Essay: The Curious Case Of Kevin Durant
NBA players can never do enough. If one is an excellent shooter, people wonder why he cannot be an excellent defender. If another is a great rebounder, he gets criticized for not being a good passer. Sometimes this badgering is warranted, especially if a player is simply sitting on great gifts that can be realized through some hard work. But sometimes people go too far. When they see someone doing everything great (see: LeBron James), they push their own star to do the same. But not everyone is fit to be in certain roles.
Kevin Durant faced off against James in the NBA Finals last year, and people claimed that their rivalry would become the new “Magic and Bird.” Obviously some of the fallout from the loss was that Durant did not have as diverse of a skill-set like James. He heard the criticism, and took measures to attempt to increase his role and ability as a playmaker. The results, however, have not been as world class as he may have wanted.
The Oklahoma City Thunder have one of the best offenses in the league (second in offensive rating at 112.5 points per 100 possessions), but they also have one major blemish: they are last in the league in terms of turning the ball over, at an ugly 15.8 TOV%. One of the major reasons for this has been Durant, who controls the ball more than almost everyone else on his team, other than Russell Westbrook.
So far this season, he is sitting an career-worst turnover percentage, at 14.3%. While he also raised his assist percentage to a career-high of 19.9%, the pros do not really outweigh the cons. Now assist percentage is not the entire indicator of playmaking, but it is one of the only tools we really have to look at. Durant is finding teammates, but he is also find his opponents. A major reason for this is that Durant is an elite dribbler/passer, although he is certainly not bad in those areas.
Durant is not LeBron. He is his own player, a devastating, hyper-efficient scorer that has the potential to be elite as a rebounder/defender. Durant this year has been a ridiculous scorer, even for his standards. He currently is at a career-high in terms of true shooting percentage, a mind-boggling 64.3%. He is rebounding better than ever, with a career-high total rebounding percentage of 13.2%. To me, his defense is also as good as ever. While not the best defender, his length and athleticism gives opposing wings headaches. He is doing what he needs to well, and is constantly improving.
It is hard for me to evaluate the Kevin Durant situation. While his playmaking has not been great, it has not hurt the Thunder offense to any large extent. They are still the second best offense in the league, with a top record, so it is not as if Durant is hurting their ability to win. But regular season success is only half of the story, and a team that turns the ball over as much as the Thunder is bound to be punished by fellow elite teams come playoff time.
There is nothing wrong with wanting to get better, wanting to help your teammates out even more. But a player should play to his strengths, and really only attempt to better his weaknesses if they are drastic or hurting his team. Durant is what he is, but being the 2nd best player in the league isn’t that bad, right?