Neither the NBA’s regular season MVP, Steph Curry, nor fellow Splash Brother Klay Thompson had their best showing of the postseason. Curry scored 17 points on 6-for-19 shooting in Game 7 and Thompson added 14 more points after going 6 of 17 from the field. That left Draymond Green to pick up slack. He didn’t disappoint — 32 points, 15 rebounds and nine assists — but it wasn’t good enough to get the 73-win team s econd straight NBA championship.
Now all eyes gaze toward the offseason — the Warriors have eight free agents they will have to make decisions upon. Harrison Barnes, Festus Ezeli, Ian Clark, and James McAdoo are restricted free agents while Marreese Speoghts, Leandro Barbosa, Bradon Rush, and Anderson Varejao are unrestricted. Joe Jacob, owner of the Warriors, told ESPN’s Marc Stein he plans on being “very aggressive” in a year in which the salary cap is expected to spike from $70 to $94 million in one season. Overspending, however, would be a mistake.
Any offseason moves for title contenders have to start with the biggest and best free agent available: Kevin Durant.
Durant, a former MVP, averaged 28.2 points, 8.2 rebounds, and five assists during the regular season and was instrumental in putting the Warriors on the brink during the Western Conference finals. But exactly how Durant would fit in Golden State’s system remains to be seen.
Without Durant, the Warriors won 73 games, an NBA regular season record, and were 10.4 points per game better than average after adjusting for strength of schedule. Only five other teams in NBA history have been better. Perhaps Golden State goes undefeated with Durant on the roster, but after such an exceptional regular season, its upside is limited.
In the playoffs, according to Mike Beuoy’s win probability added metric, Durant wasn’t even the most valuable player on his own team. After accounting for all box score stats such as points, rebounds, and assists, Russell Westbrook (5.75 WPA) and Steven Adams (3.54) were more valuable than Durant (3.13). If you look only at shots made or missed, in addition to turnovers in terms of helping the team win, Durant becomes the least valuable player on the roster after Westbrook.
How can two of the team’s best players be worth so little? Lack of ball movement.
Durant ran a bulk of his possessions in isolation during the playoffs, ranking in the bottom 20 percent of the league for points per possession (0.75). That’s in stark contrast from the offense Warriors’ Coach Steve Kerr employs, which relies heavily on screens and the pick and roll to create open looks, and only rarely (7.1 percent of the time) has his team run possessions that involved a player going man to man against an opponent. Kerr also values spotting up opponents, often from beyond the three-point line. Durant was 10 for 39 in the postseason on his spot-up opportunities, for an effective field goal percentage of 32.1 percent.
It’s best for the Warriors to add by subtraction. Specifically, cut ties with Barnes, Varejao, and Ezeli.
Barnes could be considered one of the luckiest players in basketball. A restricted free agent this season, there appears to be more than one team willing to extend him a max contract — which would pay him in excess of $20 million per year. That’s a risk the Warriors should gladly let another team take.
With Barnes on the court with Green, Thompson and Curry, the team had an offensive rating of 117 points per 100 possessions. When Barnes was asked to play away from the Warriors’ “big three,” Golden State’s offensive rating dropped to just 90 points per 100 possessions. In the Finals, he shot 35.2 percent from the field and missed 14 of his 21 open three-point attempts.
Varejao and Ezeli seemingly got a pass from Kerr, who said in the post-game press conference he felt they helped the team when they were on the court.
Apologies to Kerr, but the only team Varejao and Ezeli contributed to were the Cavaliers. With Ezeli on the court in the Finals, the Warriors were outscored by 19.1 points per 100 possessions and committed more turnovers. Against Varejao, Cleveland outscored the Warriors by 47.5 points per 100 possessions in Game 7 and scored more points in the paint per 36 minutes (38.6 vs. 33.9) during the series.
That’s not to say Varejao and Ezeli don’t have some value off the bench, but it was clear that neither could produce down the stretch, so perhaps this is where the Warriors can concentrate their efforts during the offseason. And the guy they should look at is Atlanta center Al Horford.
The 6-foot-10 center does his best work out of the pick and roll (1.15 points per possession) and can score in the post (0.88 points per possession), as well as find the open man behind the three-point line (0.99 points per possession).
Horford won’t come cheap, but we can’t lose sight that the Warriors won 73 games during the regular season and lost a Game 7 in the NBA Finals. It’s never easy to get over a disappointment like that, but it doesn’t warrant wholesale changes to the roster, either.