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.


Warriors vs. Clippers watch guide: Lineups, injuries and player usage


Warriors vs. Clippers watch guide: Lineups, injuries and player usage

LOS ANGELES -- Somewhere behind the tsunami of conversation and debate devoted to DeMarcus Cousins making his return to the NBA on Friday, the Warriors and Clippers will play a basketball game.

Coverage on NBC Sports Bay Area begins at 6:30 p.m. with Warriors Pregame, with tipoff at Staples Center scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Though Cousins’ Warriors debut will be the focal point of every fan around the globe, the team has a compelling bit of business at hand.

They’re trying to extend a six-game winning streak against a team they no longer dominate.

The Warriors (31-14) had beaten the Clippers 12 consecutive times before taking a 19-point loss at Oracle Arena last January. The teams have split their last four games, including the first two this season: a Clippers 121-116 overtime win on Nov. 12 in L.A., and the Warriors taking a 129-127 victory on Dec. 23 in Oakland.

The Clippers (24-20) remade their roster over the last two summers and had been better than projected before losing their last four games. They own the seventh-best record in the Western Conference and 12th-best in the league.

This is the Warriors’ first trip to Staples since the highly publicized squabble between Kevin Durant and Draymond Green on Nov. 12.


F Kevin Durant
F Draymond Green
C DeMarcus Cousins
G Klay Thompson
G Stephen Curry

F Danilo Gallinari
F Tobias Harris
C Marcin Gortat
G Avery Bradley
G Shai Gilgeous-Alexander


C Damian Jones (left pectoral surgery) is listed as out.

F Luc Mbah a Moute (left knee soreness) is listed as out.


Though Cousins will start, he’s not likely to play more than five consecutive minutes, which leaves the possibility of limited action in each quarter. The remaining minutes are expected to go to Kevon Looney and Draymond Green. Jordan Bell, already on the fringe of the rotation, is the odd man out.

Curry (42) and Durant (35) combined for 77 points in the last meeting between the teams.

Backup PG Shaun Livingston has been effective since returning after a brief absence with knee soreness, shooting 10-of-15 from the field over his last four games. He had a season-high 13 points against the Pelicans on Wednesday.

Guard Lou Williams is the most dangerous bench scorer in the league. He’s averaging 18.7 ppg, tops among all reserves. He’s averaging 22.5 ppg over his last 12 games.

Backup C/F Montrezl Harrell has been so effective, he consistently plays more minutes than Gortat. His 11 double-doubles lead all reserves.

Williams and Harrell are the primary reasons the Clippers lead the NBA in bench scoring (52.6 ppg). The Warriors are 28th (30.2).

Yes, guard Patrick Beverley remains a Clipper and will get minutes, if only to annoy Curry. It’s fair to say they have a longstanding adversarial relationship.

Eric Lewis (chief), Gediminas Petraitis, Brandon Adair

Draymond Green's agent reveals his one main wish for DeMarcus Cousins

Draymond Green's agent reveals his one main wish for DeMarcus Cousins

Draymond Green might be more excited for DeMarcus Cousins' return than DeMarcus Cousins is for DeMarcus Cousins' return (that makes sense, right?)

Draymond's agent, B.J. Armstrong, also is very happy that Boogie will be back in action Friday night against the Clippers. He loves Cousins' game and is a big fan.

But Armstrong is hoping Cousins' time with the Warriors isn't just defined by points, rebounds and assists.

"The one thing that I'm really wishing for him is not to be a good teammate but to be a great teammate," Armstrong recently said on The Pure Hoops Podcast. "It's really important as a player, it's really important for your relationships that you have.

"When it's all said and done as a player, you'll remember these moments. This is a significant moment for him."

Yes, it is.

Cousins is hoping for a big pay day this summer in free agency, and obviously a lot of that will depend on how he performs the next few months and how his Achilles responds.

But the rest of the NBA will be paying very close attention to how he impacts the Warriors' chemistry, his standing in the locker room and how he handles somewhat of a lesser role on the court.

The good news for the four-time All-Star is that his teammates have his back 100 percent.

"We'll do everything in our power to make sure he succeeds," Andre Iguodala told reporters after Golden State's win Wednesday night. "That's everybody in the locker room. That's really our focus."

That support is key, and Cousins will rely on it at various points throughout his comeback. It's also important that the help is reciprocated. 

[RELATEDHow Cousins will help Warriors in these three specific areas]

"I just hope he understands the importance of being a great teammate -- not a good teammate -- a great teammate," Armstrong reiterated. "Because that is the most important thing. You walk away from the game -- every player -- hopefully you walk away with some friends you made over the years.

"I just hope Boogie experiences one of the joys of this league -- is to become a great teammate ... his teammates are so excited for him ... I just hope that Boogie appreciates that because he has some great teammates right now.

"This is a priceless moment for him and a very key moment in his career."

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