OAKLAND – It’s two months before training camp, three months before opening night, and it’s already becoming apparent the adjustments required of the Next Level Warriors, fortified by the addition of Kevin Durant, should require little or no irritation.
There were glimpses of the future Tuesday night at Oracle Arena. Klay Thompson, Draymond Green and Durant were members of Team USA playing an exhibition game against Team China. Steph Curry and Andre Iguodala were seated courtside, wearing casual clothes and observing as fans.
All five Warriors took several opportunities to talk with each other, and every conversation seemed to be punctuated with laughter.
This is what they want, what they’ve craved, an opportunity rarely presented in sports and they’re all smart enough to realize it.
“It’s going to be a fun year,” Thompson said.
There is bound to be the occasional hiccup, just as there were last season when the Warriors won an NBA-record 73 games, but this group is built to fit, to collectively seek and destroy. That is their attitude. And the most precious aspect of it is they don’t care how they succeed, which comes naturally because of the KD Effect.
“He really loves the game of basketball,” Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski said of Durant. “Being one of the best players in the world, he’s easy to play with. There is no super ego. He’s got such a good team ego.”
With the exception of heavy-duty banging in the paint, Durant can do everything anyone could possibly do on a basketball court.
NBA fans tend to focus on scoring, which is something Curry and Thompson and Durant do as well as anyone in the league. It won’t take long, though, for Warriors fans to realize Durant is an outstanding playmaker. He sees the floor better than some point guards, and he exults in getting the assist.
He led all NBA small forwards – a group that includes LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony – in rebounding last season. Durant outrebounded such big men as Derrick Favors, Zach Randolph and Brook Lopez.
Men built like Durant, a lean 6-foot-9, don't rebound like that unless they want to.
Lastly, there is Durant’s defense. He was spectacular against the Warriors in the Western Conference Finals, where he somehow defended the perimeter, protected the rim and also played passing lanes. His defensive impact is noticeable to someone like Krzyzewski, who observes closely only every few years.
“He continues to grow and get better,” Coach K said. “To be quite frank with you, the best thing that I see improvement with him is defense. He had really become an outstanding defender.”
Durant’s attitude and his willingness to check his ego and work will endear him to his teammates, who will reward him at every opportunity.
Even Thompson, who has spent most of his five-year career living to launch, as the Warrior Most Likely to Break The Offense, is being seduced by the joy of passing.
Not once in 80 games this past season did Thompson post more assists than all of his teammates. He had more zero-assist games (13) than games in which has posted more than three (nine). Watch that change in 2016-17. His assist totals will rise because he’ll be more cognizant of multiple threats.
Through his play with Team USA, Klay already is making the adjustment. Playing with stars forces literal recognition of others, and he’s doing exactly that. He led Team USA in assists Tuesday night with five. This is the KD Effect at work.
How does the KD Effect help Green? It makes him better simply because he has one of the highest basketball IQs in the NBA. He’s the ultimate floor chameleon, adapting to his surroundings as required to thrive. KD’s presence will result in more 10-assist games, and Green had a team-high 19 such games last season.
Giving Draymond Green these three sharpshooters is a bit like giving Aaron Rodgers five All-Pro linemen and three All-Pro receivers. Unfair.
Meanwhile, Green will continue to do all the other things that make him so immensely valuable. He’ll rebound and defend, sprinkle in some scoring and, of course, a few choice words.
Green admires greatness, and Kevin Durant is greatness. Easy greatness.
“He’s really a fantastic guy and a fantastic player,” Coach K said. “What a combination when you have a guy that good and he’s low-maintenance. I mean none. Except having too much fun.”
Which brings us to Curry, the team’s established tone-setter. He knows his scoring numbers will dip and he embraces it. Because he also knows the full breadth of his game is about to be exposed. His assist numbers, which have declined in each of the past two seasons, will again tick upward.
As good as Curry is without Durant – back-to-back MVP awards good – he’s about to be a better overall basketball player. Give a shooter-passer another shooter-passer, and defenses begin to weep.
Curry makes his teammates better mostly because defenses bend toward him like a plant to the sun. Durant makes his teammates better because he finds ways to inject a shot of smooth in everyone’s game.
“He’s fun to play with,” Thompson said, having all of three exhibition games as Durant’s Team USA teammate. “He doesn’t dominate the ball and he makes it look really easy. Effortless.
“I’m going to learn from him like I learn from Steph. We’re going to grow together, and that starts with Team USA. It’s going to be a fun 2016-17.”
The Warriors are Curry’s team, and will be as long as he puts on the jersey. But Durant is that dynamic force that vastly improves everything around it.
And Iguodala, whose hoops IQ is in the same category as Green’s, is sitting back, the wily veteran licking his competitive chops.
It will be another three months before the Next Level Warriors saddle up in earnest. Yet they’re already enjoying the ride.