With the former two-time MVP on the bench, that number drops to 2.4.
In other words, when Curry’s on the bench, the Warriors are the Philadelphia 76ers.
What they’d need to do to win a title: The Warriors would need to retool their offense in Curry’s absence. Dramatically.
When Curry is on the floor, and Durant and Klay Thompson are on the bench, the Warriors score 125.3 points per possession. With Curry benched, and Durant and Thompson on the floor, that number is “only” 109.6.
Whether that’s due to Curry’s insane talents, or the way the offense is crafted around his skillset, the reality is that this Dubs team is built around his contributions. In order to stay afloat without them, the team would need to run the ball through Durant more, and increase the number of pick and rolls with Durant and Green.
They’d also need to give more minutes to Nick Young, get more shots from Omri Casspi, and probably guarantee the contract of Quinn Cook. They won’t replace Curry’s shooting, but they can at least increase their options from deep.
Would they win? I wouldn’t bet on them, but I wouldn’t bet against them, either. Steve Kerr is a great coach, and Durant is an all-time talent who would likely jump at the opportunity to lead the team.
What happens if Kevin Durant is injured?
Outlook: Losing a former MVP, Finals MVP, and one of the greatest players ever is not an easy pill to swallow. Durant is averaging 25.8 points per game, while shooting a stellar 41.5% from beyond the arc.
Add in his defensive contributions, and it’s been an all-world season for the megastar.
With that said, here’s a quick reminder that the NBA record for regular season wins came from a Warriors team that didn’t have Durant. Remove Durant from the equation and the Warriors still have more All-Stars than any other team in the league, and a core that’s been together for a long time.
Durant’s absence doesn’t shoot a hole in the Warriors’ title plans so much as it almost entirely erases their margin for error.
What they’d need to do to win a title: Stay healthy, and play consistently. The Dubs were well on their way to a second straight title in 2016 before injuries and suspensions derailed a magical season.
Durant provided the luxury of being able to survive small injuries, off-nights, refs, variance, and Kiki Vandeweghe. Golden State can win without Durant, but they’d need to be nearly perfect, both in execution and in luck.
Would they win? Probably? Maybe? I’d still put them as favorites, but the field would be a better betting option.
What happens if Draymond Green is injured?
Outlook: If the Warriors’ offense was crafted around Curry, then their defense was crafted around Green. Injuries to Leonard and Rudy Gobert have cemented Green’s place as the best defensive player in the world, and that’s not replaceable.
Green not only has elite defensive skills, but he changes Golden State’s defensive schemes. Kerr and Ron Adams have created a defensive system built around Green’s contributions.
Green can guard the opposing team’s best player, but more importantly he can roam the floor, picking up help everywhere, hedging on the perimeter, and protecting the paint. He can switch any pick and roll, and is ruthless on and off-ball.
While also a stellar offensive player, the Warriors would still be an elite offense without Green. The same cannot be said for the defense.
What they’d need to do to win a title: Get strong bench contributions. The first task when replacing Green is deciding how to handle positions. Does Jordan Bell (when healthy) start in Green’s spot? Or do the Warriors go small, move Durant to power forward, and slide Andre Iguodala into the starting lineup?
Whatever they do, those bench pieces will need to play well. Bell and Iguodala will both have huge defensive shoes to fill, and Durant would need to step up on that end of the court as well.
Would they win? This one is really hard. The Warriors would still have an elite offense with two of the best offensive players ever.
But defense is half of the game, and the lack of Green opens up things dramatically for players like James Harden and LeBron James.
I wouldn’t feel comfortable betting on the Warriors without Green. But I wouldn’t feel comfortable betting against them. They’re probably still the title favorites, but by a slim margin.
What happens if Klay Thompson is injured?
Outlook: Thompson is the piece that makes the Warriors truly unfair. He’s not the MVP that Curry and Durant are, or the unique, indispensable asset that Green is.
He’s “just” quietly an All-Star who plays great defense and happens to be one of the five greatest shooters in NBA history.
And that’s your fourth-best player. Luxury.
Thompson is the final piece that makes the offense unguardable. If he’s gone, teams can focus more on Durant and Curry, and even threaten with frequent double teams. Without the Thompson release valve, teams can employ a defensive strategy that extends beyond “pray”.
Defensively, a Thompson loss means more pressure on Green and the centers. The Warriors defense would still be very good, but it would suddenly have weaknesses to exploit.
What they’d need to do to win a title: Two things. First, Patrick McCaw would need to step up on defense, and Young would need to step up on offense. And second, Curry and Durant would need to dominate when in single-star mode.
The Warriors would need to stagger minutes so that one of Curry and Durant is always on the floor (something they should arguably be doing right now). That means more minutes in a single-star offense. Curry and Durant would need to make the most of it.
Would they win? Probably. They’d definitely still be the title favorites, but it would be unwise to underestimate Thompson’s contributions.