We have 23 more days left until the start of the 2022 NBA
As I mentioned in my
last article, to do my civic duty in aiding your preparation
for basketball’s second season, I have decided to spend the next
month studying some of the NBA's biggest stars and (hopefully)
prescribing some tips for how teams can try to slow them down this
But remember, these suggestions are only for slowing them down
— because you can never truly stop the best of the best.
Now, without further ado: Kevin Durant.
While studying Durant’s game for "The
Quest for the Best," one thing became immediately apparent to
me: This dude is one of the best scorers that ever lived. And that
isn’t just me talking in aimless hyperbole. Just look at how he
fares against some of the best non-big man scorers of all time
(scroll right on mobile to view full table):
||Points Per 100
||Relative True Shooting
*Data Provided by Basketball-Reference
In the playoffs, after some bumps in the road early on
(well-documented here), KD’s become nearly unstoppable —
putting together four consecutive postseasons of at least 37 points
per 100 possessions and plus-60% True Shooting (per Basketball
On top of all that, he’s a sniper from the area of the floor
most often-cited as one of the ideal offensive counters for a playoff
So what the hell do you do with this guy? Well, if you ask
known-Durant anatoginzer, Patrick Beverley, you give Kevin exactly
what he is looking for: the mid-range.
“We got him inside the three a lot, those contested twos, you
know he makes a lot of them, [but] those are the shots we want,"
Beverley said after Game 5 of the Los Angeles Clippers-Golden State
Warriors first-round playoff series.
Notice how he said contested twos. For Durant, those attempts
normally come in isolation. This season, Durant is shooting 53.9%
on twos where a defender is within 0-4 feet of him (per NBA.com).
This equates to roughly 1.08 points per possession (PPP), which is
less than his output on more comfortable shots like the ones coming
off a screen, in transition or from a spot-up. More importantly,
it’s meaningfully less than the average PPP of playoff teams from
last postseason (1.15).
Of course, isolated incidents (haha, see what I did there) of
contested mid-range jumpers can be a very healthy part of a
balanced playoff diet, but in aggregation, the preponderance of
those shots can chip away at a teams' efficiency in a meaningful
I know what you are thinking, so why doesn’t everyone do this to
every star? Two words: rim pressure.
Normally, when you play stars uptight to hinder their
three-point shot, the defenders are leaving themselves vulnerable
to stampedes towards the rim. Guys like Donovan Mitchell and Ja Morant will burn you if you
put your hands too close to the fire.
Unfortunately for Durant, he doesn’t pose that same threat
(particularly at this stage of his career), as only 14% of his
shots come from that area (11th
Still, you can’t simply just leave him on an island and let The
Reaper reap (I only titled the article that because it sounded
cool). There’s a science to it.
Ideally, you want physical defenders with a stronger base who
can jam Durant up and gradually wear him down through the course of
the game. You want them to have a high motor, so they can harass
him off-ball and avoid letting him get free for open looks. In the
pick-and-roll, you want defenders fighting over the top of screens
to prevent him shooting threes over the top, while the defending
bigs drop deep and
invite the mid-range.
Lastly — and this the most important — when he puts you in his
dreaded torture chamber, be ready to dance with the
Before he even receives the ball, lean into him, make the catch
difficult and don’t let him get into his natural flow (more on that
in a second). When he’s got it, don’t instantly initiate the double
team. He’s too good of a
passer at this point. Wait until he’s built up the conviction
to score, then disrupt his rhythm in the middle of his motion.
Think about offensive players as possessing an inner balancing scale. One end
of the scale contains their inclination towards scoring, while the
other end houses their affinity for playmaking. Durant has improved
leaps and bounds in the latter category over the years, but he’s
still a bucket-getter at heart. Take advantage of his
predisposition towards that, and time your help
It also helps that his Monstar-ish physical dimensions produce
wild-body gesticulations that create easier opportunities to poke
the ball free. His not-so-tight handles (29th percentile in
turnover percentage) also make him a bit trepidatious to take
dribbles in the paint, which partially explains why he so
infrequently takes matters vertical (despite being quite accurate when he chooses to do
Overall, Beverley's strategy of more twos and fewer threes seems
to be the way to go. In his 10 worst outings this season (based on
Game Score), Durant has zero
games where he hit 3 threes or more. Inversely, in his 10 best
games, he has six such performances.
As with Giannis, Durant is too good not
to have rebuttals of his own. Kyrie Irving is back to full-time
employment, and together he and Goran Dragic can handle some
table-setting responsibilities and allow Durant to work off of a
bent floor. Whenever Ben Simmons is 100 percent, he and Durant will
be absolute money in transition. And if teams ever send that too
early, Durant’s got a new Curry brother to bestow with easy
Oh, and by the way, even if you somehow execute this gameplan to
perfection — as the
Bucks did in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals last
season — there’s a chance he drops 48 on your head.
If that happens, you just got to hang in the ring, withstand the
haymakers as long as possible and pray to whichever omnipotent
being you please that your efforts will ultimately be enough.