After helping the United States men’s basketball team lock up a third straight Olympic gold medal at the 2016 Rio Summer Games, Kevin Durant, Klay Thompson, and Draymond Green now return to their professional lives with a new goal in mind: putting the Golden State Warriors back atop the NBA.
Durant, who shockingly joined the defending Western Conference champions before heading to Brazil this summer, will start his first season in the Bay Area this fall and joins Team USA and new Warriors teammates Thompson and Green beside two-time MVP and point guard Stephen Curry.
Golden State’s already the odds-on favorite to reclaim the NBA title in the upcoming 2016-17 season, but, adding their Team USA duties on top of all of the 2015-16 season and lengthy postseason runs, head coach Steve Kerr might worry his superstars are a bit worn down following a summer of barely any rest and training camp opening at the end of September.
Durant, specifically, comes to mind due to his previous workload as the Oklahoma City Thunder’s primary scorer and his stellar play in Brazil. There’s also the mental toll that switching teams for the first time in your pro career can take, as well as adjusting to new teammates’ styles and a new offensive system.
However, from a mental standpoint, Durant appears to be in a good place based off his comments to The Vertical after Sunday’s gold-clinching victory over Serbia, during which he netted 30 points.
"It was therapy for me after making a big change in my life," Durant said of playing in Brazil. "It made my life easier ... I knew [a backlash] was coming.
"It was definitely different for me, but to come here in an environment where people accepted me and didn't care about anything except being my buddy, that's what I needed."
Indeed, Durant was on the brunt end of major criticism from rival players to commentators like Charles Barkley for aiding Golden State’s formation of the latest NBA “Super Team,” and getting out of the country and playing beside two of his new running mates was clearly beneficial to the 27-year-old.
Physically, and considering how he played after winning gold at the 2012 London Games, Durant should also be sound and ready for the new season. Appearing in 81 games and notching 38.5 minutes a contest, Durant torched all comers for 28.1 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 4.6 assists while racking up historically great shooting rates of 51.0 percent overall, 41.6 from three, and 90.5 at the free throw line in the 2012-13 season.
Of course, Durant did start and play in all eight of Team USA’s games in Rio, averaging a team-high 28.6 minutes and 19.4 points including 58 percent from three, so Kerr’s unlikely to push Durant too much as long he can quickly grasp the Warriors fluid offensive system.
Thompson, on the other hand, is evidently tired of all the “Super Team” talk and in an interview with GQ the 6-foot-7 guard with one of the game’s smoothest jumpers appeared ready to prove Golden State’s title in 2015 and their record-breaking 73-9 run last season were not flukes.
“Yes. Yes. I just want to go out there and prove to people how great we can be,” Thompson said when asked if he’s “tired” of questions regarding next season. “Everyday at the media session here I have to answer questions about it. ‘Oh, how’s the chemistry between you three.’ Everyday… But it’s part of the territory. I just give some automated answers. I can be pretty robotic. There’s a lot of hype surrounding the franchise now, and deservedly so. It’s part of our job, we have to answer those questions. ”
The 26-year-old Thompson was shaky in his first Olympics, but still flashed the long range that’s made him a co-“Splash Brother” the last two years. Thompson started six games and played 21.1 minutes per contest, but his field goal percentages nosedived to 36 percent overall and 32 percent from deep. He did, however, come up huge with 30 points and seven threes against France to keep the U.S. undefeated in pool play.
The uncharacteristic mishaps from three may be disconcerting, given Thompson’s nailed 42 percent of his threes throughout his five-year NBA career, but all shooters go through slumps and Thompson likely worked his way out of it in Rio.
Green, who like Thompson appeared in his first Games, is probably the least of Kerr’s worries, on the court. The All-Star was arrested back in his home state of Michigan after an alleged altercation with a Michigan State football player this summer, but otherwise Green was able to draw knowledge and experience out of his U.S. teammates and head coaches like Mike Krzyzewski and Gregg Popovich without much playing time in Rio.
Green, 26, played the third-fewest minutes of anyone in Rio (79 total at 9.9 a game) and he scored only 15 total points over eight games. He also saw his shooting numbers decline when compared to his career averages, but Green wasn’t allotted his typical starters’ minutes and he’s proven the last two seasons that he can fill up every box score column and even have a profound effect on games simply with his hustle.