At this point, Kevin Durant’s tenure with the Warriors feels like ancient history and like Durant is a player from a bygone era of the franchise. But his play was such an integral part of the 2018-19 season, you cannot tell its story without accounting for Durant’s contributions. Even though the season did not end how neither Durant nor the Warriors wanted, the two-time Finals MVP had another stellar season in what would ultimately be his final campaign in the Bay Area. Though he’s now a member of the Brooklyn Nets, Durant’s contributions to the 2018-19 Warriors were quite valuable and deserving of our praise and attention.
Durant’s 2018-2019 season might have been his best with the Warriors. One could even make an argument that it was the best Durant has played since his MVP-winning season of 2013-14, and the numbers attest to this.
The same scoring you’ve come to expect from Durant
Durant averaged 26 points-per-game during the 2018-19 season. To be fair, that is ever-so-slightly less than when he was leading the league in scoring, but one must remember that Durant was sharing the court with two of the NBA’s other greatest scoring threats in Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson, so there weren’t as many points to go around. While Durant’s points-per-game were on the lower side (for him), Durant was still a top-ten player in that category and still staking a claim to being the most consistent offensive threat in the league.
Durant gave some stellar performances during the 2018-19 season, including scoring 51 points in an overtime road loss to the Toronto Raptors. Durant also turned in a 41-point performance at Madison Square Garden in October, scoring 25 points in the fourth quarter to help the Warriors get the road win over the New York Knicks. Durant scored 30+ points in twenty games during the 2018-19 regular season and scored 40+ points four different times, but that is just business as usual for one of the best scorers in the history of the league. What made Durant’s 2018-19 season an especially good one were the other ways he distinguished himself on the court.
The dawn of Point KD
One critique that has followed Durant throughout his career, with those criticisms getting louder and louder during his time with the Warriors, is that he is something of a ball-stopper, a great scorer who can’t get his teammates involved in the offense and grounds things to a complete halt. But throughout the 2018-19 season, Durant played the part of distributor and facilitator, highlighting his skills beyond scoring and providing a nice rebuke to those who would reduce his importance to a team to just a single thing.
I wrote this before, but point KD has never looked this good. Odd to see him not getting up shots. But his passing, reading the action, ball movement is good— Marcus Thompson (@ThompsonScribe) March 20, 2019
Durant averaged a career-high 5.9 assists-per-game this past season and spent large stretches of the season averaging well over six assists-per-game. Durant posted an assist percentage of 26.2% in 2018-19 (for a primer on what exactly assist percentage is, please click here), the second-highest total of his career (during his 2013-14 MVP season, Durant posted a 26.7 assist percentage). It was also the second-highest total on the Warriors (Draymond Green’s assist percentage was 26.8).
Before the season started, I predicted that we’d see an uptick in Durant’s assist numbers given the trends over the past couple of years and, lo and behold, that was proven to be true.
While much has been made of what Durant might have thought of Steve Kerr’s offense that placed an emphasis on ball movement, Durant’s assist numbers reflect his willingness to give that system his all, showing that he is a much more complete player than certain people make him out to be.
Amidst the tempest in a teapot, Durant never loses his focus
At this point, it’s not worth revisiting the chatter that surrounded Durant and the Warriors regarding Durant’s 2019 free agency. Unfortunately, it was a major component of Durant’s season and thus must be accounted for in any kind of a season review. While Durant’s future was subtext in the early weeks of the season, it very much became text on November 12th against the Los Angeles Clippers with the late-game confrontation between Durant and Green.
After that incident brought everything out into the open, the questions never disappeared. Whether it was because of moves made by teams, many (incorrectly) suspected to have already locked Durant into a deal, or recurring appearances by the body-language police as they tried to analyze every gesture and expression by Durant, the nonsense chatter never stopped. Never mind that the team was one of the strongest in the league; never mind that Durant was playing at a remarkably high level; all that mattered were the whispers and speculations of people with limited insight.
