Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Don't Look Now, But Kevin Durant's Playing Like an All-Star

About a month ago, I started to see articles questioning Kevin Durant's seemingly inexorable march to the Rookie of the Year award.

Argument goes like this: Durant's been playing for a terrible team, and taking a ton of bad shots (At the end of February, Durant's shooting percentage had sunk below 40%.) Stands to reason he's racked up the numbers he has--maybe the award ought to go to a guy who's contributing to a playoff contender, like the Hawks' Al Horford.

Maybe the national grumbling was a wake-up call, because Durant's approach has been completely different in March. He's not only playing like he deserves a rookie of the year award--he's playing like an All-Star.

Durant is shooting 53% this month, including yesterday's incredibly efficient 7-13 shooting night against the Blazers. The kid is passing on threes (he's shot only ten this month, compared to 70 in November) and instead dribbling forward for shorter shots, or taking the ball inside.

He's also shooting less. Durant hasn't taken 20 shots in a game yet this month after doing so 17 times in the season's first 46 games.

You wouldn't think less shots would lead to more points, but it has for Durant. He's averaged 21.1 points this month, his best month yet. That average is just a shade under the 21.2 points Brandon Roy averaged in December, the month when the Blazers went 13-2 and B-Roy wrapped up an All-Star bid.

Durant's 53% shooting percentage this month beats out the NBA's best. B-Roy's best shooting month was a 48% January. Kobe's, a 51% February. T-Mac, a 44% November. Lebron, a 50% February.

Durant, who plays the same position as all of these guys, is the one who's had the most efficient month of scoring. And HE'S DOING IT AT 19!

What changed? I suspect--this is pure psychological guesstimation--that Durant couldn't get better until he gave up on the season. That's right, he had to give up to improve.

Early in the year, Durant was trying to do what he'd always done in a basketball uniform--win. And for him, from age whenever to age 18, "win" meant him taking a lot of shots...he was by far the best player on the court in every game in which he participated.

Having accepted that the Sonics weren't going anywhere, Durant started (oh God, I hate to use this hackneyed phrase but it fits) playing within himself. Instead of focusing on winning, he's focusing on taking better shots.

The team, incidentally, isn't doing any better. The team was 12-35 (.255) in Durant's ball-hog days, they are 5-19 (.208) since. But that's likely due to the teammates he's lost. If Durant puts up his March production with any kind of help...that's a playoff team, folks.

3 comments:

Josh said...

My initial response to this is, who cares? I'm more interested in how the Blazers are doing and their future. Or New Orleans. Or Memphis. Because any future professional basketball in Seattle will concern one of those teams, either in a move or just proximity. Never in my life did I think I could follow the Trailblazers. It helps that they have Roy, a fellow UW alum and Oden, from my wife's school. But still, if I watch the NBA (which is actually a big IF seeing how David Stern is a douche bag), that’s the future. I'm almost to the point where I hope Durant fails because I don't want to see the Oklahoma City Team Formerly Known as the SuperSonics succeed.

Our hopes of keeping the Sonics in Seattle hinge upon a court case that, if ruled in the city's favor, means we have to hope that Bennett gets tired, someone offers him an amount he cannot refuse, and he sells. Or, the league works out some sort of deal regarding Seattle, Oklahoma City, and another franchise. But why would these happen. First, Stern is desperate for Bennett to get a team in Oklahoma.

Second, why would Bennett sell? All he has to do is sit back for two years, alienate the City of Seattle even more, play in lame duck team in an empty area, and still receive support from Stern. But, he has Durant, scoring 25 a game on 45% shooting with increasingly impressive defensive skills. There's Green, doing everything right: solid defense, no turnovers, scoring 13-16 a game, 8 rebounds. Then there are the two picks this year (how about this, take Brook Lopez early and then Robin with the Phoenix pick; or Love and Collison; or Rose and Hibbert, if he falls that far; the possibilities are making me cry), a future with good salary cap space, multiple second rounder’s this year plus three more picks coming soon, thus, plenty of room for additions via the draft, free agency, or trades. After two more years in Seattle, this is a Championship caliber team, just in time to move to Oklahoma City.

Good teams can do quite well in small markets, it is when they stink that they struggle. That's why Stern rigged the lottery last year and doesn't care about the media market comparisons. It is not like a crappy Grizzly team leaving Vancouver to be a crappy Memphis team where the novelty of an NBA franchise wears off.

So, I really cannot imagine a scenario where the Sonics realistically stay in Seattle. Another team may come, take on the Sonics name and records (like the Browns). But they are still not the Sonics. The Sonics are in Oklahoma City, winning. Seattle gets the renamed Grizzlies or Hornets or whoever else. I’m sure the sting wouldn’t be so bad if Durant and Green fail or leave as soon as they become free agents and Seattle’s “new” franchise is a team like the Hornets with a point guard and center in their prime. I guess another way to take the sting away is to accept that had Stern not rigged the draft, the Sonics would be playing Yi. So really, that Oklahoma team would not be the real Sonics. The one that went from Western Conference Power to Wally Walker doormats and is now only succeeding because the league cheated.

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