Does Durant make the Warriors a better shooting team?

January 5, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) controls the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Thunder 117-91. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
January 5, 2015; Oakland, CA, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) controls the basketball against Golden State Warriors forward Harrison Barnes (40) during the first quarter at Oracle Arena. The Warriors defeated the Thunder 117-91. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports /

Free agent Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors on Friday.  Maybe you heard about it?  It was on Twitter.

Given that Durant is one of the sweetest shooting forwards in NBA history, it hardly seems fair to pair him with the best shooting backcourt in the League.  Surely, next year’s Warriors will be the jump-shootinest team that’s ever played, right?  Well, let’s break it down and see.

Kevin Durant is a Better Shooter Than Harrison Barnes

That’s a pretty unequivocal fact and you probably don’t need much convincing from me, but take a second to check out the shot charts below for some concrete evidence.

Shooting comparison between Kevin Durant (blue) and his predecessor Harrison Barnes (orange), 2013-2016.

KD HB Shot Charts
KD HB Shot Charts / tracks player shooting stats for six distinct zones of the basketball court: the restricted area, the paint (outside of the restricted area), the midrange (outside of the paint and inside of the three-point line), the left corner three, the right corner three and the three from above the break.  In the plots above, each of these zones is represented with a set of bars, the blue one describes Durant and the orange one Barnes.

The top panel shows the quantity of field goals attempted by each player in each zone over the course of the three most recent regular seasons (2013-14 to 2015-16).  Overall, Durant was responsible for a much larger shot volume than Barnes, despite having had a truncated 2014-15 campaign (27 G).  Obviously, this demonstrates a fundamental difference in the roles of the two players as Durant was a central figure for the Thunder, whereas Barnes was a more marginal contributor to the Warriors offense.  Durant’s preferred shooting zones were the three-pointer above the break (1067 FGA), the midrange (1048 FGA), and the restricted area (827 FGA).  Barnes favored the restricted area (442 FGA), the midrange (343 FGA), and the paint (282 FGA); however, he also took a fair number of corner threes (231 FGA) — more than three times as many as Durant (63 FGA).  For both players, about a third of their shots were launched from three-point land (32% for Durant and 33% for Barnes), whereas the other two-thirds came in the form of two-point shots.

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The middle panel compares the efficiency of each player in each of the six shooting zones during the past three regular seasons.  Durant out-shot Barnes by at least 10 percentage points in several zones: in the restricted area (75% vs. 61%), the paint (44% vs. 34%), the midrange (47% vs. 36%), and the left corner (50% vs. 36%).  Barnes’ most successful sweet spot was the right corner; he hit half of his threes from there, more than Durant (40%).

The bottom panel shows the percentage of each player’s field goals that were made after an assist from a teammate.  Durant — who shouldered a large burden of his team’s offensive creativity — had fewer assisted buckets than Barnes.  For example, Barnes was assisted on 95%, 98%, 100% of his threes from above the break, the right corner, and the left corner, respectively.  He almost never created a three-point basket for himself.  In contrast, Durant was assisted on a relatively modest 59% of his threes from above the break, while he created the other 41% of his threes from that zone by himself.  Barnes was also more likely than Durant to have been assisted on the shots he made closer to the basket.

Durant Will Shoot Better for the Warriors than he did for the Thunder

The discrepancies in assisted/unassisted ratios between Durant and Barnes — and between the Thunder and the Warriors in general — are very revealing, because assisted field goal attempts yield an average of about ⅓ of a point more than unassisted shots.  As such, we can expect that Durant will actually convert even more of his shots playing with the Warriors — the League leaders in team assists — than he did with the Thunder.  Unfortunately, the Sports VU data that would allow us to calculate individual player field goal percentages on assisted vs. unassisted field goal attempts is not publicly available. does have some very useful aggreated data showing individual player shooting stats broken down by the distance of the closest defender.  We can use this data to estimate how many more open shots Durant will get in the Warriors’ “rhythm-and-flow” offense and to quantify by how much those additional open looks will improve his shooting.    

Shooting comparison between Kevin Durant (blue) and Harrison Barnes (orange); two-point field goals (left) and three-point field goals (right) are divided and sorted by distance to closest defender; 2013-2016.  Bubble size is proportional to shot frequency (as % of a player’s total field goal attempts, labeled in white).

