And it’s wonderful for basketball fans.
The Golden State Warriors are about to play a game against the Brooklyn Nets, and it’s on primetime on a Saturday on ABC for a good reason. Assuming the Dubs don’t wet the bed like they did in the season opener, it could make for a spectacular game.
While the game is filled with stars galore — possibly five future Hall of Famers, and that’s before we get to the people wearing suits on the benches — one name will be the focus of every narrative: Kevin Durant.
Before, during, and after the game, you’ll hear storylines about Durant, such as the following:
- How good was the Warriors dynasty when Kevin Durant was there?
- How many more rings would the Warriors have won if Kevin Durant never left?
- How many rings would the Warriors have won if Kevin Durant never came?
- What would the fan reaction at Chase Center be for Kevin Durant’s return?
- Is there bad blood between the Warriors and Kevin Durant?
- Is there bad blood between Draymond Green and Kevin Durant?
And perhaps even the dreaded:
- Who’s better, Steph Curry or Kevin Durant?
I understand why those narratives are prevalent, and why they’re fun.
And I also don’t want to talk about them, because there’s something on my mind that’s even more important.
When the Warriors and Nets opened the season on Dec. 22, we didn’t know what to expect from the teams, and more importantly, from the players. Now we’re nearly two months into the season, so we can say it emphatically and confidently:
Steph Curry is still Steph Curry. And Kevin Durant is still Kevin Durant.
We weren’t sure of that two months ago, but we’re positive about it now.
It might seem obvious, but it is a big deal. Durant is recovering from an Achilles tear, which is one of the worst injuries in basketball — the success rate when returning isn’t great. Curry’s broken hand was a less worrisome injury, but he’s only a month away from his 33rd birthday — that he would return at full strength was far from a sure thing.
But here they are. In the more than 18 months that separated the 2019 NBA Finals from the start of the 2020-21 season, Curry played five games, and Durant none. Yet they look distinctly like themselves.
Let’s look at the stats from their last healthy seasons and this one, using per 100 possessions stats:
Steph Curry, 2018-19: 38.4 points, 7.5 rebounds, 7.4 assists, 1.9 steals, 47.2% FG, 43.7% 3FG, 64.1% TS
Steph Curry, 2020-21: 41.3 points, 7.6 rebounds, 8.1 assists, 1.7 steals, 49.0% FG, 43.5% 3FG, 66.0% TS
Kevin Durant, 2018-19: 35.7 points, 8.8 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.5 blocks, 52.1% FG, 35.3% 3FG, 63.1% TS
Kevin Durant, 2020-21: 38.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 6.9 assists, 1.8 blocks, 52.9% FG, 44.9% 3FG, 66.0% TS
You don’t really need an eye test with numbers that significant, but just in case: the eye test matches. Both Curry and Durant are playing as though they’re still in their peak, and if the Warriors had a few more wins, and Durant hadn’t missed a handful of games, both stars would be at or near the top of the MVP discussion.
So debate all you want about why Durant left the Bay Area, and how good the Dubs would be had he stayed or had he never come at all. Keep your eyes open for any trash talking or moments of tension and drama, should you choose.
Just make sure that, above all else, you appreciate that two of the biggest stars in the league are still shining as bright as ever.