Wednesday, April 9

Durant In the Clutch

Anyone who witnessed Kevin Durant’s fantastic performance against the Nuggets last weekend has to be rejoicing at how the young man came through in an ultimate NBA clutch situation, and not just once, but twice.

That showing is backed up by a recent stat revelation from 82games.com, which, as always, has provided basketball junkies with a treasure trove of statistical goodness. One recent article listed the “clutch” stats of all NBA players, sorted by various categories (clutch being defined by 82games as “4th quarter or overtime, less than 5 minutes left, neither team ahead by more than 5 points”).

Before we get into the details, let me offer an interesting piece of information gleaned from the tables: Kevin Durant has played more “clutch” minutes this season than, among others, Chris Paul, Manu Ginobili, Chauncey Billups, and Carlos Boozer. For a player on a team enduring a season-long slump, that’s a bit surprising, no? Obviously, players on great teams don’t play close games very often, but the flip side of that same coin is players on lousy teams don’t play nail-biters very often, either. It’s not a hugely important statistic, but reassuring for those of us hoping to see KD develop his skills in the ultimate crucible of NBA development – crunch time.

But back to the numbers. The following is a list of the top 10 players in points per 48 minutes of crunch time:

LeBron James
Kobe Bryant
Dirk Nowitzki
Manu Ginobili
Michael Redd
Ben Gordon
Chris Paul
Stephen Jackson
Steve Nash

and

Kevin Durant

You read that right, Kevin Durant is among the 10 best in the NBA at getting his in the final minutes of close games – better than Baron Davis, Carmelo Anthony, Carlos Boozer, Dwyane Wade, or Amare Stoudemire.

As you can no doubt figure out, there are other factors at play here. For one, most great NBA players have someone else who can take the burden off their shoulders, as evidenced by Golden State’s duo of Jackson and Davis (not to mention Monta Ellis, etc, etc). Durant, however, has no supporting cast, and the Sonics’ dearth of 3-point shooters means Durant is often confronted by double teams, regardless of where he sets up on the floor.

A closer look at the numbers reveals some other tidbits as well. For example, Durant’s scores come with an assist 59% of the time, a rather high number, especially when compared to Bryant and James (23%), Redd (30%), or Nowitzki (46%), indicating KD is less capable of finding his own shot than those players. Bear in mind, though, that Durant is still barely out of high school and doesn’t have the strength of those players, nor the respect from the officials that enables him to drive the lane with the confidence of a man who knows he’ll be getting a foul call when contact is made.

This is further evidenced by his relatively low number of shot attempts. Durant’s average of 23 attempts per 48 minutes isn’t even in the top 20, illustrating the Sonics need to: 1) get him some help and 2) get him a point guard who doesn’t think he’s the best option on offense. (On the shot attempt note, here’s an easy bar bet to win – Which five players take the most shots in clutch situations? The first four are easy, LBJ, Kobe, Dirk and D-Wade. The fifth? Jamaal Tinsley. Proving, if nothing else, than while Mr. Tinsley has plenty of other problems, self-esteem is not among them.)

Also interesting to note is Durant’s below-average number of 3-point attempts per 48 minutes, relative to the other players in the top 10, as well as his astounding success rate from long-range (66%!). True, it’s a small sample size, but welcome nonetheless (in fact, Durant’s remarkable accuracy rate from deep is the best in the entire league outside of Milwaukee’s Charlie Bell, who has taken much fewer shots).

Best of all is the young man’s success at the free throw line. There is no greater test of clutch ability than success at the charity stripe in the dying moments of close games (see Tigers, Memphis). Of players who have average 10 or more FTA per 48 minutes in these situations, only seven have a better accuracy rate than Durant, among them the most renowned clutch players in the game (Ginobili, Rip Hamilton, Billups). Vince Carter also checks in ahead of KD’s FT mark, but we’ll ignore that comparison for the time being.

What does it all mean, then? Naturally, extrapolating one small part of one season’s statistics into a career is a foolhardy mission, and I won’t begin to suggest that Kevin Durant is the second coming of Robert Horry, but I believe it’s fair to say that Durant, while mired on a miserable team in a miserable situation, has proven himself capable of succeeding in clutch situation this season.

Will Seattle fans be able to witness the fruit from this tree in the playoffs, the ultimate clutch situation? Too soon to tell, but let’s hope that last Sunday’s coming out party proves to be a portent for many more clutch three-pointers to come for Kevin Durant in a Seattle jersey – ones that are made in May and June.

2 comments:

Gary Ng said...

For me, the stats in crunch time means nothing. The sonics has no one else, they have to go to KD everytime. He get a lot of touhces, that's why he makes a lot, but he miss a lot either. But still, KD is superb, he has exceed my expectation, though he still looks like kate moss.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Gary, But if he'd miss that much in crunch time he wouldn't make that superstar-stuffed top 10 either. Scoring with efficiency is extremely difficult when people know you're the go-to-guy. That's what makes (19 year old rookie!) Durant's stats so amazing in this context. 66% from 3 in the clutch ????
I can't believe you don't seem the slightest bit impressed by this.
Personally, I can't help but marvle at the ability to excell when everyone is getting tired and the game is on the line, but hey,
that's just me i guess. Some people just demand more than the absolute best...