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Saturday, October 13, 2007

Ready, Shoot, Aim: Kevin Durant Continues to Misfire at an Alarming Rate

Kevin 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

10 comments

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10 Comments:

At Sunday, October 14, 2007 12:10:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

who cares? its preseason. the sonics have no one. he will probably average 20 anyway because he will get a lot of shots.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 3:17:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What interests me is not how many ppg Durant averages but what kind of player he will be overall. His height, length and talent are obvious and undeniable but he also has some equally obvious and undeniable weaknesses right now. Instead of just anointing him as Rookie of the Year basketball commentators should be more objective about Durant.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 4:46:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

he needs to gain weight and become a postup player. that will make him a more complete scorer.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 6:59:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I agree but there are other issues besides his scoring/shooting: his rebounding, passing, defense and ballhandling have not been great in the admittedly limited NBA action that he has seen so far in summer league and preseason.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 8:31:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

durant going to be a great player this year he will avg 25ppg mark my word. he will get off enough shots and team will be bad and also he will be playing very good towards the end. everybody has there bumps in the road except lebron jordan etc. but he will be a great player no question the talent is undenaible stop making a big thing about pre season and summer league people dont remeber that it's regular season playoffs and he will be rookie of the year.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 8:57:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Reggie:

He might average 25 ppg this year but I doubt it. Very few rookies reach that level (Shaq, LeBron, Kobe, T-Mac are among those who did not). Unless his shooting improves a lot it will be almost impossible. It seems like he will make four or five free throws a game so he needs to make 10 FG to get to 25 ppg; at his current rate that would take 25-30 FGA/game and that is a big workload for a skinny rookie. Even if he starts out shooting that much I can all but guarantee that he is not physically strong enough to do that for 82 games.

On what basis do you know for sure that he will be a great player? I have acknowledged that he has obvious talent; why are so many people, including you, reluctant to acknowledge that right now his game needs a lot of work? I'm not making a "big thing" about the summer league and the preseason. I am reporting his stats and adding my observations based on the games that I have seen him play.

 
At Sunday, October 14, 2007 10:19:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

i see it in this kid if you could score like he does have the length and the speed your going to be a great player and could score in the variety of ways he could score in please. this kid will be grat why you so down on him but high on sam bowie excuse me greg oden. he will be alot better player than sam bowie will be or greg oden.

 
At Monday, October 15, 2007 4:15:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I subjected Oden to the same kind of analysis when he played in the summer league--but he only played in a couple games, so there was less to write about. I don't recall making any outlandish statements praising Oden. I have no idea if he will be a Sam Bowie or not. Bowie had a history of leg injuries. Oden has had a broken wrist, tonsillitis and the knee injury--he has not had the same chronic injury over and over like Bowie did.

I'm not down (or up) on Durant; I am merely analyzing his performances. When/if he starts playing better I will be the first one to say so.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 12:19:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

reggie

you have been kissing sam bowie aka greg oden butt since he got drafted and knocking durant, you will be wrong when durant become a way better player player than oden ever can dream of. he has all the moves and the game to be great oden is a shotblocker and defensive presence at best dikembe mutumbo.

 
At Thursday, October 18, 2007 6:41:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

I dare you to cite one specific example of unwarranted praise that I have directed toward Oden.

Back on July 9--before Oden was injured--this is what I wrote about Oden and Durant's summer league performances up to that point:

"The 24-hour a day, seven day a week media monster that fed us so much hype about Oden and Durant may very well turn on them if they don't start playing better in the summer league. Philadelphia 76ers Coach Maurice Cheeks recently offered cautionary words of wisdom about Oden to the Oregonian's Jason Quick: 'I remember Tim Duncan's first summer league game, and Greg Ostertag killed him. Just killed him. Now, who do you think the better player is? The kid is going to be fine.' The correct thing to emphasize now is not that Oden and Durant are struggling a bit but rather how their early play dramatically demonstrates the gap between major college basketball players and fringe NBA players (let alone NBA regulars and NBA All-Stars).

It is important to emphasize that I don't expect Oden or Durant to be busts, nor am I surprised or disappointed by their summer league numbers. The NBA is tough--even in its watered down summer league iteration. This is yet another indication of why the rule prohibiting high school players from jumping straight to the NBA is a good one. Oden and Durant, even after highly successful freshman seasons, clearly face a bit of a growth curve to overcome before they become dominant NBA players; imagine how much more raw they would be mentally, physically and emotionally if they had come into the league a year ago."

Obviously, I used the same methods to evaluate both and to suggest that I am biased for one player or against the other is absurd. You are the one who is "kissing butt" by assuming that Durant's success in college will automatically and immediately translate to the NBA level. There are plenty of high scoring college players who never get it done in the NBA and it is too soon to know whether or not Durant will be one of them. All we know right now is that unless he gets a lot better in the next two weeks he will hardly be setting the league on fire at the start of his rookie season.

Durant may have all the moves but right now he is missing most of the shots. That may change in the future but I am not analyzing the future; I am analyzing how he plays now.

 

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