Kevin Durant--Shooting Guard?Even before Greg Oden was sidelined for the season by microfracture surgery, Kevin Durant was widely considered to be the favorite to win Rookie of the Year. Durant clearly has a lot of talent and may very well develop into a great player but after watching him play in the summer league I formed the opinion that he may not be great as soon as people think that he will be. In case you forgot--or did not pay attention in the first place--Durant averaged 24.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, .5 apg, 1.5 spg and 0.0 bpg in four summer league games while shooting .333 from the field, .263 from three point range and .848 from the free throw line. Seattle lost all four games. Yes, that was "just" summer league but you can look at that one of two ways: you can dismiss it because this was Durant's very first live exposure to the NBA or you can raise your eyebrows a bit at how one dimensional Durant's game proved to be against a lot of guys who will not even be on regular season rosters. The only thing that Durant did well was score and he needed a ton of shots to do that.
Yes, Durant looked better by the time the Team USA workouts rolled around but it is safe to say that he is not even close to being a finished product. His thin, frail physique precludes him from being a force in the paint at either end of the court right now, meaning that his ability to make free throws may not prove to be all that relevant because it is hard to see him drawing a lot of fouls; it will also be interesting to see how well he holds up physically (and mentally) over the course of an 82 game season. Seattle is not going to be very good this year and Durant will be expected to carry a lot of weight (no pun intended) in terms of minutes, shot attempts and scoring. A lot of people look at Durant's gaudy rebounding numbers in college and expect that to translate to the NBA but anyone who saw him play during the summer realizes that this is simply not going to happen, at least not any time soon. New Seattle Coach P.J. Carlesimo obviously understands that, because he basically took one look at Durant and shifted him from forward to shooting guard. Maybe some people have visions of Durant being the 21st century version of George Gervin, a slender forward who moved to guard early in his pro career and won four scoring titles--but there are some important differences to consider between Gervin and Durant. Gervin started his career at his natural position of forward and proved that he could rebound, draw fouls and even block shots, averaging 8.4 rpg, 6.3 FTA/g and 1.6 bpg in his first full ABA season (Gervin played just 30 games as a rookie after the Virginia Squires discovered him in the middle of the season while he was playing in the minor league Eastern Basketball Association). San Antonio Spurs Coach Bob Bass moved Gervin to guard late in Gervin's third season, after Gervin had already established himself as an All-Star forward.
Durant has not played one minute of regular season action in the NBA, yet even though he has been advertised as a great inside player his coach already wants him to switch positions. Carlesimo clearly wants to spare Durant from being pounded in the paint but the move to the backcourt will lead to other problems. To the best of my knowledge, Durant has never played guard; now he will have to learn how to do so against the best guards in the world. Also, from what I saw in the summer league, Durant has a very high dribble and is not a great ballhandler, so he will be a turnover waiting to happen if he is relied upon to do a lot of dribbling.
Durant clearly needs to put on some weight but that will be true regardless of which position he plays. I think that he and Seattle would be better served if he takes his lumps at his natural small forward position where he will at least be in the comfort zone of playing in areas of the court that are familiar to him.
posted by David Friedman @ 6:01 AM