By now you know that DeMarcus Cousins and Kevin Durant have been ruled out for Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals at the very least, with an exact timeline for their return still uncertain.
So how much will that really matter for this series? And who might be called upon to step up in their absence? Some of the Golden State of Mind staff got together to discuss it.
1. There have been reports about Kevin Durant and DeMarcus Cousins possibly returning during the WCF. How much does the return of either (or both) matter to you?
Jannelle: It matters because the Warriors will have to readjust offensively with either one of them returning to the lineup. Having KD will give the Warriors obviously multiple mismatches in ISO situations. Cousins, if he doesn’t force issues is a solid presence in the post. However, I believe Cousins will be more effective as a playmaker out of the post.
Joe: Durant’s presence will always matter, no matter who the opponent is. He is arguably the best player in the world, and he is damn near completely unstoppable. The Rockets had the greatest chance out of all the West teams to limit him. The Blazers don’t have the scheme or personnel to do the same to him. Fortunately for them, it’s looking like Durant may be out to start the series.
Cousins returning would be a welcome development, but I don’t think it’s as crucial to the Warriors’ chances, especially with Jusuf Nurkic not being available for this series. While Cousins’ desire to come back as soon as possible is admirable, I don’t think he should rush his return. The Warriors might need him more for Brook Lopez or Marc Gasol in the Finals, should they get to that point.
Dr. Tom: It would be great to have them both back if for no other reason than the depth it would provide. I do worry about the accumulated minutes and stress that the rest of the roster has picked up, especially in that Rockets series. Being able to give Curry and Iguodala and Looney even just a few minutes of rest while not having everything fall apart, that would be a major contribution.
Between Durant and Cousins, I think Durant’s return would be the more important one (I also think it’s the more likely of the two). Playing against such a prolific-scoring backcourt like that of Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, these games could turn into shootouts in which the contest three-pointers start flying. Having Durant out there, a player who can get his own shot just about whenever he wants and is great when it comes to stopping the bleeding when an opponent goes on a run, would make things a lot easier and more manageable for the Warriors.
Also, I really question how the Trail Blazers can contain Durant. In the 13 games Durant has played against the Trail Blazers since joining the Warriors, he’s averaged slightly over 30 points-per-game. Having a player who averages 30 points-per-game against your opponent seems like it would be a good thing.
Brady: Emotionally, having a Cousins return would mean more to me, just because his injury was presumed to be season-ending, and he’s had such horrendous luck. It seems highly likely that Durant will be back for the NBA Finals, assuming the Warriors get there, so his return would be less dramatic.
That said, KD is obviously the better player, and poses a question that Portland has zero answers for. So his return would help the team more.
However, getting Cousins back is arguably more important. KD can jump right back into things whenever he’s healthy, and the team won’t miss a beat. They’ll need time to acclimate Boogie. If he’s not back until the NBA Finals, he probably doesn’t get any meaningful playing time. But if he comes back now, they can work him into the fold again, and he could be an asset in June.
2. Kerr admitted that he could’ve used the bench more against the Rockets. Which reserve did you expect to see more of last series?
Jannelle: I was hoping to see more of Jordan Bell and Jonas Jerebko. The Warriors could have used Bell’s athleticism in the paint. Granted, he is undisciplined but he’s not scared to contend shots. Jerebko could have provided more size on defense and hustle.
Joe: I wanted to see more of Jordan Bell. He has plenty of playoff experience against the Rockets, proving last season that he was capable of holding his own against them. I get that Bell has had maturity and focus issues throughout this season, but I felt like he could’ve really been useful in spurts -- his two blocks on James Harden and his athleticism proved very useful in Game 6.
Dr. Tom: I guess I’m a little surprised Bogut didn’t get more run to get a chance to bang with Stromile Swiss, I mean, Clint Capela, but beyond that there wasn’t anyone I thought should have been given appreciably more minutes.
Brady: I didn’t expect to see any reserve get significant playing time. Even though Kerr can be wonky with playing reserves (coughcough Anderson Varejao), I thought the rotation would be tight.
I did think Jordan Bell could provide something interesting, given the team’s need to hit the offensive glass against Houston, and the athletic threat he brings to the pick and roll.
3. Which reserve do you hope to see more of in the WCF?
Jannelle: Bogut and Looney. Bogut is a solid screen setter and will battle in the paint. Looney is another one that hustles. We need rebounds and second chance opportunities and these two are solid for them
Joe: Andrew Bogut could be very useful against the Blazers. Enes Kanter is a good offensive rebounder, and having Bogut as a big body down low could help negate that. Of course, Kevon Looney is a given option, as he has proven to be reliable during this entire playoff run. With Durant out, I can see Jonas Jerebko being given some run by Steve Kerr.
Dr. Tom: I could see Jerebko getting more playing time. In the 4 games the Warriors’ played against the Trail Blazers this season, Jerebko averaged almost 22 minutes per game. I certainly don’t think he’ll see that much playing time in the Western Conference Finals but that says to me he’s a player that can at least stay on the court against a given opponent. I’d look for Kerr to use him to buy his other players some rest minutes on the bench.
Brady: To me, it’s less about one particular bench player, and more about the way the entire unit is deployed. Enes Kanter can defend Andrew Bogut. He can defend Kevon Looney if the Warriors are abandoning the traditional 1-5 pick and roll. He absolutely cannot defend Draymond Green, especially if the Warriors run the Curry/Green actions they repeatedly ran in Game 6 vs. Houston. So bringing in a steady diet of Alfonzo McKinnie, Quinn Cook, or Shaun Livingston, to stay small and force Kanter off the court, is vital to me.
Of those three, I’d love to see Cook get more of an opportunity. His shooting can play well in this series.