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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Stepping To The Next Level, Part II

Yesterday I started to discuss what kind of numbers I thought Kevin Durant would post in his rookie season. I decided to research the first few seasons of some of the young phenoms to whom Durant has been compared. Factors I thought might be valuable to keep in mind were games played and minutes-per-game, in addition to the quality of the teams each player was on.

Let's begin.
Note: Height & weight measurements are from draft day.

Kevin Garnett (6'11"/220)

In the 1995-96 season, Garnett played 28.7 min/g in 80 games as a rookie after being drafted fifth overall by Minnesota. The Timberwolves were coming off a 21-61 season and were bad again (26-56) in The Kid's first campaign, where he put up 14.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg and 2.3 bpg per 40 minutes*. At age 20, Garnett improved to 17.5 ppg (per 40) with similar rebounding and block numbers. Likewise, Minnesota's record improved to 40-42 with Garnett playing about 10 more min/g in his second season. With the team's first talented guard (Stephon Marbury) by his side, Garnett made the first of eight consecutive trips to the playoffs.

The T-Wolves were a terrible franchise when KG arrived, six years removed from expansion status and going absolutely nowhere. A premium was placed on developing him into a fearsome, agile post presence. Subsequently, Garnett has added 33 pounds of muscle since entering the league. If it weren't for Garnett, you might wonder if pro basketball would still exist in Minnesota. I can see Durant facing the same questions KG has regarding his ability to make others around him better.

Tracy McGrady (6'8"/210)

McGrady was drafted ninth overall by Toronto in the 1997 NBA Draft. The Raptors were atrocious the following year (16-66) and McGrady played only 18.4 min/g over 64 games. But averaged over 40 minutes, his numbers looked like this as an 18-year old: 15.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg & 2.1 bpg. Not bad. McGrady was less well-known than Garnett coming into the league and injuries in his second season hid his improvement, when he averaged 16.6 ppg, 10.1 rpg & 2.4 bpg (per 40). McGrady's (and Toronto's) breakout season coincided with Vince Carter's arrival the following year and he finally reached supernova status at 21 when he fled to Orlando.

Despite recurring back problems, T-Mac's scoring average has not dropped below 25 since escaping Carter's shadow. Unlike Garnett, McGrady has made his living on the perimeter. He has bulked up to 223 lbs., but uses his height to get open jumpers and loves the reverse lay-up. He is the most obvious comparison to Durant, as Durant might be the only player we could envision duplicating McGrady's 35-second explosion versus the Spurs [WARNING: long YouTube clip].

Carmelo Anthony (6'8"/220)

Anthony was the most heralded of the group, going #3 overall to Denver after leading Syracuse to the NCAA title. In 2003-04, 'Melo and Andre Miller helped the Nuggets improve from 17-65 to 43-39. He put up a legit 21.5 ppg because he played 36.5 min/g right out of the gate. Overall, Anthony averaged 23 ppg, 6.7 rpg & 3 apg (per 40) as a rookie. At age 20, Anthony's numbers remained nearly identical before his scoring average skyrocketed last season.

As a scorer, Anthony and Durant are very similar due to their tactics pulling up and backing down defenders inside the arc. Durant's three-point shooting is far superior, however. The year of collegiate action that both experienced should allow Durant, like 'Melo to post a higher scoring average right away.

Shawn Marion (6'7"/228)

You won't hear too many comparisons between Marion and Durant, mostly because Marion left college after his junior season. But Marion has always been a quietly outstanding rebounder and Durant certainly has that potential with a few extra inches and similarly long arms. Marion is also the only player in this group to have dropped weight since his college days.

Marion was also drafted ninth, by Phoenix, in 1999. The Suns were already a pretty decent team with Jason Kidd at the helm. The team enjoyed the first of back-to-back 50-win seasons with Marion, then 21, playing 24.7 min/g that season in 51 games. His per-40 averages of 16.5 ppg, 10.5 rpg & 1.7 bpg rose to 19.2/11.9/1.5 in the 2000-01 season. Amazingly, Marion led the entire team in scoring and rebounding as his PT increased to 36.2 min/g. His numbers have remained steady ever since, even though swapping Kidd for Marbury in year three devastated the team until Steve Nash's arrival.

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Durant has a ceiling as high or higher than any of these fellas. He will get major minutes. He will immediately become the face of his new franchise, whether it be Memphis, Boston or some dark horse like Milwaukee or Atlanta. A team like Memphis might need a player like Durant even more than a Greg Oden-type. As Oden "mulls" over his future, Durant's mind is set. He can focus 100% on the task at hand and will no doubt dazzle everyone in sight when he works out for various NBA teams. The longer Oden waits, the better Durant's chances are of snagging that #1 draft position from Gramps.

I see Durant putting up a solid 19-20 ppg while putting on weight as a rook. It's likely that the team he lands on won't be as terrible as their 2006-07 record showed. I appreciate that Bill Simmons is railing on Boston and Milwaukee for tanking, though he took a break today to analyze NBA draft lottery trends on his Basketball Blog. If Durant is drafted by a team with a decent point guard, he could easily see a quantum leap in his numbers like Anthony did. By year three, anything less than 27 ppg & 9 rpg might be a disappointment.

'Can he be a leader' is another topic altogether. Despite sweeping the nation's Player of the Year awards, his Texas teammates did not even vote him a unanimous MVP this season -- he shared the award!

*If you like sports statistics and haven't checked out the Sports-Reference family of websites yet, shame on you. The resources are fantastic. I drew my "per 40 minutes" stats directly from Basketball-Reference.com.

2 comments:

  1. What do you think about Conley maybe declaring? Good for Wisconsin, but bad for the Big Ten ...

    http://myespn.go.com/blogs/truehoop/0-23-48/Mike-Conley-Sr--Making-Noises-that-Can-t-Please-Ohio-State.html

    ReplyDelete

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