Wednesday, February 27

Dealing With Durant

We’ve all read about the rookie wall, when first-year NBA players, unaccustomed to the rigors of an 82-game schedule, start seeing their numbers drop.

(On a side note, is “rigors” used anywhere but in sportswriting? Does anyone ever say, “Boy, the rigors of the traffic on the bridge today were terrible!”)

But back to what I was saying about that wall. Kevin Durant has received some negative publicity lately about his game, and I got to wondering how he has done this season at fighting off the rookie wall. Here are some numbers to consider:

November – 20.6 - 41.4
December – 18.8- 40.8
January – 19.4 - 40.0
February – 17.3 - 36.9

Obviously, we can see a trend towards lower field goal percentages, but that’s just a rough estimate of what’s going on. Another way to look at it is to compare how Durant played against a team the first time he saw them versus how he did the second or third or fourth times. With the recent comments in the PI from Gary Washburn about how teams are learning to play Durant differently, I thought that might make an interesting chart. Here goes, with averages on a per 40 minute basis:

23.9 points, 41 FG%, 4 turnovers

22.5 points, 39 FG%, 2.64 turnovers

As expected, his points and shooting percentages suffered when defenses had a chance to get to know him. Surprisingly, the effect Washburn noted, that people were saying Durant held the ball too low and was causing too many turnovers, is not borne out in the stats, as Durant actually committed fewer turnovers the more often he faced an opponent.

Obviously, the sample sizes are quite small, and other factors come into play. After all, Durant’s games the second or third time around are, by necessity, coming at a point in the season at which experts would expect his play to suffer due to fatigue. Is it fatigue? Is it familiarity? That’s for smarter people than me to deduce.

But since we’re here, let’s take a closer look at some other numbers. For example, free throws. Durant’s games with 10 or more FTA have gone 4, 1, 1, 0 on a per month basis. Likewise, his 3-point shot attempts have declined each month, from a high of 4.4 in November to a season-low 1.1 in February.

In fact, in more than half of the games he played in February, Durant failed to sink a single 3-pointer, and he’s only attempted 11 all month. Considering that he attempted 13 in his first two games and 28 in his first four, this is a startling change of offensive tactics.

Just as interesting, his turnovers have also declined each month on a per-minute basis, to the point where he now averages close to 1.5 fewer miscues per game, a massive change. (Of course, as soon as I started writing this piece, Durant managed to cough the ball up nine times in two games; shows what I know).

So, in some ways you could say Kevin Durant has changed as a player and become a player of contradictions. He’s taking fewer shots, but hitting them at a lower percentage. He’s facing teams multiple times, but committing fewer turnovers when he does.

But worse than all the numbers is his style of play. I do not like to comment on players’ attitudes, since giving meaningful insights into the emotions of a 19-year-old is a dicey proposition at best. That said, I think it is painfully obvious that this season is beginning to wear on Durant. The turmoil surrounding the franchise’s future, the chaotic nature of the roster, the starting roster which seems to vary every two days, and, more than anything, the continual, unending losing – it all must be simultaneously frustrating and tiring for him.

Watching the young man walk back to huddles with slumped shoulders, his body tired, you get the feeling that there are times when he must be wondering what he has gotten himself into. Who mentors a 19-year-old wunderkind on a team composed of mishmashed, mediocre “veterans”? Think of the Sonic roster, of the assistant coaches, whom among them has any idea what Durant is going through? None of them know what it is like to be so talented at such a young age.

It all makes you think – are the Sonics providing Kevin Durant the best environment in which he can truly develop his talents? Would hanging onto Ray Allen for one more season before dealing him have hurt his trade value that much? And wouldn’t it have been better for Durant’s career progress to have spent his rookie season with someone like Allen to guide him, to take the heat for the losses, to show him how to be a true professional?

These are questions only the future will tell. I hope, for our sake and for Durant’s, Sam Presti has thought about them as well.


Anonymous said...

