It’s been strange so far for Sonic fans waiting for Kevin Durant to blossom. Everything we hear about the guy is so flattering, you half expect him to take off from half court and dunk.
And yet, after summer league and one pre-season game, well, he hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire, has he? His summer league numbers were excused because he was surrounded by less than NBA-quality talent, and the way he wowed everyone at the Team USA trial kind of amped up the excitement. His first pre-season game was less than thrilling, though, and it got me to wondering: Do pre-season stats really matter at all?
The received opinion has always been that pre-season numbers are as relevant as a politician’s promises on the campaign trail. Whether they’re good, bad, or indifferent, they don’t tell us what’s going to happen during the upcoming 82-game marathon. In fact, you can almost hear the cliches organization’s trot out when things don’t go as planned:
“He’s getting his feet wet. We’re confident that as he adjusts to the speed of NBA games he’ll feel right at home.” (We don’t know what the hell is the matter with this kid. Let’s just hope he figures it out before my contract is up.)
“We’ve been pleasantly surprised with what he’s given us.” (Thank God the Knicks picked the 6’11” Lithuanian I wanted, because this kid’s definitely better.)
“We’re sure his shot will start to fall as soon as he gets used to our playbook.” (Crap, we’re paying this bum for the next three years, and he can’t hit an open 15-footer?)
Well, I decided to take a look at last year’s crop of rookies and see how their pre-season stats compared to their regular season ones. I looked at 16 players who played regular minutes in both the pre- and regular seasons and tallied their numbers in four categories – field goal percentage, 3-point field goal percentage, points per 48 minutes, and tendex rating per 48 minutes (thanks to www.dougstats.com for the information, and to RJ for pointing out in the comments where I could find the info). Here’s some rough data, then interpretation:
Field Goal Percentage: Almost a 1:1 relationship; the players shot an almost meaningless 0.8% better during the regular season than during the pre-season.
3-Point Percentage: An exact 1:1 relationship.
Points per 48: Players scored 13% better in the pre-season than in the regular season.
Tendex per 48: Almost a perfect relationship, as players put up merely 3% better numbers in pre-season than in the regular season.
As you can see, with the exception of points per 48 minutes, there is a strong correlation between the pre-season numbers and the regular season ones. If you looked at the numbers as a whole, you might wonder why I’m not jumping off a bridge because of Durant’s middling play. Here’s why:
There’s a huge difference between top of the first round guys and bottom of the first and second round guys. For some reason, high draft picks – at least in the 2006 class – did much better in the regular season than in the pre-season, and the opposite was true for the lower class folks. There are a number of possibilities as to the cause – perhaps the lower-picked guys worked extra hard in the pre-season to wind jobs, maybe the higher guys knew they had roles already and they didn’t feel the need to over-exert, who knows. And, again, this is a small sample size. If I can find data on previous pre-seasons, I’ll run that as well just to see if this is an isolated occurrence or a regular one.
For the time being, though, I would suggest you resist the urge to worry about Kevin Durant. The fact he hasn’t exploded for any huge games is likely not a big deal, and the odds of him being a Olowokandi-esque bust are slim. (Right? Right?) Just as we can’t expect Javaris Crittenden to average 18 points a game this season, don’t expect KD to be wallowing in the lower teens.