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Marveling over Kevin Durant's other skills

Marveling over Kevin Durant's other skills

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.

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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 screener.

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.

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