Ready, Shoot, Aim: Kevin Durant Continues to Misfire at an Alarming RateKevin Durant hardly lit up the summer league; his 24.0 ppg average only looks good if you hold the stat sheet so that your thumb and forefinger cover up his .333 field goal percentage and .263 three point shooting percentage--but that's just summer league, right? Who cares about that? Never mind that many of the summer league participants are not good enough to actually play in the NBA by the time the regular season rolls around. On the positive side, there are the reports that suggested that Durant did very well in the Team USA camp, though all the public actually saw was one nationally televised scrimmage. Granted, Durant did play well in that contest but ultimately he did not make the final roster of 12, even though several of those players received limited minutes during the FIBA Americas tournament. One would think that if a young prospect like Durant could have really helped the team that he would have been given the nod over an older player so that Durant could get more seasoning in case he is in fact the future (or at least a big part of the future) of Team USA.
As Hubie Brown mentioned during one of the NBA Europe Live Tour telecasts, there are four NBA seasons and each successive one is more competitive and intense: summer league, preseason, regular season, playoffs. Durant has now played two games in the preseason, the second season in Brown's vernacular, and his numbers are not any better than they were in the summer league: 13.5 ppg, .323 field goal shooting (10-31), .375 three point shooting (3-8), .500 free throw shooting (4-8), 5.0 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.0 spg, no blocked shots. In his first game he shot well from the field (5-9) but poorly from the free throw line (1-4) and he had 12 points, four fouls, three turnovers, three rebounds and no assists in 21 minutes as the Sonics lost 104-98 to the Kings. In his second game, Friday's 96-90 win over the Cavaliers, Durant shot horribly from the field (5-22) and adequately from the free throw line (3-4) and he finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, two assists, two steals, no turnovers and one foul. The improvements in rebounding and turnovers are good signs but it looks like Durant will have to shoot a staggering number of shots in order to average even 20 ppg.
Durant's next game is on Saturday versus Indiana and then on Thursday his Sonics will visit L.A. for a nationally televised game (on TNT) versus the Lakers. In addition to Durant's shooting woes, he also faces a daunting task on defense, particularly since Coach P.J. Carlesimo moved him to shooting guard. Kevin Martin had a game-high 27 points--including 14 points versus Durant in the first quarter alone--when Sacramento beat Seattle, so watching Durant try to guard Kobe Bryant should be interesting.
I'm not calling Durant a bust or saying that he will not become a very good player eventually--but one would think that the consensus preseason pick to win Rookie of the Year would have a more polished game at this stage. I think that it is legitimate to question if Durant is going to be as good in his first year as people seem to assume that he will be. To this point, his numbers do not support that idea. It seems like once a player gets anointed that his statistics and his performances do not matter. Yes, it's early, but what is wrong with simply telling the truth? The truth is that based on the summer league games and the first couple preseason games that Durant is not as good as advertised. In the next week or two, he will probably have a very good game and then I am sure that everyone will say it was a "breakout" performance, as if that game means more than the ones that preceded it--but in order for that to be true he must sustain a high level of play for more than a game or two.
Some young NBA players (Durant only played one year of college ball and just turned 19) either struggled initially or did not receive much playing time as rookies because their teams had a veteran who played the same position--but even those players (guys like Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Tracy McGrady and Dirk Nowitzki) blossomed fairly quickly into All-Star level players. Many truly great pro players made an impact right from the start--from Bill Russell to Wilt Chamberlain to Oscar Robertson to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar to Julius Erving to more recent stars like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan. LeBron James was very good from day one and is now a perennial MVP candidate. Maybe Durant will follow the KG/Kobe/T-Mac/Dirk model and take a year or so to develop--but I don't understand why everyone acts like this is a sure thing.
posted by David Friedman @ 1:40 AM