Maybe he should have played 25 minutes a night the first half of season in anticipation of a rookie wall which would seem likely to hit a skinny younger than normal guy harder than 21-22 yr olds. Could go to that now too. We need quality more than volume.

Anonymous said...

I don't know that I agree with 25 minutes a night - but he did play alot of big minute nights the first month of the season. Too many.

Still, it's just a case of him still needing to develop his game. All in all, he's ahead of 99% of the 19-year-old guys in NBA history. I'm not too worried.

Anonymous said...

I agree 100%.

Sonics management should have kept a talented veteran who's been around it all to help mentor him. You can't help but feel bad for the kid because he has to bear much of the burden in his rookie season.

Rashard might have been a great choice considering all he had to over come...

Anonymous said...

"All in all, he's ahead of 99% of the 19-year-old guys in NBA history."

Do you have anything to prove this? Or is this just your own observation. Just curious.

Anonymous said...

hey everyone just wanted to pass along something that was in the Sports Guy blog today.

Q: Dude, can we just have a mailbag full of Seattle fans releasing their collective anguish and hatred? An injustice like this should not go down quietly.
-- Erick, Los Angeles

SG: Absolutely. Send me the e-mails, make sure you put "Seattle" or "Seattle Raping" in the subject heading, and we'll run them next week.

get those e-mails sent. this could be good.

Anonymous said...

To send an email to him, go to this link:

Anonymous said...

Info on 4 19-year-olds (Garnett, LBJ, Melo, Durant):

Points (per 36 minutes)
Durant 20.9
Melo 20.7
LBJ 19.1
KG 13.1

TShooting %
KG 52
Melo 51
KD 50
LBJ 49

Obviously, Durant lags behind in rebounds, but then he's the only one of those guys who spent the majority of his time as a guard. The point is that Durant has been the equal of the 3 of the best teenagers in NBA history. If you start comparing him to the Kwame Browns, Jermaine O'Neals, Shawn Kemps, etc., not to mention guys like Jonathan Bender, it's pretty clear that he's upper echelon.

Durant hasn't been Michael Jordan this year, but then again he's just as good if not better than most teenagers in theNBA.

Anonymous said...

Great analysis. Remember Kobe didn't even start his rookie year. Durant would have been much better off coming off the bench (with last year's roster), and taking his time learning the game.

So much of basketball is mental. Having all the pressure of being "the man" (even from a marketing standpoint) can affect someone--especially being so young. Ideally he should be earning that position through years of hard work.

I've tried not to judge his play too much this year--if anything I blame management for the situation.

But I'm sure in 2-3 years from now we'll look back as all this being worth it. I hope.

Anonymous said...

little bit off topic, but does anyone know why the sonics were the ones in white with GS n=in blue last night, even though we were IN Oakland? just curious.

Anonymous said...

GS wanted to wear a special uniform. Why? to sell more jerseys.

Anonymous said...

cool thanks for the info

Anonymous said...

26 18-19 yr olds have played 1000+ total minutes as rookies. Durant's PER is 11th best of those 26. But all but one the guys ahead of him became all-stars.

Anonymous said...

Good info, Anon. Be interesting to see if those other 25 teenagers were the go-to guys on their teams, or if they were 2nd or 3rd bananas. Other teams will always key their defenses to Durant this year, because there are really no other decent options for the Sonics on offense. If Allen were still here, KD wouldn't face nearly the tough defenses he's facing this year.

Of ocurse, he would have to play SF rather than the 2, but it's not like he's using his height to an advantage at all thi syear anyways...


Steven said...

I was at he Denver game last night. Durant was the last player down the court on nearly every possession. PJ has under-played him minutes wise, IMHO. Wall or not, he's young and need to earn his cash! :)

haizman_brain said...

I still wonder what the long term plans are for getting both Durant and Green on the floor at the same time. Can Durant continue at the 2 spot long term? I think he can slide over to the two sometimes, but overall he will need to play the three....Presti please explain the Green conundrum...