Season retrospective: So was Durant a team killer?

Oklahoma City played its best stretch with its star player sidelined with a bum ankle. Therefore, media folks had to bring up the inevitable “Is the Thunder better off without Durant?” questions and really, people are still talking about it. Reader J.G. emailed in and put all of that to bed.

“You’re joking, right?” is what my first response would be to people who ask this question but after his injury and the Thunder’s team success in his absence, a lot of individuals posed this question and at first glance, it may have not seemed all that ridiculous. However on second glance, this notion is clearly based off of the misconception that the 5 of 6 game stretch that the Thunder went on while Durant (and Green for a bit) was hurt was their best of the season statistically.

Well it turns out that stretch was not the Thunder’s best stretch of wins. Not even close. And here’s why:

The stretch without Durant included wins against Memphis (5th worst record), Washington (2nd worst record), Sacramento (1st worst record) and two sixth seeded playoff teams, Dallas and Philadelphia. When you tack on the fact that the Thunder were actually favored in two of those games that they were supposed to have won, then you can really see why that stretch meant very little in terms of an “impressive streak.”

The Thunder’s victories came against teams with a 20.7% Winning Percentage, a 23.2% Winning Percentage, a 29.3% Winning Percentage, a 50% Winning Percentage and a 61% Winning Percentage. So their opponent’s average Winning Percentage during the stretch without Durant (and Green for a time) was 36.8%, hardly something to celebrate and even less indicative of one player’s overall impact, destructive or constructive.

The best stretch the Thunder ACTUALLY had in terms of “quality of opponent” and “wins produced” was when they went 5 of 7 in January, beating Utah, Detroit, Golden State, New Jersey and Memphis. The Thunder were not favorites in ANY of these games and went up against much harder competition.

Their victories came against teams with a 58.5% Winning percentage, a 47.6% Winning Percentage, a 41.5% Winning percentage, a 35.4% Winning Percentage and a 29.3% Winning Percentage. Opponent’s average Winning Percentage during that stretch: 42.5%, a full 6.3% better competition that produced an equal amount of wins and also included two playoff teams.

Don’t think 6.3% is that big of a jump in competition? Well, here’s a little example about the change in competition between teams that are only 6.3% points apart in last year’s standings: Who would you rather play, Detroit or Miami? Dallas or Denver? Portland or Orlando?

But those are all playoff teams, how about non-playoff teams? Would you rather play Golden State or Milwaukee/New Jersey? Or better yet, look at it this way, guess how many percentage points separated teams that made the playoffs in Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia from teams that did not, Milwaukee/New Jersey, Charlotte and Indiana respectively? You guessed it, about 6.3% (Detroit’s 47.6% vs Milwaukee/New Jersey’s 41.5%, Charlotte’s 42.7% vs Chicago’s 50%, Indiana’s 43.9% vs Philadelphia’s 50%).

Now an argument could try to be made about the Thunder having won two more road games in that 5 of 6 stretch, but the road games were against the worst teams of the 5, so I’m sorry, but Sacramento and Memphis’s empty arena hardly qualifies as quality wins in a hostile environment.

But here’s the best part, in the Thunder’s stretch of wins without Durant (and Green for a spell), each of the starting five contributed significantly in those games (both the replacements and the normal starters) and other reserve players picked up the slack considerably as well.

For example, Westbrook led the team in assists in each game, averaging 6.8 assists an outing. Collison, Sefolosha, Krstic and Westbrook (his triple double game) all pulled down double digit rebounds in at least one of those 5 wins, each one pulling down near their year and even near their career best number of rebounds. Krstic, Westbrook and Jeff Green all led the team in scoring in those 5 wins, with Krstic and Green posting some of their best point totals of the year (Green’s 27 and Krstic’s 26).

So what does that tell you? That everyone stepped up their games significantly.

But back to that best part about the question of if the Thunder is better off without Durant. You remember that stretch where they won 5 of 7 against much tougher competition? Well here is all Durant did in those games:

Utah – 21 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 1 block;
Detroit – 32 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals;
Golden State – 27 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 3 steals;
New Jersey – 18 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists;
Memphis – 35 points, 10 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 steal, 4 blocks.

And I won’t even talk about the 107-104 loss to the Clippers where Durant posted 46 points, 15 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals and 1 block where Kyle Weaver led the team in assists at 5.

So, based off the information, it seems pretty obvious that Durant contributes the most in wins against better competition than any other Thunder player. In fact, givin the stats, it’s almost ludicrous to even suggest that Durant is a team killer. When it’s clear he’s more of a team reviver.

