The Golden State Warriors announced on Wednesday that Kevin Durant is out indefinitely with a grade-2 MCL sprain and bone bruise, suffered Tuesday night when center Zaza Pachulia fell onto Durant’s left leg.
There’s no timetable for Durant’s return and he will be re-evaluated in four weeks. The Warriors would not rule out a potential return before the end of the regular season.
Some view the news as positive for the Warriors — it’s not a more serious injury, and it sounds as if Durant, even if he misses the rest of the regular season, should be back for the playoffs.
However, it’s a blow nonetheless, and one that is going to expose the biggest question mark about the team: their depth.
To sign Durant this offseason, the Warriors had to let go of Harrison Barnes, Andrew Bogut, Leandro Barbosa, and Festus Ezeli. None were major losses for the Warriors — adding Durant was worth it at almost any price — but it did take a toll on their overall depth. The Warriors managed to keep Andre Iguodala and Shaun Livingston while adding useful bodies in David West and Zaza Pachulia, but the end of their bench is made up of several young, unproven players.
This Warriors team is different than last year’s. They’re beating teams by a bigger margin. They own the two best lineups to have played 200 or more minutes in the NBA — their starting lineup and their new “death” lineup, with Draymond Green at center, Durant at power forward, and Iguodala at small forward. However, they’re also slightly more top-heavy, and as their record shows, they’re not quite the same as last year’s 73-win juggernaut. Such is the learning curve of adding a player like Durant.
Without Durant, minutes will go up for Curry, Thompson, and Green, and some of their other role players — not ideal after the team burned out in last year’s Finals because of an intense playoff push and a historic regular season.
They will also have to give more minutes off the bench to players like Ian Clark, Patrick McCaw, Kevon Looney, and James Michael McAdoo. That may be fine; perhaps those players will excel with more minutes. But ask LeBron James how he felt about playing similar end-of-the-bench, unproven players like DeAndre Liggins, Jordan McRae, and Kay Felder. James wanted experienced bodies. The Warriors have fewer of those this year.
Additionally, as The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor notes, the Warriors are still a work in progress. They’re still adjusting to life with Durant, and now, with Durant’s injury, that all takes a step back. They should be fine in the regular season, but having to adjust to Durant’s presence again, just in time for the postseason could be a real challenge. It may particularly be on as the Western Conference looks stronger than ever, with the Rockets and Thunder making deadline moves, the Clippers getting back to full health, the Jazz and Grizzlies continuing to grind, and the Spurs being, well, the Spurs.
After losing Curry for some of the 2016 postseason, the Warriors wanted Durant as perhaps the greatest league’s insurance policy. But now, with Durant injured, and the team resembling a slightly shallower version of last year’s outfit, the Warriors will put to test the theory of individual talent vs. the sum of the parts.
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