Durant's work on defense paying off, but Warriors see room for improvement

Durant's work on defense paying off, but Warriors see room for improvement

OAKLAND -- Kevin Durant, four-time scoring champ, leading the Warriors in scoring, spent a considerable amount of time Tuesday talking about . . . defense.

Quality defense, featuring spectacular plays, even highlight-level stuff.

All from a guy who through his first nine NBA seasons barely could see the All-Defensive Team, much less be chosen for it.

“It’s fun,” Durant said of his newfound appreciation for defense. “Since I was a kid, when you think about defense, you think about getting steals and blocking shots.”

“ . . . I feel like I’m having a solid defensive year. I could be a lot better. I still think I could do a better job of putting a nice streak of games together on the defensive end. I’m not the greatest defender in the league; I know that. But I’ve grown a lot.”

Though Durant is making more than his share of individual plays -- he ranks 10th in blocks, averaging a career-best 1.71 per game -- he also is taking to team concepts and proving to be a willing learner. Which is as Ron Adams, the team’s defensive guru, promised after Durant left Oklahoma City last July to join the Warriors.

“He has all the physical tools to be an elite defender,” Adams said at the time.

“Just about every (defensive) play that he sees, he comes and talks to me about it,” Durant said of Adams. “He tells me when I need to be better, tells me when my energy needs to be a little higher than what it is.

“It’s good to be coached up. Sometimes I may push back a little bit, and sometimes I just need to shut up and just listen and go do it.”

The results so far have been impressive. Durant’s Defensive Real Plus-Minus ranks 39th in the NBA and eighth among small forwards, right behind Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo but well ahead of Houston’s Trevor Ariza (12th), Cleveland’s LeBron James and San Antonio’s Kawhi Leonard (29th).

It’s largely because of Durant that the Warriors, legitimately concerned about rim protection after losing centers Andrew Bogut and Festus Ezeli, somehow lead the league in blocked shots.

If there is an area the Warriors would like to see improvement, it’s consistency.

“It’s a hard thing, especially as a leading scorer, to be an every-night two-way player,” coach Steve Kerr said. “If you just look at the history of the league, most guys who are up there scoring, they’re going to take some plays off defensively. That’s what made Michael Jordan so special is he guarded every play.

“That was the challenge that we talked to Kevin about, was really being a consistent defender for us and how much we needed that. I still think he can get better with that; I still think he has an occasional lapse, and he knows that. But he’s come a long way and he’s a huge key to our defense, obviously with his shot-blocking but his ability to switch and guard different positions as well.”

Durant clearly enjoys making game-altering defensive plays, such as his rejection of a driving James at the rim in the Warriors-Cavs game on Jan. 16. Or when he chased down Charlotte’s Kemba Walker last week, swatting his layup off the glass to initiate a fast break that ended with a Stephen Curry jumper.

There have been numerous such plays, after which neither Durant are able to hide their delight.

“To know the momentum it brings to your team, just the energy it brings when your teammates see you block a shot or get a steal, I kind of feed off that,” he said. “It’s making me want to get down there a little bit more.”

Durant may be inching his way toward All-Defensive Team status. Getting 10 votes (making him 21st in overall votes) during his 2014 MVP season is as close as he has been. He didn’t get a single vote in either of the last two seasons.

“At this time in my career, that stuff doesn’t even matter to me anymore,” he said. “To be named one of the top 10 defenders in the league, that would definitely be cool among so many great players. But it really doesn’t matter to me any more.”

It matters, if not to the point of fixation but enough that you know, somewhere in the back of his mind, such an honor would be greatly appreciated. Durant was willing to admit that much.


Steph Curry knows it comes with risk, but he's not going to change the way he plays


Steph Curry knows it comes with risk, but he's not going to change the way he plays

OAKLAND -- When he returns to the Warriors, likely on Friday, Stephen Curry will alter nothing about his game despite coming off a four-month period during which his surgically repaired right ankle endured multiple aggravations.

He’ll be the same Curry that fans have come to know, diving into passing lanes on defense while firing up 3-pointers and darting in and out of paint traffic on offense.

It’s the only way he knows how to play, and he’s played long enough to accept that it comes with risk.

“When I wake up in the morning I’ll know the difference between my right (ankle) and my left,” Curry said Thursday after practice. “But that won’t stop me from being who I am on the floor and having confidence in myself when I get back out there.”