But even with all of that swirling around him (all those questions along with the unwarranted negative energy he attracted), Durant continued to play at the level to which we’d all become accustomed to. There was no drop-off, no dip, nothing. If you weren’t constantly inundated with it from the talking-head shows on ESPN or writers looking to boost their profile by saying provocative things and just watched Durant’s play, nothing would have seen amiss.
An interesting counterpoint to this is Durant’s friend and (now) Nets teammate Kyrie Irving. Irving was subject to some of the same speculation as Durant, though not nearly as much. For even though Durant made it clear he’d address the issue at the end of the season, Irving said he would come back to the Boston Celtics at the beginning of the season and then backed out, yet Durant is somehow the one getting all the negative attention... but I digress.
One noticed a dip in quality of Irving’s play, particularly in the playoffs. Irving was the one who looked like he had one foot out the door and one looking elsewhere. Yet Durant, who played exactly the same way he always had, was the one subject to these kinds of accusations.
Whatever criticisms one might choose to levy at Durant (and I’m sure people will), whether or not he had already decided to leave heading into the season, he was still the player that the Warriors and their fans had become accustomed to watching since 2017. It is a testament to Durant’s mental fortitude that he was able to play that well and be a major part of a team that claimed the number-one seed in Western Conference while all of this gossip hounded him.
A great postseason unfortunately cut short
For all those questions surrounding Durant during the regular season, questions about his effort and commitment, his best basketball came when his team needed it the most—in the playoffs.
After splitting the first two games of the opening round series against the Clippers (including an awful collapse in Game 2 on their home court), Durant led the Warriors to the series win with four dominant performances. Just look at Durant’s stat lines in the final four games of that series:
In their Game 6 win, eliminating the Clippers from the playoffs, Durant scored 38 points in the first half (which tied an NBA record for the most points in the first half of any playoff game) and finished the game with 50 points.
Durant continued his excellent play in the Western Conference Semifinals against the Houston Rockets. In that rematch of the 2018 Western Conference Finals, Durant was averaging 33.2 points-per-game before being felled with a calf injury for the final game of the series.
Durant remained on the sidelines for all four games of the Western Conference Finals and the first four games of the NBA Finals against the Raptors. With the Warriors trailing 3-1 in the Finals, Durant returned to the floor in Game 5 in Toronto, hoping to push the series to a sixth game back at Oracle Arena. In his first game back, Durant dominated in his first 11 minutes of the game, scoring 12 points as the Warriors were able to secure an early lead. But then, well... you know what happened next.
There was something particularly disheartening about Durant going down in the playoffs. Durant looked to be playing as well as he ever had through the first 11 games of the playoffs, and thus we were all deprived of getting to watch one of the greats at the peak of their abilities. Also, if this was to be Durant’s final run with the Warriors, it would have been nice to see him go out both as a champion but also showing why the Warriors wanted to bring him into the fold after the 2016 season.
Where do we go from here?
Durant’s decision to move onto something new, playing in Brooklyn with Irving, brought to an end the “Hamptons 5” run for the Warriors. With the dust settled, we can now begin to look back on this team and how it stacked up. When I looked back on this era of Warriors basketball, I see maybe the best basketball team in the history of the league. More importantly, I know when I looked at the Hamptons 5 lineup (the 2017 version in particular) I see the greatest five-man lineup in NBA history.
This team doesn’t reach those levels without Durant; make no mistake about it. Though his tenure was relatively short, Durant came to the Warriors and helped the team reach seemingly impossible heights, all while providing some of the most memorable plays and moments in franchise history. Those two banners that will be hanging in the Chase Center are there, in part, because of Durant’s play and I look forward to seeing his number retired and a statue of him outside the new arena in San Francisco. He’s moved onto a different team and wants a different challenge, but that doesn’t mean Dub Nation should ever stop celebrating what he brought to the Warriors and how great he helped to make them.