We have never seen a player like Kevin Durant.
I'd like to say that's a widely accepted sentiment. He's one of
the most unique athletes the league has seen; a lanky 7-footer
(he'd say otherwise) with
wild-when-you-think-about-it control over those limbs.
When we think of Durant, we think about his body type in
conjunction with his scoring ability. Nobody that tall should be
able to shoot like he does; with his lengthy arms, he shouldn't be
able to handle the ball like he does. His thin frame shouldn't be
able to handle the body blows he takes; smaller players are able to
bother his base, but he still has the core strength to contort his
body and hold firm for jumpers or shots after fouls.
He can shoot over you. He can finish through you. At his peak,
he had the quicks to blow past people in his same frame range.
Durant was and is a singularly unique talent.
I'm not sure we talk enough about the other stuff though. It
went a bit under the radar during Tuesday night's Play-In
Tournament victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. It was easier to
be slackjawed over Kyrie Irving's tremendous shot-making — 34
points on 15 shot attempts while fasting for Ramadan is insane
— or Darius Garland's second-half plunge to keep things
within striking distance.
Durant did score well, dropping 25 points while converting over
57% of his twos (8-of-14) and half of his threes (1-of-2). But I
found myself marveling at the other ways he impacted the game.
Let's start here, actually:
That's some well-designed Flex action from Cleveland — it should
be familiar for those who enjoyed the
LeBron Era — and Lauri Markkanen makes it more fruitful with
his swim move before the cut.
But Durant erases it anyway.
Not only does he erase the shot, he pops up and jets down the
floor. He reads the cut from Kyrie and begins spacing towards the
corner, receives a pass, then draws in Evan Mobley before slipping
a pass to Andre Drummond.
The Nets were able to get good stuff out of Durant receiving
screens from smalls.
There was his variation of Scissor action with Kyrie as the
He also set up empty corner looks for Bruce Brown.
(As an aside, I felt sorry for Markkanen. The Durant matchup is
not a fun one, nor is the Drummond one he received to start the
game. Point of attack or last line of resistance, the Nets made
sure to pick on him throughout the game.)
The passing from Durant was superb. He finished the game with 11
assists, one off the game lead from Kyrie. But it wasn't just the
passing. It was the playmaking. It was the decision-making. Durant
had just one turnover with those 11 dimes, and even that slip-up
came on a tight-window pocket pass that he nailed several times
during the course of the game.
And then, there was the defense. The box score reveals 3 blocks
and a pair of steals, all of which were important and impressive.
But I truly don't think Durant gets his due as a communicator.
For a team that switches as much as the Nets do — they switched
on-ball and off-ball screens at a top-seven rate this
season, per Second Spectrum — making sure the team is connected
when offenses go to more complicated sets is key. Durant does a
wonderful job of keeping things in line.
When directly involved, Durant's length and mobility shine, as
does his underrated sense of timing. He contested 19 different
shots on Tuesday night, with the Cavs converting on just 42% of
those looks, per Second Spectrum.
This kind of "other stuff" productivity from Durant was simply a
microcosm of his season.
On the season, Durant was one of three players — and nine
all-time — to have a usage rate over 30% (31.2%), a True Shooting
percentage over 60% (63.4%), an assist rate over 25% (29.1%), and a
turnover rate under 13% (12.9%). The other two who matched such
marks this season are Giannis Antetokounmpo and LeBron James.
That blend of scoring and playmaking
efficiency is rare.
On the defensive side, Tuesday night's action was an extension
of what we've seen from Durant. He's contested 19 or more shots in
each of his last three games. Zoom out even further, and Durant's
impact becomes more clear.
Opponents shoot less frequently at the rim with Durant on the
floor; the differential (minus-2.4 percentage points) is tied for
the best mark in Durant's career, and ranks in the 86th percentile
overall, per Cleaning The Glass.
Not only do teams not shoot as much at the rim with Durant on
the floor, but they also don't shoot as well — their rim efficiency
drops over 4 percentage points, a figure that hasn't been hit since
Durant's Thunder days.
Some of that can be attributed to the personnel beside or behind
Durant, but a lot of that is Durant. The fact
that he's pulling this off at his age, after his injuries and with
his offensive workload is incredible stuff.
There's a reason that Durant was a strong MVP candidate before
injuries took him (and the Nets) down. There are two,
maybe three players in the sport affecting both ends on a
per-possession basis to Durant's degree.
And none of them truly do it like him.