The left knee injury Kevin Durant suffered during Tuesday's game will cost him a minimum of four weeks, which could be a mortal blow for his fantasy value in re-draft leagues. Today's column will address the options for KD's owners and examine the impact this has on other Warriors' players, including the soon-to-be-signed Matt Barnes. It's a mournful, Warriors-only edition of the Numbers Game.
Let's start with the immediate fallout for Durant's owners. It's a disaster. The four-week timetable is only for him to be re-evaluated, and even if he did return to face the Spurs on Mar. 29, that would leave him eight games in the regular season. If your league ends a bit early to avoid the nuttiness of the season's final weeks, you're in even more trouble -- fantasy seasons ending at Week 23 would give KD a maximum three games.
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Even the most optimistic owner must think about cutting Durant in leagues without IR spots. If you can stash him away and pray for a miracle, go for it. But if you're using a valuable spot which could otherwise be occupied by a promising free agent, or a series of streaming plays, it's almost certainly not worth the risk. The opacity of his return date, coupled with the Warriors' likely desire to play it extremely safe to avoid a costly setback just prior to the postseason, leaves owners with little to hope for. It's just an awful situation for the best 9-cat fantasy player in the league this season. The only silver lining for owners in keeper and dynasty leagues is that the injury, a Grade 2 MCL sprain and tibia bone bruise, shouldn't be an issue whatsoever next season.
One potential exception to the gloomy outlook described above is for roto owners with games-played limits. If you can keep pace with games played while allowing KD to float along on your bench, he could very well return in time to help you with one final push before the season ends. Whether that strategy makes sense can only be determined on a case-by-case basis.
Moving on to the impact this has on other Warriors players, we'll begin with Matt Barnes. Golden State moved quickly to sign the veteran free agent, who will get a rest-of-season contract rather than a 10-day deal. It's very possible that he'll start in place of Durant, keeping the second unit intact, in which case he should absorb the bulk of the 33.6 minutes Durant was averaging.
Barnes has a 16.7 usage rate on the season and that stands to fall with so many offensive weapons remaining in Golden State (see below), but his 38.3% shooting should improve with easier attempts coming his way. He's been a fantasy liability this season, except for a few productive stretches with Sacramento, but he's proven throughout his career that he can help owners in just 26-30 minutes per game. The bulk of his appeal lies in 3-pointers but he also chips in some boards and defensive stats, and he's worth considering if you just lost Durant and need a quick stop-gap. The fallout isn't limited to Barnes, of course, so let's look at who else might step up in both reality and fantasy.
Draymond Green has played more minutes (658) than any other Warriors player while Durant was off the court this season, and it stands to reason that his 32.7 mpg will get a bump with KD out. Andre Iguodala has played the second-most minutes (558) sans Durant, and he too gets a probable boost for the next four weeks (though Golden State is still likely to monitor his minutes to keep him fresh). Shaun Livingston also stands to gain, but the bulk of KD's minutes (if not workload) should fall to Barnes. Patrick McCaw is on the radar here, with McCaw getting a fill-in start when Durant rested vs. the Nets on Saturday. He also started the second half of Tuesday's game after KD got hurt, but the arrival of Barnes makes it hard to trust him in standard leagues.
Here is a table showing the playing time for each Warriors player with and without Durant. Notice that without KD on the court this season, McAdoo's minutes are nearly tripled, while Kevon Looney's minutes are nearly doubled. McCaw and Ian Clark also get a nice boost.
Playing time isn't the whole story, of course, and it's time to consider usage and efficiency. Thanks to the simple and powerful tool NBA Wowy, we can compare key advanced stats with Durant on or off the court this season.
I forgot to add Pat McCaw to that table...here are his splits.
With KD: 8.7% usage, 1.10 PPP, 53.8 TS
Without KD: 15.2% usage, 1.07 PPP, 54.2 TS
It's no surprise to see most of these guys take a hit in the efficiency categories (PPP, TS). Durant draws tons of attention defensively, spreads the court, delivers on-point passes, etc., so his absence almost inevitably has a deleterious effect on his teammates' efficiency. Fortunately, for fantasy purposes, that slight dip is more than compensated by increased usage. Of the six guys I listed, only Andre Iguodala fails to see a usage increase, while Klay and Steph get huge boosts -- in Klay's case, it amounts to a nearly 35% increase in his overall usage. McCaw nearly doubles up. Even if they don't get more minutes, therefore, the guys listed above should at a minimum break even for fantasy value without KD.
Per NBA.com, there have been seven non-Durant lineups to appear at least 10 times this season. I've listed them below with game totals, minutes per appearance, total minutes and average +/- ratings.
Draymond appears in all seven lineups, Iguodala is in six, Steph gets five, and Klay make it four times. In terms of total minutes on the court, then, we have the following:
D. Green: 275.7
D. West: 71.5
Ian Clark: 65.1
Keep in mind these are only the lineups that have appeared at least 10 times -- there are over 150 different non-Durant combinations that have hit the court this season. They also don't account for the human curveball that is Matt Barnes. Barring one player hoarding all of the minutes at SF, owners should expect mild bumps for multiple players (McCaw, McAdoo, Clark, Livingston, Iguodala), alongside productivity gains for the Warriors' other stars.
Might we catch glimpses of something that could be dubbed 'Death Lineup Lite' with Matt standing in for Harry B? Will Patrick McCaw seize the opportunity and emerge as the biggest winner? There are a ton of questions to be answered in the coming weeks, but the one certainty is that it will require a team-wide effort to fill Durant's size-18 shoes.