One of the many things that’s made the Golden State Warriors so special these past two seasons is their unique depth. The likes of Andre Iguodala, Leandro Barbosa, Shaun Livingston, Marreese Speights, Festus Ezeli and anyone else summoned from the Warriors bench was expected to and capable of producing when called upon. It wasn’t their individual talent but rather their variety of reliable and versatile talent that separated them from everyone else.
With the addition of Kevin Durant, things have changed a bit.
What apparently helped sway Durant’s decision in the end was a series of texts from Stephen Curry, one of them saying the Warriors almighty motto, ‘Strength in Numbers’. Granted, this motto is more than just having a deep bench. It’s also a mentality of selflessness and collectivism. That mentality is engrained in the Warriors culture in terms of how they operate.
But in adding Durant, one of the top players and talents in the league, the Warriors now have a glaring emphasis on their core four, or Big 4 — Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson, Draymond Green, and Kevin Durant. The bulk of their offense will course through those four players, understandably, and this calls the Strength in Numbers motto into question.
When the Spurs added LaMarcus Aldridge last summer, we saw a similar transition. The league’s shining model of equal opportunity basketball and “we” versus “me”, the Spurs inherited one of the league’s top talents at power forward. While their identity wasn’t compromised by Aldridge’s presence, it was somewhat transformed. Suddenly the Spurs had a horse with go-to capabilities in the post offensively, and suddenly they were able to win games based on their sheer individual talent.
The Warriors’ challenge as a group is to make the insertion of Durant as seamless as possible. Durant will have to cater to the system and the system will have to cater to him, and he’ll be much more of a primary cog in the offense than his predecessor, Harrison Barnes. The Warriors will be at their most frightening peak when Curry, Thompson, Green, and Durant are all active, efficient, and humming, and given the volume of their presence, the Warriors’ strength now lies in the number four, as in their four best players.
The next man up mentality is usually attributed to teams that need 8-10 players to equally produce in order to simply compete (i.e. teams like the Mavs or Hornets last season). Golden State’s individual talent shone at times when Curry or Thompson would go ballistic, or when Green reeled off a gaudy triple-double, but it was secondary to their trust in having a solid depth of contributors.
What the Warriors are able to rely on now, more than anything else, is having the league’s most talented core. That doesn’t mean resorting to hero ball or playing your-turn-my-turn for 48 minutes. The system remains paramount. But it does mean that less shots and opportunities will be available for players outside of the core four, especially since one of them is now Kevin Durant. That’s not meant to be a bad thing, either, just a realization that the whole strength in numbers motto may not be as applicable going forward.