KD HB closest defender
KD HB closest defender /

The left side of the chart shows each player’s conversion rate for two-point field goals attempted with varying degrees of separation: very tight (0-2 feet), tight (2-4 feet), open (4-6 feet), and wide open (6+ feet).  Both players shot incrementally better with extra space (scanning from left-to-right).  Durant was more efficient than Barnes no matter what quality of defense he was facing, but he was especially deadly when he was left wide open.  He made 71% of these easy shots inside the arc, but he rarely had the chance to shoot them (4% of all his shots).  Durant mostly took two-point shots that were tightly (36% of his shots) or very tightly (15% of his shots) guarded.  In contrast, Barnes took proportionally more two-point shots that were open (16%) or wide open (8%).  

The right side of the chart compares the three-point field goal percentage by the distance to closest defender.  Once again, Barnes’ success was very dependent on having an open look.  He rarely shot a three when he was very tightly guarded and he didn’t make any of those attempts.  He didn’t fare much better on tightly defended three balls either (21% FG%);  those attempts made up 1% of his total.  On the bright side, Barnes got a lot of wide open looks from three (23% of his shots) and he converted them at a very respectable rate (41%).

Durant, on the other hand, always seems to be able to get his three off, even with a hand in his face.  He cashed in on tightly guarded threes (38%), open threes (42%), and wide open threes (40%) alike.  Notably, during the past three seasons, only 5% of Durant’s shots were wide open threes.   

Presumably, Durant will get some of the same opportunities that Barnes got — to shoot open and wide open jumpers — playing alongside the Splash Brothers, and the extra room should improve his already impressive shooting efficiency.  With a few assumptions, we can project exactly what Durant’s shooting efficiency might be with the Warriors next year.  We can start with Durant’s three-year average field goal percentages on twos and threes for each of the four distance-to-closest-defender groups (shown above in the bubble plot).  If we assume that Durant will shoot the same number of shots as he did in 2015-16, but redistribute them across the eight shot categories in the way that Barnes did last year (basically, more open shots), his efficiency would be expected to improve.  He would go from a three-year average effective field goal percentage of 56.7% with the Thunder to a projected mark of 58.5% next season with the Warriors.  That’s also far better than Barnes’ three-year average of 51.1% eFG%.

So, the Warriors Will be a Better Shooting Team Then, Right?

Well, they were already a pretty great shooting team last year.  Actually, they might have been the best shooting team ever.

Team effective field goal percentage (eFG%) by season, 1946-2016; expanded view of the NBA’s modern era shown on the right.

Team eFG% by Season
Team eFG% by Season /

NBA teams’ effective field goal percentages have increased gradually over time (left panel), culminating with the high-water mark of 56.3% eFG% posted by the 2015-16 Warriors.  Since the inception of the three-point line (right panel), the league-wide shooting efficiency has been relatively consistent; although there was a notable dip in shooting during the NBA’s post-Jordan (and post-short three point line) dark ages ca. 1999-2004.  Before last season’s Warriors, some of the best shooting teams had been the Showtime Lakers (1980-1986), the Shaq-and-Penny Magic (1994-1996), the Seven Seconds or Less Suns (2005-2010), and the Taking-My-Talents-to-South Beach Heat (2013, 2014).  

In theory, if we take the best shooting team in history (2016 GSW) and replace an above-average shooter (Barnes) with a great shooter (Durant), we should end up with an even better shooting team (2017 GSW).  By now you’re surely convinced that Durant is a better shooter than Barnes, BUT, don’t forget that he’s NOT a better shooter than his new teammate, Stephen Curry.  A team that replaced all of Barnes’ shots with Durant’s shots would improve its efficiency, but a team that replaced all of Barnes’ shots plus some of Curry’s shots with Durant’s shots might actually decrease its efficiency.  

Of course, the Durant-for-Barnes switch isn’t the only one that the Warriors have made this offseason.  They will also be trading Andrew Bogut alley-oops for Zaza Pachulia midrange jumpers and Mo Buckets for David West buckets.  Plus, I don’t know what shot volume or efficiency to expect from the Warriors rookies or the two roster spots still to be filled.  An accurate projection of the 2017 effective field goal percentage would need to consider all these changes to the team and it’s all just a bit too daunting for me.

The New Death Lineup

It may be a bridge too far to attempt to predict the team effective field goal percentage of the 2016-17 Warriors, so instead, let’s consider a microcosm of the Warriors’ shooting success, their small-ball lineup.  Whether you want to call it the Megadeath Lineup, the Death Star Lineup, or my personal suggestion, the Fate-Worse-Than Death Lineup — it’s this new iteration of the Death Lineup that we’re all excited to see next year.  So, will adding Durant improve this unit’s shooting?  

