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Friday, February 22, 2008

Kevin Durant: A Progress Report

Months ago, Tim Capstraw, Bill Simmons, Rick Kamla and many other commentators--I refuse to call them experts--breathlessly sang Kevin Durant's praises. Simmons went so far as to assert that Portland made a mistake drafting Greg Oden instead of Durant--and Simmons said that before either player had participated in a single NBA game! Just like it would not be right for Capstraw, Simmons, Kamla or anyone else to label a player a bust before he has had a chance to play it is not right to prematurely deem someone to be a superstar in the making, either.

I watched Durant play in the Summer League and evaluated his game objectively without resorting to baseless hype. I wrote several posts here describing exactly what I saw, including Durant Hardly Dominant as Summer League Concludes and Kevin Durant--Shooting Guard? I don't mean to pat myself on the back--well, maybe I do just a little bit--but if you read those posts you will discover that Durant's production as a rookie has been exactly what I predicted. Right now he is a one dimensional player and the only category that he performs well in is free throw percentage. Unfortunately, Durant cannot take advantage of that because he is not good at drawing fouls, which is something else that I correctly predicted despite the fact that he did draw fouls during Summer League play. I vividly remember one Summer League play when Durant got two free throws simply because his defender was too clumsy to get out of Durant's way as Durant awkwardly twisted in an attempt to avoid contact; I could tell that Durant would have trouble drawing fouls against legit NBA defenders. During TNT's telecast of Portland's 92-88 win over Seattle on Thursday, Doug Collins suggested that because of Durant's slight frame he is not able to either finish drives strongly or draw fouls. Collins predicted that Durant will get better at this when he gains some weight. That may be true but some guys are never able to gain weight. Also, great players are able to drive to the hoop and draw contact even when they are young and skinny. In any case, my point is that if you watched Durant with an informed and objective eye during the summer then you would not at all be surprised by how he is playing now.

Durant's best month was November, when he scored 20.6 ppg on .414 field goal shooting. He averaged 18.8 ppg on .408 shooting in December and 19.4 ppg on .400 shooting in January. So far in February he is scoring 17.7 ppg on .380 shooting. It's not like Durant is making up for his poor shooting by excelling in other areas, either. He was an exceptional rebounder in college but he has been pedestrian at best (4.1 rpg) so far as an NBA rebounder and it is important to remember that most players have their best rebounding numbers early in their careers. Durant got a lot of rebounds in college because he was taller and more athletic than his opponents; he does not enjoy such advantages in the NBA and I will go so far as to say that he will never be an exceptional NBA rebounder, whether or not the rest of his game blossoms the way so many people seem to think that it will. Durant does not have a nose for the ball and he rarely gets tough rebounds in traffic and neither of those things figure to change regardless of how much weight he may gain.

Durant's ability as a ballhandler has been widely praised but, as I said during the Summer League, he has a high dribble that is easy to steal. I don't generally place a lot of emphasis on turnover statistics because the great players have the ball the most often and therefore usually commit the most turnovers. However, after watching Durant dribble during the Summer League, I predicted that he would commit a lot of turnovers this season. He is averaging 2.8 tpg in 33.1 mpg, a high total for a shooting guard who only passes for 2.2 apg and whose game at this point largely revolves around catch and shoot plays. A lot of people are mesmerized by Durant's ability to cross people over once in a while but I would describe him as an average ballhandler at best. His passing was poor during the Summer League and I would say that this aspect of his game has improved over the past few months; he actually is capable of making some good passes from time to time, though the numbers show that he does not do this very frequently. Durant's length enables him to get about one steal and one blocked shot per game but he is a poor defender overall.

Durant is a likable, soft spoken kid and he does seem to be trying to get better. It would be a nice story if he does become a great player at some point--but he is not even close to being a great NBA player right now and that should have been apparent to anyone who watched him play during the Summer League. It is a great disservice to Durant--and disrespectful to the truly great players--to compare him to the best players in the game before he has earned such recognition based on his performances. If Durant wants to become a great player then this summer he must get stronger, improve his shot--and his shot selection--and increase his understanding of how to play good NBA defense.

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posted by David Friedman @ 5:29 AM

5 comments

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5 Comments:

At Friday, February 22, 2008 8:45:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

David:

I totally agree with you on everything you wrote about Durant. He's too overhyped.

This is one of the best analyses I have read on your blog so far. You are absolutely objective and that's what writing should be about. You are not biased, you present the facts and combine them with your fantastic basketball knowledge and that's why you are such a phenomenal basketall expert/analyst/historian.

Keep up the fantastic work.

Your friend Tomislav

PS: Do you think Al Horford has a chance to win Rookie of the year award or will it be Kevin Durant hype that will get him the award? If you ask me, probably the best way to give the Rookie award this season would be a tie: Horford/Durant. What do you think?

 
At Friday, February 22, 2008 1:37:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Tomislav:

I think that Durant will win the award unless his scoring numbers drop off dramatically or Horford's scoring numbers go up a lot. Most of the voters will look at ppg first--and there is something to be said for having to carry so much of the scoring load without being surrounded by much help. My point is not so much that Durant should not win RoY but rather that he is not yet at the level that so many people already placed him at last summer before he had participated in even one minute of live NBA action.

I waver back and forth on this issue myself when listing Durant and Horford in the Blogger MVP/RoY rankings. Neither player is really having a RoY caliber season but someone has to win the award.

 
At Monday, February 25, 2008 1:22:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

The only experts are players and coaches.

 
At Monday, February 25, 2008 3:36:00 PM, Blogger madnice said...

I would say most players. Because Kwame Brown is no expert. Durant has so many years ahead of him. A lot of young players need to improve upon the same things. Even veterans need to improve their skills over the summer to improve.

 
At Tuesday, February 26, 2008 5:42:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Madnice:

Coaches and players have first hand experience but that is not always equivalent to expertise; an expert is someone who understands something at a deep level and can convey that understanding to others. First hand experience can help one gain expertise if that individual is aware enough and intelligent enough to understand what he has experienced. It is also possible to develop expertise through careful, determined study.

There are a lot of people who get paid a lot of money to be so-called experts despite the fact that they have absolutely no idea what they are talking about.

 

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