clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Key matchup: battle of the tall skinny guys

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NBA: New Orleans Pelicans at Golden State Warriors Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Ok, let’s start with the most obvious detail: the real “key matchup” in this series is going to be Stephen Curry versus his knee. However, given the uncertain nature of his return and resultant success, I don’t think we need 500 words on it. Instead, I want to talk about the upcoming epic battle of the tall skinny dudes: Kevin Durant versus Anthony Davis. KD and AD - two looming figures of basketball prowess that are equally intimidating.

Neither team will really have an answer to stop these guys from going off, but the series could well be decided by whichever team manages to best contain their opponents’ impact.

This isn’t the same Davis we saw in the playoffs a few years ago

Back when we swept the Pelicans in the 2014-15 playoffs, Anthony Davis was a rising star on a deeply flawed team. In the intervening years, he’s grown into his legacy. He is so, sooooo much better. And that is saying quite a lot, when you consider that Davis was already one of the best in the league when we last saw him and the Pelicans in the playoffs. If you look at these two players side-by-side now, you can quickly see what a battle this is going to be.

Davis has advanced his offensive game while improving his already elite defense. He’s going to be a problem for the Warriors; there’s not much mystery about that.

In a nutshell: Durant is the more efficient scorer and better play maker, with Davis holding the edge in traditional big man stuff like defense and rebounding.

On a per game basis, Durant scores and assists more (27 and 4 for Durant; 23 and 2 for Davis) but Davis holds the edge in rebounding (7 for Durant, 10 for Davis) and blocked shots - where Davis’ 2.4 blocks per game is more than double Durant’s numbers.

And once you dig into the advanced statistics, more parallels emerge. They both score around 37 points per 100 possessions (which we are looking at here to adjust for pace of play) on 30% usage.

Both of these players are around 7 feet tall but they play different positions. I know we are making the move towards positionless basketball, but the more I stare at the comparisons here, the more it looks like Durant is a wing player and Davis is a big.

Still, in a series as important as this, it feels inevitable that the two will eventually find each other on the court. Either through switches or intent, we are going to see these two tall skinny dudes square off against each other. And it is going to be glorious!

Key to the series: How are the Warriors going to cover Anthony Davis?

Although I pointed out that Durant is the better, more efficient scorer, Davis has managed to significantly close the gap. This season was almost certainly Davis’ best offensively; as per Marcus Thompson of the Athletic:

Offensively, Davis’ game has flourished. He set regular-season career highs in 3-pointers made (55) and 3-point percentage (34.0). But he also shot a career-best from inside the arc (55.8 percent).

Interestingly, the Warriors have a lot of different options to throw at Davis - and they’ll need each and every one of them. Davis is going to want to get the ball in the mid-post and then generally turn and face up his man. Although his efficiency is about 30 points lower than Durant’s, it’s mostly due to three pointers - what the straight numerical comparison above hides so well is the fact that Davis is absolute murder on the low block.

Davis strongly prefers to get close to the rim to do his damage. According to his shot data, Davis takes a whopping 58% of his shots within 10 feet; for comparison, Durant takes about 36% of his attempts from a similar range.

I present this information in order to prepare you for the following tidbit: Zaza Pachulia may be our best defensive option against Anthony Davis.

For those having trouble interpreting the twitter text wall: this is just showing that Pachulia looks like the best option defensively (where he’s managed to hold Davis to slightly below average points per possession). Coach Steve Kerr continually tinkers with his lineups and matchups, so if us blog boys are noticing a data trend, you can rest assured that the coaching staff is equally aware and likely to consider this information in their series strategy.

Key to the series: How are the Pelicans going to defend Kevin Durant?

Ok, blah blah blah, Davis is a handful; we get it. But you know who else is a handful? Kevin Durant, Slim Reaper, finals MVP, reigning champion. And this is where the Pelicans may get exposed.

Much like our last opponent, the Pelicans have a solid defense. Probably more than just “solid” honestly. They absolutely destroyed Damian Lillard and the Blazers - possibly forever ruining that team’s window. But also just like the Spurs, the Pelicans don’t really have any great options for covering Kevin Durant.

No shame in that, since Durant’s lithe 7-foot frame of offensive destruction is pretty much impossible for anyone to defend. The best case scenario is a tall, long wing player who can keep up with him but has the length to challenge his shots.

The Pelicans don’t really have anyone like that. Davis would be a good option, but like Draymond Green, he strongly prefers to operate closer to the basket - playing “free safety” and defending the rim. The options you’ll see thrown around the most are E-Twaun Moore and Solomon Hill. Moore is listed at 6’4”, Hill at 6’7” - neither seems to have sufficient length to really bother Durant.

As both teams search for answers, so to will go their team’s fortunes in this series.

Durant and Davis are both tall skinny dudes who are amazingly good at basketball. Only one team will advance past this round though, and a lot of that decision will be based on which tall skinny dude is the most unstoppable.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Golden State of Mind Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Golden State Warriors news from Golden State of Mind