NBA

Warriors are “optimistic” about Durant, so who’ll be excluded from their playoff rotation?

Today ESPN reported that the Warriors are experiencing that noncommittal emotion known as “cautious optimism” regarding Kevin Durant’s recovery from the knee injury he sustained a few weeks ago.

Sources close to the situation reiterated this week that the Warriors hope Durant progresses enough to get in some game action during the final week of the regular season so he doesn’t have to jump into postseason play cold.

This news comes after Durant was seen working out prior to Golden State’s seemingly effortless romp over the hapless Dallas Mavericks.

Unless Durant suffers a setback, like increased pain and swelling as a result of his workout yesterday, it would appear likely that he’ll at least be available for the first round of the playoffs. Instead of trying to make up for Durant’s scoring, rebounding, rim protection, and the threat he represents to opposing teams overall, the Warriors could go into the postseason with some less painful, but somewhat difficult decisions to make.

Who gets left out?  

(Just a note to Warriors fans, I knocked on wood before I started writing this section. I am aware that health is never a given. Health is never a given. Health is never a given. We good? Good.)

If the Warriors have their full complement of players, we’re looking at a potential Strength in Numbers redux.

STARTERS

  • Stephen Curry
  • Klay Thompson
  • Kevin Durant
  • Draymond Green
  • Zaza Pachulia

RESERVES

  • Andre Iguodala
  • Shaun Livingston
  • David West
  • Ian Clark
  • JaVale McGee
  • Patrick McCaw
  • Matt Barnes
  • James Michael McAdoo
  • Kevon Looney
  • Damian Jones

We can remove McAdoo, Looney and Jones from contention. McAdoo might get a couple minutes here or there against big lineups if Steve Kerr things the Warriors need an energy boost, but those three should be at the end of the bench in any playoff matchup. What else can we assume?

  • Iguodala and Livingston will be in the rotation, because they’d start on a lot of teams.
  • West is their most dependable backup center, so he’s in.
  • Clark provides a scoring punch that’s sorely lacking from their bench.
  • McCaw actually plays more minutes per game (14.9) than Clark (14.2).
  • McGee gives the offense a threat that no one else on the team can.
  • Barnes is fearless and provides that “veteran presence” Kerr often favors.

A standard playoff rotation consists of eight players, nine tops. Kerr likes to go higher, but the Warriors aren’t going to go 12-deep in close playoff games. If Iguodala, Livingston and West are locks to get minutes during each playoff game (although Livingston and West could get pulled quickly if they’re ineffective for whatever reason), we’re looking at Kerr deciding who to play among McGee, Clark, McCaw and Barnes, and Kerr has reasons to sit each of the four when the games count.

  • McGee is an undisciplined defender.
  • Kerr falls in and out of love with Clark, who isn’t the greatest defender either.
  • McCaw is defensive-minded and unselfish, but he’s a rookie (duh).
  • Barnes can either be great or awful, and it’s impossible to predict which Barnes you’ll get from night to night.

Kerr has a finite number of minutes at his disposal: 240 possible minutes during games that don’t go to overtime. The Warriors, as we all know, have four All-Stars and a Finals MVP who’ll get the vast majority. During close games, we can probably assume the minutes will go like this (barring foul trouble):

  • Durant: 38-40 minutes
  • Green: 38-40 minutes (averaged 38.2 mpg in last year’s playoffs)
  • Curry: 37-39 minutes (averaged 34.1 mpg in last year’s playoffs)
  • Thompson: 36-38 minutes (averaged 35.4 mpg in last year’s playoffs)
  • Iguodala: 28-30 minutes (averaged 32.0 mpg in last year’s playoffs)

So we’re probably looking at about 177-187 minutes per game for those five players alone, leaving a maximum of 63 minutes per game for the other seven guys. Let’s assume Livingston gets 18 of those (he averaged 21.4 mpg in last year’s playoffs, but that was inflated a bit by Curry’s injuries). Now we’re at 45 minutes to spread among Pachulia, West, McGee, McCaw, Clark and Barnes. My guess is Pachulia and West split about 20-25 center minutes (with Green getting the remaining minutes at center), and the other four getting about 8 mpg when they aren’t hit with DNP-CDs.

We could argue about whether Kerr should go with Clark or McCaw (it generally seems to be an either/or thing with Kerr on those two players, and his mind changes quite often), or if McGee should get some of Pachulia’s minutes (which I doubt will happen, although I think the other starters would like to see McGee get as much run as possible).

However, despite questions about the bench going into this season, I’d rather go with the current group than last year’s bunch. Many may not agree, but other than Leandro Barbosa, no one was all that trustworthy last year after mid-April. Mo Speights is never in as good of shape during the playoffs, Festus Ezeli wasn’t healthy last year, and we all know what happened when Anderson Varejao came into the game. Total flop.

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