Defying the odds: Warriors' rim protection better after roster overhaul

Defying the odds: Warriors' rim protection better after roster overhaul

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.

Kevin Durant frustrated by distractions he didn't create as Warriors stall


Kevin Durant frustrated by distractions he didn't create as Warriors stall

Sound and fury has enveloped Kevin Durant for over a week, after a confrontation with Warriors teammate Draymond Green raised eyebrows, questions and ire.

Most frustrating to Durant is this drama was created by something didn’t do. Green reportedly delivered the hurtful line -- “We don’t need you. We won without you. Leave.” -- last Monday, and Durant merely received it, along with a ton of flak.

“My whole thing is I didn’t create any of this,” Durant told Yahoo Sports’ Chris Haynes in a 1-on-1 interview Tuesday. “That’s just my whole thing. I was just playing basketball. Now, I got to answer questions, now I got to talk about this, now I got to feel a way when I was in a great zone playing basketball. …

[RELATED: Stephen A. Smith doesn't see Warriors as KD's top landing spot]

“Now, it’s always going to come back. Like, ‘Are they all right? Man, he didn’t play well. Is he going to leave?’ Why do I even have to think about that at this point? … Then it turned into, ‘K.D.’s going to this place, he doesn’t like the Warriors no more. He should go here, he should go there.’ More distractions.”

Of course, Durant could stop those distractions by telling everyone he’s staying with the Warriors past this season. That won’t happen, though, with so much money and prestige at stake.

So, KD will be left to answer the media’s questions about the future and his perceived fit, particularly with the Warriors slumping by their lofty championship standards.

That became evident the day after the incident, with the Atlanta Hawks visiting Oracle Arena. As the game played out, all the talk centered on how Durant would look on the floor with teammates who might have been irritated by the whole ordeal.

[RELATED: KD says tiff with Green won't affect free agency decision]

Turns out he was thinking about things, too.

“During the game, I’m like, ‘Ah, [expletive], I’m probably going to have to say something about this,’ “ Durant told Haynes. “Why do I have to think about that during the basketball game? And that’s a fight I had to have, focusing on just playing. …

“And that’s what I tend to focus on, but you’ve got so much B.S. that’s being thrown your way that I didn’t create. If I created all of this stuff, then I couldn’t be out here talking like this, but I didn’t create any of this. I’m just out here playing.”

He’s out there playing, but it’s not at his best level. He shot 24 of 64 from the field and just 1 of 13 on 3-pointers during the Warriors’ winless Texas road trip that started with him shutting down a reporter who asked about his relationship with Green. Durant returned home to work with Hall of Famer Steve Nash on his wayward shot, then discovered he’d been fined $25,000 by the NBA for his outburst toward a heckler in Dallas.

KD and Co. are in one of the roughest of patches. The only way out is to win.

Warriors' Kevin Durant says Draymond Green tiff won't affect his free agency


Warriors' Kevin Durant says Draymond Green tiff won't affect his free agency

Kevin Durant's tiff with Draymond Green sent speculation surrounding his free agency into a frenzy. Would the beef heard 'round the world mean The End Of The Warriors As We Know It?

Well, you might want to put any plans to order a "DURANT NO. 35" New York Knicks jersey on hold until July.

Durant told Yahoo's Chris Haynes on Tuesday that his confrontation with Green won't affect his decision in free agency this summer. 

“Nah, [it won’t factor],” Durant said. “Because at the end of the day, I’m just a ballplayer that’s just trying to be in a great environment to play basketball and groom my skills every day. And I want to compete on a level that once the game starts, I’m just totally comfortable with my surroundings, with just going out there and being me.” 

[RELATED: KD enters the 'lab' with Steve Nash to fix wayward jump shot]

Sources told NBC Sports Bay Area's Monte Poole that Green crossed a line by bringing up Durant's free agency when the two argued during a Nov. 12 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Durant was upset that Green didn't pass him the ball on the final possession in regulation of a game the Warriors ultimately lost in overtime, and the two got into it on the sideline.

Green ultimately was suspended one game for "conduct detrimental to the team," as the Warriors experienced what coach Steve Kerr called "the real NBA." Maybe that's why Durant said he was able to quickly move past the exchange with Green.

“I never really felt like it was a problem, because I know Dray and he says some crazy [expletive] out his mouth all the time,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “But on top of that, it was just that there was so much coming with it from the outside, and so much stuff that we have to answer now.”

In July, Durant can opt out of a two-year, $61.5 million contract he signed last summer. Until Durant puts pen to paper, questions surrounding his Warriors future surely will follow. 

Going on the record to say the last week won't affect his decision might not truly reassure the Warriors, but it beats the alternative. 

Programming note: Watch Wednesday night's Warriors-Thunder game streaming live at 7:30 p.m. PT on the MyTeams app.