OAKLAND — If the Warriors are serious about increasing their chances of getting Kevin Durant’s signature on another contract, the next step requires a change that should help all involved parties while improving the current product.
They have to get better at finding Durant on the basketball court and having him consistently involved throughout the game.
Durant doesn’t hide. He’s 6-foot-11 and plays roughly 36 minutes per game. The floor is where he’s most comfortable, does his best work and where he developed into perhaps the deadliest wing scorer in NBA history.
Yet there are times when the Warriors seem to forget this, unless the other scorers are struggling and it gets late, and they go to Durant to be rescued.
That was the blueprint Friday night in Sacramento, when Durant spent much of the first three quarters killing time between touches. While Klay Thompson and Stephen Curry were combining for 33 points on 26 shots in the first half, Durant was putting up a team-high 18 on eight shots.
“There were times when he might as well have been me,” one non-playing Warriors employee said, jokingly.
When Durant and Curry re-entered with 8:03 remaining, Thompson still was firing but struggling to convert. He was 9 of 25 in 30 minutes of playing time. Curry at the time was 10 of 19. Durant was 5 of 12. But because the Warriors were having trouble shaking the pesky Kings, Durant’s usage was about to go up.
They went to Durant, and he responded with 13 points over the next seven minutes. Kings defenders Justin Jackson and Nemanja Bjelica never had a chance.
“KD was unbelievable in the last four minutes,” Curry said afterward.
Asked how the Kings kept wiping out deficits and taking leads, Thompson offered this explanation: “We lost focus. Gave them too many open looks. And didn’t execute our offense.”
When the Warriors execute the offense as designed, the ball moves and all five players are involved. They do what is necessary to create the best possible shot for the players most likely to make it.
“We don’t always play the right way,” Andre Iguodala says. “But when we do, we should beat anybody.”
There have been, according to multiple team sources, several recent occasions In which there was a plea for everyone to “play the right way.” Shot selection was among the chief topics of discussion before the Toronto game last Wednesday, and then the Warriors went out and played a game that ranks among their 10 worst over the past four-plus seasons.
“You can feel it,” Curry said Monday. “There’s a certain energy you get when the ball starts hopping and everybody starts to touch it. When that doesn’t happen -- sometimes that’s necessary for you get to the foul line or force the issue or somebody’s got the hot hand and they don’t need to pass.
“But over 48 minutes, if we revert a little bit back into guys just standing around and watching and not feeling the ball, that’s not who we are.”
The numbers two nights later in Sacramento indicate shot selection still should be addressed.
Before Durant’s pivotal scoring in the fourth quarter, Thompson had missed four more shots than KD had taken. Empty possessions were piling up, keeping the Kings in the game. When empty possessions pile up, almost any opponent can stay in the game, even against the mighty Warriors.
There are fewer empty possessions when Durant is involved. He can be a turnover risk, but he’s still a matchup nightmare. He gets to the free-throw line, where he shoots 93 percent, one-and-a-half times more often than Curry and three times more often than Thompson. Durant leads the team’s non-centers in field-goal percentage.
Understand, Durant is committed to playing “the right way.” He’s a willing passer, ranking second on the team in assists, at 6.2 per game to Draymond Green’s 7.3. Good things tend to happen when Durant’s involvement goes up.
Durant knows what it’s like to watch a talented teammate play 1-on-1. He experienced plenty of that in Oklahoma City. Joining the Warriors appealed to him for many reasons, but one of them was their egalitarian offense. Find the best shot or the hottest shooter. Sharing can be quaint, but it’s effective.
If Curry can win two league MVP awards in such a system, there is no limit to the possibilities for the team and for individuals.
“On the floor, we have a certain style,” Curry said Monday. “We move the ball, we move bodies, we set screens for each other, we try to play fast and get in transition as much as we can. Hunting good shots is something that we pride ourselves on.
“Coach has talked about it at length this year, in terms of it’s not really about how many 3s you get up but it’s about how many good 3s and open 3s you can create. More times than not, we do a good job of that.”
In the seven games since Curry returned, he has taken 133 shots. Thompson has taken 137. Durant, who averaged 40.6 points on 53.4 percent shooting over the five previous games, has taken 119.
While Curry is posting fabulous offensive numbers and has been a highly efficient scorer, Thompson has been unusually inefficient and inconsistent. His stats, across the board, are down, but his attempts are not. He leads the NBA in shots taken while averaging 22.6 points on 44.9 percent shooting — which would by far his lowest accuracy since Kerr’s arrival in 2014. He shot a career-high 48.8 percent last season.
Durant is No. 2 in the league in shot attempts, but he’s averaging 29.0 points and shooting at a 51.1 percent clip. He has shot better than 55 percent in 14 games, to four for Thompson. Thompson has finished below 45 percent 14 times, to eight for Durant.
Thompson two years ago famously said he wasn’t “sacrificing s---,” when Durant arrived. He might have to for the Warriors to be the team they want to be.
The members of the front office have been transparent in their desire to re-recruit Durant. He was the last player introduced during their opening-night ring ceremony. He received, justifiably, broad support after last month’s squabble with Draymond Green at Staples Center. It was Durant who was given a guided VIP tour of the Chase Center construction site.
That’s earnest enough. But Durant still has to feel comfortable with the basketball component. If he feels misused or disused, it will be significantly less likely that he’ll come jogging out of the home locker room at Chase Center next October.