Injuries are never a good thing. But that doesn’t mean they are devoid of silver linings. In the NBA, injuries are often accompanied by myriad silver linings, and it’s not a bad thing to examine them, even while acknowledging that the injuries themselves are bad.
Such is currently the case with the Golden State Warriors. The team has been without their high-scoring triumvirate of Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant, and Klay Thompson, while Draymond Green floats in and out of the lineup with injuries.
That will likely change on Friday, when Curry is expected to return against the Atlanta Hawks. Thompson and Durant will remain sidelined, likely for at least a few more games, making Curry the team’s sole offensive star.
On the one hand, that’s not what the team wants; health is always ideal, and Durant and Thompson are All-Stars for a reason. On the other hand, giving Curry every set of keys to the vehicle may be exactly what this team needs as they gear up for a postseason in which they won’t have home court advantage for the first time in the Steve Kerr era.
It worked last year
Most of us remember exactly where we were when Durant left the arena last February, after injuring his knee against the Washington Wizards. The season seemed a little doomed, as Durant’s future was unknown.
After a few middling games, the Warriors started to piece things together. They gave the ball to Curry, who, no longer worried about integrating a fellow all-time great, returned to the habits that had garnered him the previous two MVP trophies.
When Durant returned, the offense was clicking, with a hyper-aggressive Curry firmly at the wheel. They finished the season on a 15-1 run, before dominating the postseason. All in all, from March 14 through June 9 - nearly three months - the Warriors played 31 games, and won 30 of them.
Durant won Finals MVP, but Curry was the catalyst. The offense unrelentingly ran through the Chef, and defenses were unable to contain it. It was unstoppable, immovable basketball brilliance.
Steph is the system
We could spend all day debating whether Curry or Durant is a better player. If you’re on Twitter, you probably have spent numerous days doing exactly that.
It’s a fruitless, albeit entertaining exercise. There’s no right answer, though we all have our opinions in the debate.
What isn’t debatable is who the Warriors’ offense revolves around. Prior to Durant’s injury, the star forward spoke about the difficulty of playing without Curry, and noted that “Steph is the system.”
Kevin Durant on the challenges of reforming the offense without Steph Curry: "Steph is the system here" pic.twitter.com/zHzEbNXSag— Anthony Slater (@anthonyVslater) March 11, 2018
You can deliberate on Kerr’s offensive system all you want, and whether it would work for a team that doesn’t have Curry. Ultimately, what matters is that it is built for a team that does have Curry, and as long as that persists, Curry will remain the most vital cog in the machine.
Getting back to that role
Curry doesn’t really have a choice in how he plays when he returns to the team. Sure, trying to get Nick Young rolling, and establishing rapport with Kevon Looney is important, as is seeing if he can share a backcourt with Quinn Cook.
Ultimately, however, the team needs his offense. They need it in droves. The Warriors will still be missing 46.3 points per game from Durant and Thompson, and it will be on Curry to help fill that void.
Kerr will lean on Curry to be the aggressor. Curry’s teammates will lean on him to be the aggressor. The passionate baller that hasn’t played in weeks will lean on him to be the aggressor.
And as he returns to that role that put hardware in his trophy cabinet, the offense will likely start to click, even as Durant and Thompson remain in formal attire. And when they return, you can bet that they’ll seamlessly slide back into a well-oiled offensive machine, just as Durant did last year.
With Curry leading the way.