Defending Kevin Durant
Kevin Durant recently was asked to give his scouting report on himself, how he would defend his nearly indefensible long and lanky frame, with its pure-shooting stroke and a penchant for piling up 40 points.
“Try not to let him catch the ball,” Durant said of Durant. “Deny. And on pick-and-rolls and post-ups just try to double. But I’m glad I don’t have to check myself.”
Twenty nine other teams don’t have a choice in the matter.
The Thunder enters tonight’s game against San Antonio having played 26 of the league’s 29 other teams, and it’s beginning to become difficult to distinguish the number of different looks opposing defenses have thrown Durant’s way. Thunder coach Scott Brooks started his estimate at at least a half dozen. But the latest and perhaps most effective strategy has seen teams defend Durant with a smaller, quicker point guard. New Orleans switched Chris Paul on Durant down the stretch of the Hornets’ 97-92 win. New York on Monday night deployed Chris Duhon. And the Spurs, back on Nov. 14, used backup George Hill in spots.
“It makes Kevin have to make an adjustment,” Brooks said.
The strategy’s most significant effect is that smaller, speedier guards prevent Durant from putting the ball on the floor. Durant, at 6-10 (depending on who you ask), has become more dependent on his dribble now that he no longer settles for jump shots as he did as a rookie. When Durant’s one- or two-dribble option isn’t there, indecision has the potential to set in.
“It’s tougher with those guys because if I dribble the ball they can get under me a little bit more,” Durant said. “I think teams are doing that to bait me into more turnovers. But I think I’m starting to read the defense a little better and figuring out to pass it a little bit earlier to get an open shot on the other side of the floor.”
The scheme presents an interesting dilemma for Brooks. Durant isn’t quite strong or skilled enough in the post to consistently back down smaller defenders. And even when Durant gets an opportunity on the block, it’s short-lived. Teams have run a second defender Durant’s way immediately on the catch. Brooks wants Durant to attack the defense in those situations by catching the ball deeper in the post and quickly turning and shooting over the smaller defender. What Durant can’t do is start those possessions from 19 feet out, a distance that essentially forces him to put the ball on the floor. Brooks is instructing Durant to run harder off screens and catch and shoot in those spots.
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