OAKLAND – The trick question came directly at Kevin Durant, and the newest Warriors All-Star neither flinched nor blinked.
Do you know who leads the league in blocked shots, as a team?
“We do,” he said.
Well, yes, the Warriors do – despite odds suggesting they should not.
In pursuing and ultimately obtaining Durant, the Warriors immediately relinquished two of the better rim- protecting centers in the NBA. Starting center Andrew Bogut was traded to Dallas, and backup Festus Ezeli left as a free agent.
Yet, five months later, the Warriors are better off, and not just because Bogut is sidelined in Dallas and Ezeli has yet to appear in a game for Portland.
The Warriors have utilized the positioning of new center Zaza Pachulia along with the shot-blocking ability of Draymond Green and Durant to rise to the top of the NBA in blocked shots, averaging 6.4 per game. They ranked second last season, at 6.1 per game.
Durant is averaging 1.59 blocks per game, 13th in the league. Green is 21st, at 1.32 per game. Both rank higher than Spurs big men Pau Gasol and LaMarcus Aldridge, as well as Detroit center Andre Drummond and Washington center Marcin Gortat.
For a change of pace, the Warriors also can turn to JaVale McGee. He’s only 62nd in blocks, at 0.64 per game, but he’s sixth in blocks per 48 minutes at 3.62.
Starting center Zaza Pachulia is sixth on the Warriors in blocks (0.48) and 103rd in the league.
“We had dominant shot-blockers at the center position before, with Festus and Bogues,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “Now we don’t have that. We have a guy who is capable of it in JaVale, but he plays short minutes. Zaza is more of a position defender.”
Pachulia is a wide body, not built for blocking shots. If there were such a thing as an assist on a teammate’s block, Pachulia would be stacking them up. He excels, however, in clearing space in the paint for his teammates.
“That allows Draymond and KD and other guys to come over and block shots,” Kerr explained. “It’s a little different look defensively. We’re getting better. We’re getting more in tune with one another.”
The Warriors, with Durant and Green at the forefront, rarely go more than a couple games without a spectacular block. There was Durant last week, meeting New Orleans star Anthony Davis at the rim for a clutch block inside the final minute. There was Green last month, denying Hawks guard Dennis Schroeder at the rim.
For a team supposedly without rim protection, there is quite a bit of rim protection – even if, as before, the perception of jump-shooters gone wild obscures everything else about this team.
“The talk doesn’t matter,” Durant said. “The outside doesn’t matter. We know that every single play we’ve got to help each other out. Whether that’s blocking a shot at the rim, or helping on a drive or a pick and roll . . . every possession it may be something different.
“We’re not trying to go out there saying, ‘Let’s block this amount of shots.’ We’re just trying to cover for each other. And I think sometimes, when we’re at the rim, our will and our hearts just take over.”
Because there usually is no conventional shot blocker, teams continue to attack the rim. They generally fail. The Warriors, Green in particular, would be delighted if they ignore the truth in the numbers and just keep coming.