Day three of this special feature on “Why we love the game” centres on Kevin Durant and scoring. Conor O’Mahony discusses.
The NBA is a league which promotes scoring. For fans this constitutes celebrating rim-busting dunks, fadeaway threes and exquisite offensive ball movement.
It is not at all unusual to watch a game of soccer for two hours and not see a single goal scored. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching soccer, but at times it can be a bore for the viewer. Basketball on the other hand, is a game predicated on scoring, which makes it imminently more watchable than the world’s most popular sport.
The highest scoring NBA game took place in 1983. The Detroit Pistons were playing the Denver Nuggets. The Pistons won in triple overtime, 186-184, with the teams combining to score a whopping 370 points!
Four players scored over 40 points, a record that remains to this day. Kiki Vandeweghe led all scorers with 51 points, Isiah Thomas and Alex English both had 47 points while John Long had a paltry 41 points.
As previously explained the NBA have in recent times altered the rules pertaining to how defenders can guard the opposing players, which has resulted in the game becoming even more offensive.
Inferior defenders can no longer hand check themselves into the rotation, and physical fouls no longer go unpunished. This has skewed the game in favour of players who can get into the lane, draw/create contact, and collect their points at the line. James Harden has made an art of this. LeBron, Kobe, Manu Ginobili, Derrick Rose, Ty Lawson and many others also have benefited hugely from this rule change
When talking about scoring in today’s game, we cannot but talk about one man in particular.
The Durantula, The Slim Reaper or simply KD, whatever the moniker, this guy is a stone cold assassin. He is one of the greatest offensive players to ever grace an NBA court. He put himself in that company when last season he bettered Michael Jordan’s streak of 25-point games or more.
Durant won the league MVP award for the first time last season. Some put him winning it ahead of LeBron James down to voter fatigue. I disagree strongly with that opinion. LeBron is the most gifted player in the NBA right now, but I firmly believe that the kid from Washington DC had a superior season to James last year.
LeBron improved his field goal percentage significantly, while his scoring, rebounding and assist numbers stayed at their career norms.*
However defensively LeBron was not at the level he has been at for the past years. His intensity on that end of the court was often lacking, but we can put that down to him containing energy for the post season. He still managed to be the best player on the court every night, but this defensive drop off is one reason why Durant beat him out for the MVP award last season.
The second big reason is Durant himself. “Second” is a word that Durant has been hearing for years. He tells it best himself.
“I’ve been second my whole life,” admitted the Oklahoma City Thunder star. “I was the second-best player in high school. I was the second pick in the draft. I’ve been second in the MVP voting three times. I came in second in the Finals. I’m tired of being second. I’m not going to settle for that. I’m done with it.”
He left out the fact that he finished second in scoring the previous season, and that he lied second on his own team in shot attempts. But we got what he was trying to convey. Durant wanted to finally be recognised as the “Top Dog,” the “No.1,” the best.
Durant used being “second” as fuel to become a more talented player, and this season succeeded in catching LeBron.
What makes Durant the best pure scorer in the game right now, and how has he got there?
Well let’s start with the fact that his offensive game is multifaceted. Standing at 6’10’’, Durant is always going to be a matchup nightmare at the small forward position. There simply isn’t any defender equipped to bother his jump shot and stay with him from a lateral quickness standpoint.
Rob Mahoney (no relation!) of “The Point Forward explained it as follows.
“Kevin Durant is a scorer, and that he will always be. His jumper will always be effortless, and the backspin on his shot will always make a subtle splash in the net upon its landing. The instincts and abilities that have made Durant the most potent scorer in the league over the last few seasons won’t soon wane, and defenses will always be forced to account for his scoring potential from the moment he steps on the court.”
When KD first came into the league he had all the offensive skills to become a superster player. But he had one glaring weakness, and that was , bigger, physical defenders really caused him trouble.
A younger Metta World-Peace, LeBron and other large small forward specimens who excelled on defense caused him untold problems. He wasn’t strong enough to shake physical defenders, and consequently, he often caught the ball and had to initiate his offense a few feet behind the three-point line.
Durant saw the problem and addressed it by becoming stronger. He has become unguardable.
James echoed that sentiment in January to the media, per ESPN.com: “Individually, he can’t be stopped by any one-on-one player. There’s nobody that can guard him one-on-one.”
He is also, of course, a knock down shooter. He owns the highest field-goal percentage on pull-up jumpers among players attempting at least five such shots per game, according to SportVU data tracking.
Consequently defenders rush up on him, and try and prevent him getting his shot off. His quickness and good ball handling then allows him to blow past the man guarding him.
Durant converts 58% of his shots of drives to the ring, which was good for second best in the NBA last season. The phrase “Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t,” has rarely felt so apt.
Durant knows how to get it done down low also. While predominantly a perimeter scorer, he gets his points off post ups also. He has no “go to move” on the block per se, usually catching the ball with his back to the basket and then shooting a fade away jumper ala Jordan.
This is normally considered a very poor shot by the advanced metric guys. But Durant is not your typical player, he is a certified scorer. And while he does not go into the post regular when seeking a basket, he can do it, and is likely to improve at this aspect of his game as he ages.
Finally, Durant is the most efficient perimeter scorer in league history,( Jordan is still however unquestionably the best perimeter scorer the game has seen,). It is not even particularly close. His marksmanship from every area on the floor, coupled with his superb free-throw shooting, makes him one of the most destructive scorers ever. Durant’s proficiency makes his competition look average in comparison.
He has developed a knack for taking great shots. Jordan, Oscar Robertson, Kobe Bryant, George Gervin, Tracy McGrady and LeBron James where/are great scorers.
Durant owns the best true-shooting percentage of an illustrious group of Hall of Famers and eventual Springfield-bound players. He is the only player in NBA history to average north of 25 points while posting a 60 percent true shooting figure.
Yes, we NBA fans lover our scoring and great scorers.
Conor O’Mahony, Pundit Arena.
*Which is to say sickeningly good.
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