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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kevin Durant: One Year Later

The Worldwide Leader has reported that Kevin Durant will be named the NBA's Rookie of the Year when the award is officially announced Thursday. Last year at this time, Durant was a hot topic in college basketball/NBA Draft circles. Many made comparisons between Durant and previous phenoms who had entered the league at a similarly young age, with a similar build or a similar playing style. That prompted a column here analyzing those comparisons, which actually got picked up by Deadspin. Luckily, Durant came through this year and I don't look like an idiot.

The 19-20 ppg projection was right on (Durant averaged 20.3), as was the prediction that he would play heavy minutes (34.6). Durant certainly became the face of the Seattle franchise, starting all 80 of the games in which he played. The rook even surprised me by showing glimpses of leadership down the stretch as the clear go-to player for the Sonics. However, Durant is only listed at 6'9" and 215 lbs. these days, so he definitely did not put on any weight (though I'm sure Texas fudged his measurables slightly while a Longhorn). His slight frame and perimeter focus kept him from being much of a rebounder (4.4). Worst of all, the Sonics slipped from a 31-51 record to 20-62 and leaving town in the season after Seattle said goodbye to both Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

Since last year, has switched from tracking "per-40 minute" stats to "per-36 minute" stats, so I'll use those to recap how Durant stacks up with his predecessors:

Per 36 Statistics - Rookie Season


Team (Yr)







Kevin Garnett

MIN (95-96)







Tracy McGrady

TOR (97-98)







Shawn Marion

PHX (99-00)







Carmelo Anthony

DEN (03-04)







Kevin Durant*

SEA (07-08)







*Only Durant won Rookie of the Year Award

A host of talented freshmen will jump to the NBA this summer, but it is unlikely that any can equal the impact of Durant. Both Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley--the two most likely candidates--play positions that have a steeper learning curve in the pros than a wing player like Durant faces. Though Beasley nearly matched Durant's output as a Big XII frosh, he can be slowed by a host of bigger bodies and tough defense, as Wisconsin proved in the second half of Kansas State's NCAA tournament exit. The NBA is full of bigger bodies. Plus, unless he's matured significantly in the last two years, I doubt Beasley is as mentally prepared as Durant to work for it.

It would be hard to argue with Mike DeCourcy of The Sporting News, who writes his week that next year's crop of freshmen in college basketball will be a letdown. Still, I think Greg Monroe of Georgetown might surprise DeCourcy. Monroe is not quite Beasley and he's sure no Kevin Garnett. But who is? Garnett was a supernova who ushered in a new era for the NBA, let alone Chicago high school basketball.


  1. Stats don't nearly tell the entire story, and even if they did, you ignored an important one.

    The important stat you ignored when comparing to Durant to various NBA stars was their field goal percentages. Durant had by far the worst field goal percentage of any of these gentlemen. Not to say that Durant isn't a special talent, but anybody in the NBA, if they're given free reign, can jack up numerous shots and score 20 per game. But that isn't exactly benefiting your team. My concern with him is that unless he develops an interior game, he'll always modest efficiency numbers. (But hey, so does Allen Iverson, and conventional wisdom is he's a superstar.) Durant doesn't have the lateral quickness really to blow by opposing 3's. If he remains on the perimeter, he'll be a dribble-up jab step jump shooter, who will be able to release his shot less altered when he gains strength, but only on a rare instance is that semi-efficent (Michael Jordan).

    But Michael Jordan had the foot quickness to penetrate and drive up his field goal percentages of course. Plus he made his teammates better. And played all-world defense.

    Returning to the topic of the comparisons you made, Durant plays worse defense than everybody but Anthony. Defense is half the game, yet it's difficult to quantify with stats. You have to rely on subjective observation.

    All the peripherals that can be quantified, as a whole, are inferior to his predecessors. I think he can improve his rebound and block totals substantially by gaining weight. He relied on being taller and longer than most in college. Everybody is longer in the pros at each position pretty much. You have to use your feet and body to carve out space and absorb contact. He just can't gain rebounding position with his current rail-like frame.

    I don't want to act like I think he doesn't have a bright future and isn't an asset to a team. But I don't ever think he'll be a big time impact player in the NBA. Durant may have been officially named rookie of the year even if Oden was healthy, because the media/fans puts an over-emphasis on numbers, but Greg would have had a much bigger impact on the game. He would have made teams shoot a much lower percentage offensively because of his shot blocking/altering ability, giving the Blazers a major built in advantage that his opponents didn't have.

    But I thought the study was interesting. I enjoyed several of your earlier write-ups like about regional recruiting. I learned about this site on a link-back from Recruiting Planet, where I'm a Wisconsin moderator. Thanks for the links.

    P.S.: Nothing you said about Butch wasn't factual. Keep on blogging in the free world.

  2. Thanks berni, dead on.

    In trying to stick with the stats I used a year ago in the comparison, you don't get the full picture. I almost threw the 3-pt% in because people don't realize how poorly Durant is shooting it (28.8% this season), but in the end decided to stick with those numbers that people would look at when voting for ROY.

    Even adding the TO stats can be misleading because Marion has never been a ballhandler, so his numbers in that dept. look better than Durant's, who controls the rock so much. You can also get much deeper into analysis with tempo-free stats, etc. to adjust for being on the Suns or T-Wolves or Raptors.

    FYI - the ROYs in the rookie years of the other players? Damon Stoudamire, Tim Duncan, Steve Francis and LeBron James.

  3. I thought of tempo, but Seattle doesn't have an extreme style, fast or slow. They were middle of the road as far as possessions per game went. So I don't think tempo would make a notable difference here.

    I noticed his 3 point percentage, but didn't mention it. It's pretty awful. A tall, deft 3 point shooter in college, is usually a mid-range shooter in the NBA because of the length of line difference. Too many moving parts (Steve Novak being one exception, but he has about the prettiest shot you've ever seen.) The line of course moves back a foot and a half, or whatever, next college season. We'll get a clearer picture of who the truer long range bombers are in the future.

    If Durant handles the ball much more than his predecessors, I think that overrates his numbers in relation, more than it underrates them. The less time you take to generate points while handling the basketball, as a player, the better. Especially in the NBA when you only have 24 seconds to operate. Let's say it takes 8 seconds to advance the ball from the opposing end-line to the scoring zone. The point guard dumps the ball to Durant for an iso. For argument's sake, he takes 10 seconds on average to take a shot or pass the basketball. That only leaves six seconds left for his teammates if he elected to pass. In the time he had the basketball over the course of a game, he generated 26.1 pts (21.1 pts + 2.5*2 asts). Extrapolating that total offensive efficiency to 24 seconds, he would generate 62.7 points if he had the ball the entire game. Obviously, which would be a record low for team points scored per game for a season. The less a player needs to handle the basketball to generate points the better. Durant handling the basketball more than his predecessor degrades his statistics.


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