Before the season started it seemed like we were destined for Cavs-Warriors III. While the Cavaliers haven’t looked like a contender recently, the Warriors have rolled. Golden State has easily locked up the number one overall seed and home court all the way through the Finals. It may not be shocking, and the NBA rarely is during the playoffs, but Golden State will win the NBA Finals and these three factors are a big reason why.
1. They can weather the storm
In late February Kevin Durant went down with a knee injury. At the time, Durant was the Warriors leading scorer at 25.7 point per game (he has since been overtaken by Stephen Curry). Durant missed a little over a month at a crucial moment in the playoff race. If you went to any team still fighting for playoff seeding and told them they would lose their leading scorer for a month it would incite panic.
Instead, the Warriors have thrived, going 20-5 while Durant was out between Feb. 28 and April 5. The Warriors weren’t just beating cupcakes during that time either. Without Durant, they have two wins over Houston, a win over San Antonio and wins over several other playoff caliber teams. Overall without Durant they have gone 8-4 against playoff teams, assuming Chicago makes it in the East.
When the Warriors signed Durant in the offseason it was coming off a collapse in the NBA Finals. A lot of that collapse was attributed to Curry’s nagging injury along with Draymond Green’s suspension. The Durant signing was insurance. Over the course of a tight seven game series even one bad quarter can spell doom. If one of their All-Stars gets hurt, has a bad game or gets shut down they have enough firepower to push on. So far, the Warriors have shown they can withstand losing one of their stars.
2. They have the best player
In the playoffs, games can often be decided by a small number of possessions. It’s during those moments that it helps to have a guy that can get buckets, especially late in the shot clock. Durant gives the Warriors exactly that. On top of that he has become a defensive force this season.
Caught up in Russell Westbrook and James Harden’s historic seasons, it’s easy to forget that Durant has put up MVP worthy numbers himself. Per 36 minutes Durant is averaging 26.9 points, 8.9 rebounds, 5.2 assists, 1.2 steals and 1.7 blocks per game. Those numbers are similar to LeBron’s averages during his 2012 and 2013 MVP campaigns, with Durant trading some assists for blocks. The point is that Durant is the best player on the best team and any other year that would have him near the top of the MVP balloting.
It’s not just traditional stats that show how good Durant is. Based on stats from Basketball Reference, with Durant off the court the Warriors have a net rating of 7.9. That would still be good for best in the league but the jump with Durant is mind boggling. When Durant is on the floor the Warriors net rating is 15.1, which is almost double that of the number two Spurs. Simply put, the Warriors can feel confident they have the best player in almost every matchup.
3. They are the best team
Golden State rounds this all out by being the best team by any metric. If you want to just look at raw numbers, Golden State has the league’s best record, currently at 66-15, and the best point differential with 11.59. If you want to dip into more advanced stats, the Warriors lead the league in offensive rating and are second in defensive rating based on Basketball Reference numbers. They are the only team in the top five in both categories. Lastly, the Warriors net rating is 11.45 while the second-place Spurs sport a 7.58. For comparison, the Spurs are closer to the sixth-place Raptors than they are the Warriors.
No matter how you cut it, it’s hard to find a place where Golden State will be at a disadvantage in the playoffs. They have more All-Stars, the best player and the best team plus home court advantage. Barring injury they should be the clear favorite. Even then, it may still take a Herculean effort to knock them off.