Curry missed 11 games after spraining his ankle on Dec. 4 in New Orleans. He missed two games after tweaking it in shootaround on Jan 10. He missed no games after tweaking it March 2 in Atlanta. He has missed the last six games after tweaking it on March 8 against the Spurs.

“I’ve been very durable over the course of my career,” said Curry, who is listed as probable but fully expects to play Friday against Atlanta. “It’s just that I’ve had three untimely, freak accidents happen.”

Curry stepped on E’twaun Moore’s foot in New Orleans, on Zaza Pachulia’s foot in Atlanta and Dejounte Murray’s foot against the Spurs at Oracle Arena.

Not once in the previous five regular seasons did Curry miss significant time due to his tricky ankle. He missed a total of 16 games during that span, never more than four in a season, and six of those were for reasons of rest.

This season, however, has tested Curry’s patience like nothing since 2011-12, after which he had his second ankle surgery. He concedes that being in and out of the lineup has left him at times feeling “boredom, monotony and frustration.”

Though some of that can be attributed to the rehab process, there is no doubt part of that stems from watching the Warriors from the sideline.

With Curry out of the lineup this season, the Warriors are 13-8 (he missed one game with a hand bruise, another with a thigh bruise). That they are 40-10 when he’s in the lineup illustrates his importance.

It’s not just that he’s important. Curry is the catalyst for the offense and he can only be that if he is playing without regard for the possibility of injury. A hesitant Curry can’t be an effective Curry, so full throttle is the only way to go.

"If we’re trying to win a championship, I need to be out there,” he said. “That’s a given. We want every single guy out there, healthy and available, myself included. That’s the ideal situation.”

If he gets hurt along the way, so be it. As man of faith, he believes that anything that happens is influenced by a higher power.

“It doesn’t matter if I’m shooting 3s or pullups are going into the lane or playing defense, that’s liable to happen any time,” Curry said. “Other than those instances, I haven’t had anything to worry about on the injury front. We are prisoners of the moment when it comes (playing the game). I don’t feel like I’m at a point where I have to change anything based on me being a durable player and being on the court consistently.

“Down the line, if you ask me about it in three of four years, there might be something I might need to change. But not right now.”

There is a segment of fans, worried about Curry’s health and realizing it is tied to the fate of the team, who would like him to dial back his aggression. Maybe avoid the paint and settle for more jump shots. He’s heard the advice and is not unwilling to launch a few more shots from deep.

But Curry is going to go where he sees daylight, and the best chance to make a positive play. He’ll take his chances because hesitation has no place in his mind or his game.


How Iguodala helped Looney get career on track, 'I finally listened to him...'


How Iguodala helped Looney get career on track, 'I finally listened to him...'

Back in late October, the Warriors declined their $2.3 million team option on Kevon Looney for the 2018-19 season.

How did that make him feel?

"It was kind of a let down," Looney told Tim Kawakami and Marcus Thompson on the Warriors Plus/Minus Podcast. "I knew it was up in the air. It was going back and forth, back and forth. When they didn't pick it up -- they told me why, I understood, I've been here for three years, I've seen a lot of players come and go; I know basketball is a business -- I was kind of let down.

"But I knew I was going to try and make the most of it. Now I'm playing for my contract for next year. I just wanted to go prove myself. I knew this summer there was a lot of doubts about what I could do. People were doubting if I would even be in the NBA still ... I knew what I was capable of."

Looney underwent surgery on his right hip in August 2015, and appeared in just five games during his rookie season.

He then had surgery on his left hip in April 2016, and appeared in 53 games (8.4 minutes per night) during the 2016-17 season.

This year, he's averaging career highs in points (3.5), rebounds (2.9), blocks (0.7) and minutes (12.0).

"This summer, I decided I just wanted to try go back to the way I played in college. It's been working for me," Looney explained. "I lost about 30 pounds this offseason and it's really made me a lot faster and a lot quicker. And I've been staying healthy."

How did he drop all that weight?

"A lot of broccoli and turkey and plain food. Food that wasn't that good but it's something that I had to get used to," Looney said. "Taco Bell, fried chicken, I was eating that on the regular ... coming off of injury, you can't eat like that. It's a different level of intensity in the NBA.

"I had to change my diet. Andre (Iguodala) was in my ear for two years about it. I finally listened to him and it paid off."

Looney will become an unrestricted free agent in July.

Although the Warriors declined the option, the 22-year old could return to Golden State -- but the max amount the Warriors can offer him is $2.3 million.

Drew Shiller is the co-host of Warriors Outsiders. Follow him on Twitter @DrewShiller