After a short cooling off period that saw him only average 19 points a game over the past 4 games, rather than the 30 points weve grown accustomed to, Kevin Durant
went back to his ridiculous scoring ways in putting together another double-double (his 17th of the season in 28 games) and another 30+ point effort against Oklahoma. Durant started off with a cool 19 points in the first half alone en-route to helping build a large lead for Texas that the Sooners just could not overcome. He also received another feather in his cap by breaking Marcus Fizer
s single-season record for points in the Big 12 conference.
This was a classic Kevin Durant
scoring barrage, knocking down 3-pointers with the greatest of ease, mixing in a few gorgeous turn-around jump-shots, getting to the free throw line almost whenever he pleased, and doing it all in an unselfish manner, seemingly without forcing a thing.
Thats really what stands out the most beyond his amazing skill levelDurant is very much just another cog in Texas offense, not demanding the ball excessively, rarely stopping the flow of the ball movement, executing perfectly in half-court sets, and getting his points in large part thanks to the level of trust that his teammates and coach Rick Barnes have in him. Hes gone 3 whole games now without dishing out even a single assist, but rarely do you feel like hes not doing exactly what hes being asked to, almost exclusively for the betterment of his team rather than his own personal gain.
Of course, Durant stood out in a couple of other areas too. Its impossible to watch him and not be amazed at his physical tools, and the way he utilizes them offensively and on the glass. Durant might not be a guy that will blow people away at the NBA combine, but in our book, hes a fantastic athlete for a player his size. Durant runs the floor extremely well, has excellent quickness, is extremely quick off his feet, and beyond all, possesses incredible timing to help bring together this package of skills and make certain plays that no one else in the NCAA is capable of. His size and freakishly long arms, along with his instincts, allow him to catch passes he has no business catching, tip balls he has no business tipping, and dunk put-back attempts and lobs that he has no business dunking. His hands are outstanding as you might have guessed, making him the 2nd best rebounder in this years draft according to our advanced statistics. Considering the differences in strength of schedule between him and the #1 prospect, Nick Fazekas
, the .1 rebound margin between the two gains a little more perspective.
Offensively, he already has a complete package of skills, making him easily the most naturally talented scoring threat weve ever personally scouted at the collegiate level. In the post, he has solid footwork and a decent array of moves, being capable of executing quick drop-steps and jump-hooks that are seemingly unblockable due to his incredibly high release point. More than anything, though, he loves utilizing the turnaround jumper, especially banking it in smoothly high off the glass, ala Tim Duncan
From the perimeter, though, is where the Nowitzki comparisons come from. Durant is an instinctive shooter, particularly spotting up. His shooting mechanics are gorgeous, his release effortless and lightning quick, and his range extends past the NBA 3-point line. Unlike most 6-10 players, he actually elevates off the floor in getting his shot off, but only when the situation actually calls for it. This ability to change his release point when needed and get his shot off in a variety of different ways is what truly separates the natural born shooters from those who became great through their work in the gym.
Depending on who you ask, Durant can easily belong to both groups, which is where his potential starts to really scare you. Many of his points come simply from him catching the ball within the flow of the offense, recognizing that he has only the glimmer of daylight that he needs due to his size and high release point, and then draining a 3-pointer effortlessly as if he were by himself in the gym. Despite the large amount of attention he receives from opposing defenses, he still shoots an excellent 40.4% from behind the arc. Even though his advanced perimeter game and lack of bulk would lead you to assume that he prefers to hang out on the perimeter exclusively rather than getting dirty in the paint, only 31% of Durants shots come from behind the 3-point line, and he gets to the charity stripe nearly 7 times per game, ranking him 5th in this draft.
If a defender is crowding him excessively, Durant is smart enough to not force the issue. He uses the threat of his shot, often with a quick pump-fake, to get the defense off balance and then penetrate all the way to the basket off just one dribble. Hes able to do this because of his incredibly large strides, and if a defender is waiting for him at the rim, has no problem pulling up off the dribble or releasing a gorgeous one handed floater that he converts at a high rate thanks to his phenomenal touch. He can go left or right equally well, and is also capable of finishing smoothly with either hand as well. As mentioned, he doesnt get so caught up in his scoring that he loses track of his teammates, something that we saw numerous times over the course of the season with the crisp passes he is capable of delivering all over the floor.
Defensively, Durant has a ways to go in terms of his awareness and fundamentals, but hes not completely useless here either, having made noticeable strides over the course of the year. He blocks nearly two shots a game thanks to his reach, hands, athleticism and timing, and comes up with steals at an identical rate due to these same attributes. The same exact thing can be said about his propensity to rebound, but here more than ever he also shows solid fundamentals boxing out, and is also extremely active going out of his area and right over the top of matchups to hit the glass. To emphasize his stat-stuffing ways (except for the assists), Durant is currently ranked 2nd in PER
, and also 2nd in EFF.
Even if hes around the 3-point line when a teammates shot goes up, hell still make the extra effort to get into the paint quickly and help out on the boards. Its exactly this type of attitude that gets scouts all the more excited about the type of player hell end up becoming down the road. When speaking about Durant, its always wise to remind people that he doesnt turn 19 for another 7 months, and therefore is very likely just scraping the surface on how good hell end up being down the road.
For that reason precisely, Durant still his fair share of weaknesses that need to be worked on. The most obvious one would be his body, which is thin and frail and likely wont ever be considered overly bulky by NBA standards. This hinders him in a few areas right now, with the main one being his defense in the post. Durant gets pushed around excessively and has a tendency to lose his balance and position too easily. Offensively, he struggles to finish through contact at times around the basket, and therefore relies on his finesse and touch more than you might prefer.
In the half-court offense, Durant still has plenty of room to improve in his ball-handling skills. His arms are so long that he struggles to do the type of advanced ball-handling moves that are often needed to beat peskier defenders off the dribble if they dont bite on his initial pump-fake. Adding some hesitation moves to allow him to change pace and take advantage of the better spacing the NBA enjoys will certainly benefit him, because in traffic is where his ball-handling struggles the most.
If were looking for more places to nitpick, Durant can a little too streaky within the course of games, at times getting a bit passive when his team needs him most. This was most easily noticed in the Texas A&M game a few weeks ago. He seems to go on incredible short bursts where he racks up 10-12 points in just a few minutes, and then gets a little bit quiet until his team starts running plays for him to heat back up. This is anything but uncommon for a player his age, but its something he will need to work on in the NBA, where focus is everything and games can be won or lost off a single possession.
All in all, though, Durant is having an unbelievable freshman season and has done everything in his power to make the race for the #1 overall pick a real conversationsomething that was almost unfathomable in November. Ultimately, it might come down to positional factors and specific team needs, but the lucky GM who lands the coveted top pick will at least have to think long and hard before he decides to pass on a player that could end up leading the NBA in scoring.