The Warriors are not built to curl up in the fetal position simply because they’ll have to carry on for the next several weeks without their centerpiece star. Much like Stephen Curry is tougher than he looks, so, too, is the team he leads.
The latest reports indicate Curry’s right ankle sustained no structural damage. So whether he misses four games or four weeks, the team will have a plan. This is an opportunity for the coach Steve Kerr and the Warriors to refine and also redefine their season. They’d benefit from doing both.
Curry’s absence will provide the needed incentive for the team to sharpen its focus, something often missing this season. We’ve seen the lapses and the malaise, and so have the Warriors. Some of this is the result of playing 300 games over the past three seasons and some of it is awareness of their superiority during that span.
They have collectively been that group of brilliant students capable of partying all weekend and showing up to class Monday morning confident they’ll ace the test — and then acing it.
The loss of Curry amounts to involuntary sobriety. Being first among the team’s All-Star equals, his fellow marquee teammates — Kevin Durant, Draymond Green and Klay Thompson — tend to follow him into the classroom. Now they’ll have to study harder and remember where the classroom is before they can think of acing tests.
Curry’s spot in the starting lineup likely will go to Shaun Livingston, whose lone start this season was of the two games Curry has missed. Livingston is as steady as they come and a matchup nightmare for most point guards. He won’t replace Curry’s 26 points per night, but he won’t have to.
Livingston, however, is a 12-year veteran on a physical maintenance program. His sweet spot for minutes per night is somewhere between 15 and 22. His body, which has withstood and overcome significant trauma, can push it only so far beyond that.
Which brings us to second-year guard Pat McCaw, the biggest beneficiary of Curry’s absence. After a lackluster first month, McCaw again resembles the productive, unruffled player with which the Warriors were so pleased last season. Understand, though, there will be moments when he thrives and moments when he stumbles.
McCaw will benefit from the increased playing time. His best game this season was his only start — the other game Curry missed — when McCaw provided 16 points, seven assists and four steals over 33 minutes in a Nov. 27 loss to the Kings.
The Warriors will miss Curry on defense because he is the first line on that end. Though not as disruptive as Andre Igoudala or Green, Curry leads the team in steals. He makes a defensive impact.
Still, it’s the Warriors offense that will suffer most. When Curry is on the floor, four and sometimes five defenders are compelled to engage. They cheat toward him, trying to defend their assignment while also tracking him. No one has ever stretched defenses better than Curry, and sometimes his presence makes them snap.
This is where Durant comes in, and to a lesser degree Green and Thompson. While Green and Thompson merely have to maintain their current splendid levels of all-around play — Green may have a score a bit more, and he can — most of the weight on Curry’s shoulders will be redistributed to Durant.
Durant is more than capable handling it. That he is playing at All-Star caliber despite moments when his mind seems to be elsewhere speaks to his rare gifts. He can be appreciably better, though, certainly on offense, because we saw it last season.
Durant’s block totals are up and his assists are slightly up, but so are his turnovers (significantly) and ejections. His overall efficiency is down, his field-goal percentage is down and his rebounding is down significantly.
The KD of this season would be cooked by the KD of last season.
That will have to change during Curry’s absence. For the Warriors to keep it together during Curry’s absence, Durant will have to pull himself together. This is his moment and he proved in the NBA Finals that he has what it takes.
Because there is nothing thus far to indicate Curry’s injury is catastrophic, the Warriors should be fine.
If this had to happen at all, it is better that it is in the first two months of the season than later. The Warriors have plenty of time to tinker and grow and be a better team in four months from now, when it matters most. [/restrict]