“There’s only one basketball.”
That was James Harden’s response when asked in July about Kevin Durant joining the Warriors. Quite a few others have used the phrase to poke doubt at whether the revamped Warriors will have the necessary teamwork to function.
And to a certain extent, they’re right. Every player in Golden State can’t play like they did last year.
Usage rate estimates how much a player is used by his team while on the floor. Last year, Stephen Curry’s was 32.6 percent, Klay Thompson’s was 26.3 percent, and Draymond Green’s was 18.8 percent. Durant’s is 30.6 percent. Add those four numbers together, and you get a wonderful 108.3 percent. A number that isn’t possible when those four are playing together, even if the fifth player never takes a shot at all.
Nobody’s questioning whether they can do it, though. Remember, the Warriors didn’t want Durant coming to Golden State as much as the players themselves did. They were reportedly recruited him since last season, well before Durant’s Fourth of July decision. Curry told Durant he would be fine not being the face of the franchise. It was perhaps Green who led the recruiting charge, while sending him a ridiculous number of text messages during the first few days of free agency just to make sure.
Every great squad consists of individuals willing to sacrifice for the greater good of the team — the very definition of teamwork. The Warriors will have to do that at an even higher level this coming season, a year removed from winning 73 games. But they wanted Durant to join them, and that makes it so much easier.
The real work begins the moment the season kicks off. Durant’s integration into the offense is the first step, but it’s one that shouldn’t be remarkably difficult. Most of it falls on Durant himself, understanding that old habits developed from years of isolation ball in Oklahoma City don’t translate to the Warriors’ style of play.
Steve Kerr has some solutions for making sure everyone is content with their role on the team, too. The easiest way is to be very intentional when staggering the rotations. If Durant is off the floor, then Curry should be on it, and vice versa. Kerr has also said many times that the team will be sure to rest its players throughout the year.
Still, the Warriors will be playing their “Big 4” together constantly — especially when the postseason arrives. Even in the preseason itself, we’ve seen how many wide open shots Golden State will get. Kevin Durant can hit 20-foot pull-up jumpers with defenders all over him, but he shouldn’t feel the need to be launching those too often in the Warriors’ system. It’s not a knock on his abilities, but just something that speaks to the sheer amount of talent that exists in a single unit.
Durant feeling like he has to average 25 points per game could throw this team off, as could Thompson demanding 20 shots or Curry pushing for a third straight MVP. Draymond Green might be the most volatile of the four, for many reasons outlined in a recent ESPN feature. But these are demands great teammates don’t make. They’re sacrifices that came with Durant joining the team, and they all knew about it.
So yeah: there’s only one basketball. By all accounts, the Warriors are fine with that. Why wouldn’t they be? They’re teammates, after all.