Well, once again, let’s start by looking at the baseline for comparison.  Below is a chart of last year’s Death Lineup — Curry, Klay Thompson, Andre Iguodala, Barnes, and Draymond Green — compared to all other lineups in recent NBA history (for years which data was available).   

Left panel: Lineup effective field goal percentages (eFG%) by minutes played (minimum 75), 2007-2016.  Right panel: Individual player effective field goal percentages while playing in the “Death” lineup (orange) versus while playing in all other lineups (blue), 2015-16.

Lineup eFG%
Lineup eFG% /

Among the 1,876 five-man lineups that logged at least 75 minutes during any season starting in 2007-2008, the combination with the highest effective field goal percentage by far was Golden State’s Death Lineup with an incredible 72.3% eFG%!  That was more than six percentage points higher than the next most efficient lineup since 2008 (posted by, surprise!, another 2015-16 Warriors lineup: Curry, Thompson, Iguodala, Green, and Andrew Bogut; 66.1% eFG%).  So, what will Durant be able to accomplish as part of the New Death Lineup?

Well, he has a lot to live up to.

According to, the players of last year’s Death Lineup had huge gains in their individual shooting efficiencies when their powers were combined: Curry jumped from 62% eFG% up to 76% in the Death Lineup, Thompson went from 56% to 71%, Green from 54% to 72%, Iguodala from 54% to 66%, and Barnes improved from 52% to 69%.

As discussed above, to help the 2016-17 Death Lineup outpace the previous year’s iteration, Durant will need to do more than just better Barnes’ production from last year.  Since Durant will likely be taking shots away from the best shooter in the world, he’ll need to be especially efficient to improve on the success of the Death Lineup.

Shot distribution among the “Death” Lineup of the 2015-16 Warriors and hypothesized shot distribution with Kevin Durant added in 2016-17.

GSW Death lineup shot distribution
GSW Death lineup shot distribution /

Last season, when the death lineup was on the court, Curry shot the most threes and the most twos of any of the five Warriors.  He jacked 45% of threes taken by that lineup, followed by Thompson (24%), Barnes (17%), Iguodala (8%), and Green (6%).  Curry also put up 30% of the twos taken by the death lineup, followed by Green (25%), Thompson (18%), Iguodala (14%), and Barnes (13%).  Clearly, Durant is going to play a bigger role offensively than Barnes did, but it’s hard to say exactly how much bigger.  I think a reasonable rough estimate might have Durant accounting for 25% of the twos and 25% of the threes taken by the New Death Lineup.  It’s hard to predict who — of the incumbent death liners — will cede shots to Durant.  It’s my intuition that Klay is going to “keep hunting his threes”, because, you know, shooters gonna shoot.  In theory, I could see Iguodala and Green deferring to Durant, but they mostly only shot when they were wide open anyways, so they might actually retain a similar fraction of the shots that they took for the lineup last year.  

So, that leaves Steph to sacrifice his shots for Durant.  

Just for kicks, let’s assume Curry reduces his shooting rates so he is accounting for only 25% of the 2-point attempts (same as Durant’s projection) and 35% of the 3-point attempts (more than Durant) from that lineup.  Assuming the four returning Warriors achieve the same shooting efficiencies as last year, and accounting for the other minor adjustments in the shot distribution noted in the table above, in order to improve on the Death Lineup’s ridiculous 72.3% eFG%, Durant would have to shoot 67% from inside the arc and 51% from outside of it — the equivalent for an individual eFG% of 71.3% — which is very similar to the efficiencies posted by Thompson in this lineup last year.  

Can Durant achieve these kind of efficiencies?  Sure.  

Will the other Warriors keep their end of the bargain by maintaining their torrid shooting? Maybe.  

Can they all do it at the same time?  I’m not sure.

In fact, it’s very possible that by adding Kevin Durant to their team, the Warriors will actually decrease the shooting efficiency of their best lineup and their team as a whole.  

Now before you freak out…I don’t think adding Durant made the Warriors a worse team.  Durant’s offensive creativity will give the Warriors an additional scoring option against their toughest opponents and during end game situations, which will be immensely helpful in their pursuit of a title.  Moreover, his size and length has the potential to make the Warriors defense even more disruptive, especially in small-ball lineups.  
The Warriors will be better, but they might shoot a little worse.