The NBA is filled with physical freaks of nature. It’s the nature of the beast. It’s part of the reason that we tune into the games. Kevin Durant is one such freak of nature. Coming into the league Durant was around 6’10” 215 pounds and had a wingspan that approached 7’5”. But, Durant also wasn’t able to put up a single rep on the 185 bench press portion of the NBA Pre-Draft Camp.
His frailty led then coach PJ Carlesimo to play Durant at shooting guard most of the time for his rookie season. This decision is often mocked in retrospect because Durant’s numbers look so askew to the rest of his career. But, who is to say that Durant would have thrived more in a small forward role as a rookie? What’s clear is that those close to Durant and invested in his development were worried about his strength level and ability to take a pounding at the NBA level.
Due to his slenderness it has been perceived by some that Durant is incapable of playing to the level some of the other star small forwards in the league like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony because he isn’t able to play as both a small and power forward.
This notion is ill-conceived as Durant has evolved into a terrific hybrid forward.
According to 82games.com Durant is actually quite more efficient at the four spot as you can see here:
And, of the ten lineups he’s featured the most, the ones with the three highest Win% of all feature him as the power forward of the lineup. Now, there is some leeway for this as him featuring at the four spot often is something that creates matchup issues for opposing team and thusly him playing in that role in smaller increments is likely to yield higher results since it is designed to be a more efficient set-up.
But, still Durant has to have the skills to thrive in said situations and he’s worked hard to get where he’s at.
Durant’s upped his weight to a reported 235 pounds, though he still looks like a string bean. This added strength allows for him to hold his own while holding off and backing down defenders. The type of impact this has had on Durant’s game can be seen in his post-up numbers.
According to synergy sports Durant posted a PPP (points per play) of 0.83 in post up scoring situations in the 2010-11 season, good enough to rank 101st in the NBA and accounted for 6.5% of his taken scoring chances. The following season Durant upped that percentage to 10.5% and managed to up his PPP to 0.89, good enough for 50th in the NBA among those who attempted enough of that play type. This season, however, Durant has made the post up an even bigger part of his game with this play type accounting for 12.4% of his attempted scoring chances. In addition to utilizing this part of his game even more, he has become even better at it. Durant puts up a PPP of 1.12, which is currently tops in all of the NBA.
Durant goes about this in a manner of different ways. Durant will take advantage of mismatches due to switching like he does here against Dallas, where he simply backs to a position where he is comfortable and shoots over his defender.
But even if the Thunder are unable to force a switch, Durant can still make the most of his situation. Using quick footwork, Durant quickly sizes up the defender and is capable of blowing by someone and fight through the contact of someone whose height and length match-up similarly to Durant, as opposed to trying to back that person down and put up a highly-contested shot.
He also is capable of recognizing that there’s no need to try to force a switch and immediately establishes position like he does here versus the Lakers, and then forces his way deep into the paint where again he is able to shoot over the smaller defender.
In addition to the drive-by, he’s capable of freezing defenders and nailing the jump shot.
Durant also nets a shooting foul 9.9% of the time he attempts one of these types of plays. He does a terrific job of recognizing that a double team is coming and puts them in a precocious situation by attacking through them on his way up towards the rim. There isn’t a lot a help-defender can do to stop their momentum, especially if they already have their hands out trying to get some form of deflection on the ball.
Oklahoma City also has sets where they attempt to get Durant deep position and boy is it scary. This is often how he forces fouls, or if he remains isolated he can use his nifty footwork to shake free of a defender and do this:
But, Durant can’t always establish a deep post position. But, he’s worked on the ability to post for essentially the perimeter. This can be a negative, because it can be the cause of Durant not being open for an entry enough and putting Westbrook into the hard decision of forcing a pass or forcing a shot. But, Durant is improving on allowing defenders to attain a front, but sealing off the defender allowing for a lob pass and an easy path to the rim. And, the distance from the rim that he is capable of posting allows for a lot of room to work with for the passer.
This isn’t ideal for most defenses, so they continue to allow him to make a catch deep on the perimeter, but Durant uses his ability to shoot over smaller defenders or blow by slower ones turning the post ups into essentially isolation situations. And if that’s not enough, Durant is working on the ability to shoot over even the most suitable of defenders. Durant is incorporating the Dirk-esque fade-away that is pretty much unguardable when executed by a player of his size and length. He’s still not as proficient with it, because it takes him away from the basket to create separation from the defender. But, the threat of this move also creates the chance for a step-through as defenders try to contest it. He is able to score in the post in all of these manners and his game is even more expanding. The “Dream Shake” has been seen from time to time in my video research and he is capable of knocking down a myriad of floaters, finger-rolls and hook shots.
Simply put, Durant is a versatile wave of destruction in post up situations that has overcame his perceived weakness and has worked hard enough is so skilled that he is capable of countering what defenses throw at him and still manage to put points on the board at a ridiculous rate.
And to those who will try to argue that simply posting up is only one facet of the offensive spectrum, Durant also posts a PPP of 1.3 as roll man in pick-and-roll situations, which qualifies him as the 4th best in the NBA.
So, while Kevin Durant may be perceived as a scrawny small forward without a power aspect to his game, it’s simply not true. Durant has adapted his game to be just as if not more successful at portions of his game typically associated with these “power” players.
Thanks to DraftExpress and the NBA for measurables information and to 82 Games and Synergy Sports for the statistics as well as tiffa130 for the image via Flickr.