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Monday, July 16, 2007

Durant Hardly Dominant as Summer League Concludes

I know that it might seem like 20 Second Timeout has turned into "The Kevin Durant Report" but I find his story interesting on a number of levels. He was selected with the second overall pick in the draft, his team promptly discarded two veteran All-Stars to turn the reins completely over to him and "everyone" seems convinced that he is going to be a "superstar" even though there are some conspicuous red flags about his body and his overall game. Those red flags don't mean that he won't become a very good player, even a superstar in time--but just like we should not read too much into Durant's summer league play we should also not read too little into it, either. My intention prior to the summer league was to focus attention equally on Greg Oden and Durant but of course Oden's tonsils wrecked that plan. Many of the summer league players are going to end up in Europe, the minor leagues or spending most of their time glued to an NBA team's bench this season so I'm not overly inclined to write about their exploits (except when someone declares that J.J. Redick could start for a playoff team; that kind of thinking always gets my attention). So, without further ado, let's take a look at how Durant fared in his final summer league game.

The first thing that should be noted is that Seattle lost 84-78 to the Oden-less Trailblazers; the Sonics went 0-5 in summer league play, with Durant participating in four of those games. Yeah, it is "just" summer league but if Durant cannot dominate summer league and lead his team to wins then how long will it be before he can dominate regular season NBA games? Durant scored 28 points but shot just 8-19 (.421) from the field. Everything that we saw from him in his first three games still held true: he drew fouls and made his free throws (11-13), he rebounded poorly (three boards in 38 minutes), had just one assist and did not block a shot. Durant also had two steals. Durant's summer league averages betray how one dimensional his game is right now: 24.0 ppg, 2.0 rpg, .5 apg (that is not a typo), 1.5 spg and 0.0 bpg (also not a typo; Durant was a very good rebounder and shotblocker in college but did not block a single shot in summer league play). Durant shot .333 from the field, .263 from three point range and .848 from the free throw line. It's great that he can draw a lot of fouls in summer league but has anyone stopped to consider what might happen to Durant's scoring in the regular season when he runs into players and teams that can guard him without fouling? You'd think based on Durant's free throw attempt numbers that he is frequently driving aggressively to the hoop but in this game he drew some cheap fouls (for instance, on jump shots) from players who are hardly high quality NBA defenders. When he drives it sometimes seems like he is avoiding contact; perhaps his best move of the night was a left handed drive and finish early in the second half. Gary Payton joined the NBA TV broadcast crew on the air shortly after that play. His evaluation of Durant is that he likes Durant's shooting ability but thinks that Durant should post up more when he is guarded by shorter players and that when Durant drives he should initiate contact instead of taking the ball to the other side and trying to avoid the hit.

The bottom line is that right now Durant is not making his jumpers with any consistency and he has no power game. Barring some dramatic improvement between now and the start of the season I am skeptical that he is going to score 20-plus ppg as easily as so many people seem to believe--he may very well score 20-plus ppg out of necessity because Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis are gone but he will likely have to do it on a high volume of shots with a low degree of accuracy.

OK, the numbers are not so great. What kind of presence does Durant have on the court? He looks much thinner than he did in college because now he is standing next to full grown men. Compared to NBA players, Durant looks like a 15 year old kid who hit his growth spurt but has not filled out yet. Also, when guys like Wilt Chamberlain, Patrick Ewing or Hakeem Olajuwon were young and slender they clearly had frames that could support more body mass. Durant appears to have narrow shoulders; in other words, he is an ectomorph. Some ectomorphs are able to build up their bodies over time but others, like Ralph Sampson, really struggle to add (or even maintain) body weight. During the Seattle-Portland telecast, NBA TV's Tim Capstraw said that Durant looks taller than his listed 6-9. I'm not sure that I agree with that but if he does look taller than 6-9 it is because he is so painfully thin. Capstraw was impressed by Durant's 32 point showing in his previous game but Capstraw neglected to remind viewers that Durant shot just 9-23 from the field in that contest. Considering Durant's slight frame, it is not surprising that he seems to lack a certain gusto to go into the paint. His offensive game mainly consists of waiting for someone to pass him the ball so that he can launch a shot from the perimeter; he does not cut hard or move very well without the ball. In the first half, Durant got a defensive rebound and went coast to coast to draw a foul; Capstraw waxed poetic like he was watching the second coming of Magic Johnson but what I saw was a player with a high dribble (a quick handed NBA guard would have picked Durant clean at midcourt) who did not attack the hoop straight on but launched a soft shot that turned out to be an airball. Durant was bailed out when a secondary defender plowed into him after Durant seemed to try to avoid contact with the first defender. Yes, Durant is long and athletic and can get his shot off over most defenders but if he continues to shoot poorly and cannot post up, rebound or pass then I don't think that teams will be greatly concerned about him shooting a lot of faceup jumpers.

Fellow rookie Jeff Green (32 points, 13 rebounds, 10-18 shooting from the field) looked much more NBA ready in this game than his teammate Durant but this was by far Green's best game of the summer league; we will see if he can have that type of production on a consistent basis in regular season NBA games. Certainly, Green looks more physically ready for the NBA than Durant does, though.

I have said repeatedly that I know that it is early but, frankly, I am surprised and disappointed by Durant's summer league play. I expected him to shoot much better than he did and even though I had my doubts about his ability to rebound in the NBA I did not think that he would get just 2.0 rpg in over 34 mpg. If you are a University of Texas fan or a Seattle fan and think that I am being too harsh on Durant, just go to NBA.com and watch the webcasts of his games. As they say, the eye in the sky doesn't lie. I have nothing against him and wish him all the best but he's got an uphill climb ahead of him and all of the breathless praise and lofty predictions really do him a disservice; somebody needs to get in his ear about the things that he doesn't do well and help him out. If all Durant hears is how great he is going to be then what incentive is he going to have to work on his game?

posted by David Friedman @ 9:58 AM



At Monday, July 16, 2007 11:23:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amen. Learning that Durant made the Summer League All-Star team with his 33% shooting, 2 rebound and 0.5 assist average was nauseating. I found this year's Vegas Summer League far more annoying than last, with certain players and storylines (like Durant) pushed to the forefront without regard to merit. It appears the NBA has taken over some of the summer league's functions, and coverage suffered for it.

At Monday, July 16, 2007 3:54:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

It certainly does seem that ESPN, NBA TV, NBA.com and other NBA "partners" are giving us the "party line" on Durant no matter what.

As I've repeatedly stressed, I'm not calling Durant a bust or trying to blow these four games out of proportion but I see no reason why we can't simply look at Durant's summer league play objectively and talk about the fact that he was hardly dominant while playing against second/third tier NBA players. Yes, Durant will probably improve with time but right now he is hardly a superstar level player.

At Wednesday, July 18, 2007 11:01:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes the guy hasn't played well yet, but he is young and very new to the NBA. There have been games when Tracy McGrady, and Iverson repeatedly had terrible shooting games while their teams continued to lose and they are both super stars. It will take a little bit and I hope that Durant continues to shoot and gain more confidence with being more aggressive.

Also, from what I know, Oden has not been spectacular too. Since we are grading brand new NBA are such a limited scale then what is much different than judging oden too?The very few games he plays he was a fouling monster. How is he going to be able to compete in the nba if he fouls out or is in foul trouble the first 5 minutes of the game? Is it fair to judge him on just a couple games? It's not that much different than judging durant at this time.

At Wednesday, July 18, 2007 11:12:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

If you go back and look, I critiqued Oden after his first game, too. Oden looked better in his second game and hasn't played since, so I can't add anything more about him right now. Oden demonstrated that he can be a paint presence both on the glass and defensively and he shot a good percentage. I assume that he will adjust to NBA officiating.

T-Mac and Iverson have already established themselves as stars and they fill up the boxscore in multiple areas (assists, rebounds, steals for both, sometimes blocks for T-Mac). Durant has yet to establish that he is an NBA star and he looked very one dimensional even against marginal NBA players in the summer league, nor did he show much improvement over the course of the five games; he scored more at the end because he was shooting more, but his percentages were consistently bad. Based on how he played, I don't expect him to draw a lot of fouls in regular season games, so the one thing that he did well--shoot free throws--may not help him that much. He's got a lot of work to do to reach the heights that have been predicted for him. I realize that he has length and athleticism and I fully expect his shooting to improve but the other areas of his game are worse than I expected--and I did not have high hopes for him as a rebounder, as I wrote a few months ago. I'm not predicting anything dramatic about either guy; I'm just trying to objectively analyze what I've seen so far. I think that the guys who keep hyping Durant up and keep glossing over his weaknesses are not being honest--or are simply not paying attention--and they are doing him no favors by raising fans' expectations to unreasonable levels.


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