Now that being said, the question remains, are the other players simply not stepping up with him in the lineup which forces him to be so involved…or is he involved too much to the point where the other players are unable to contribute/step up? I have an opinion (something along the lines of “Oh well, KD’s got this so we can hang back” versus “We don’t have KD, I better be on my game”), but I’ll leave you to come to your own conclusion given the information. — J.G. Marking

daniel
2009-06-05 22:01:20
Neato, just discovered the player biographies on the official Thunder site. Love this quote about KD: "During a road trip their AAU team took to Charlotte, Durant had to write “Hard Work Beats Talent When Talent Fails To Work Hard” on the front and back of four pages of paper before he could play." Well, somebody sure schooled him right. He's got the hard work ethic down to his core.
Vega
2009-06-05 13:25:47
That was merely an example of good coaching and the other guys knowing that they needed to step their respective games up. It's a very good thing to see.
Ty
2009-06-05 13:34:12
Good minutes from Westbrook during that stretch too.
nick
2009-06-05 13:38:24
@ the idea that Durant is a team killer: HA
Crow
2009-06-05 19:30:39
I point out the negatives frequently because they are the problems to solve, the areas to get better but I'll point out a positive I hadn't seen before for KD: He had the 10th best FG% for inside shoots among those who took enough to qualify. http://www.82games.com/0809/FGSORT12.HTM I assume most were drives or transition but still this is encouraging. It would be handy if he could increase his frequency of inside shots. He didn't from year 1 to year 2 at all but he did raise his finish FG% from 60% to 67%. Maybe frequency increases in year 3 or 4. I'd push him to try to. Durant could be a hybrid of late Rashard Lewis, early Tracy McGrady and maybe someday prime Kevin Garnett. Or just KD version 2 or 3. Mayber th ecoach should experiment with cuting his minutes back to 32 (but keep his level of shot attempts) and tell him he only gets to play more if he is hot or playing good D. Kevin wants to play, he'd probably respond to this. It isn't that drastic or disrespectful. Just a tactic to try to reduce any tendency to slack on D or throw up bad shots. P.S. Collison was 3rd best finishing inside. Lots of 3 pt attempts are also more opportunities for offensive rebounds and putbacks. his specialty.
Crow
2009-06-05 19:32:59
And now back to the flip side: Westbrook second worst finisher inside in the league among those who qualified? 48%. Where does that go next season?
Crow
2009-06-06 00:48:28
From a numbers standpoint opponents might be better off not fouling Russell and making him shoot inside more often. Conversely he should try to draw contact and get to the foul even more unless he is properly confident about being able to finish the shot.
dj
2009-06-06 07:41:59
It's Durant's team. Clearly. But he needs to continue to up his already considerable game for the team to get significantly more wins. He's got to become a much more committed defender. Rather than no longer being the worst defender on the team he needs to bust his butt to become the best. Lead by example. In order to do this he has to get physically stronger. He knows this. It will be interesting to see if he comes this fall with more muscle. And it's true the ball stops at Durant when he's on the floor. But I'm way less worried about that. How far they've come is remarkable. New coach, new players & so much youth. They'll benefit from training camp a ton and Durant won't have to shoulder so much of the offense.
Cpt. C-Note
2009-06-06 10:42:00
I can't wait until next season! KD should continue his improvement (along with the other young guys) and if things go the way they should, KD will be and All-Star and all our starters will be better BECAUSE of him. How many more games do you think we can win this year? We lost at least 6-7 on last second shots and bad decsion making in critical situations.(Carmello twice, Nash, Brad Miller, ect..) I think we can get to the high 30's! Maybe 38-44. that would be a huge jump.
JZ
2009-06-07 22:12:39
The "Thunder" are a better team without Durant. Nobody in the NBA has a more negative impact on their team than KD, as shown by 82games.com. They are 0.7 points were on offense when he is on the floor and 8.2 points worse on defense. His net plus-minus score of -8.9 is DEAD LAST in the NBA. Take a look at any boxscore from the season. Durant has the lowest +/- everytime. His defense is hilariously bad. I was definitely not surprised when they went 5 of 7.
Crow
2009-06-08 12:47:18
Durant is a test case for reading the stats. It is hard to be sure of anything about his ultimate future impact yet but next season or two will probably firm it a lot. He is the 6th highest on scoring and it holds up gets good teams where he is 5th best. His raw +/- is very low. Against good teams he isn't the very bottom but he was 9th worst. (John Salmons, who Presti went after??? does he really understand player impact? was dead last on this.) His adjusted for last season was 13th lowest too.http://basketballvalue.com/topplayers.php?year=2008-2009&mode=summary&sortnumber=94&sortorder=ASC Either Durant at this time is a big drag (on defense and close to neutral on team impact on offense as his great stats seem to coincide with others doing a lot less) or his surrounding cast is completely wrong for him. The adjusted is intended to remove the impact of his cast and isolate h9is effect but it is far from solid and certain. Look at Roland Ratings at 82 games (a combination of individual production against counterpart and team +/-) and Durant is a bit better than 0 and near average for main rotation guys. Which is right? Maybe none by themselves but I'll take the story provided by the combination over any one part. I don't think Durant is as good overall both sides of the ball ( the way you have to play andf get rated fairly) as his big supporters think / expect. But I don't think he is as bad as his worst numbers now either. I do think his cast is significantly off, sub-optimal for him. Nothing in the numbers so far say that Green was the right Robin. Westbrook is not as bad but it isn't good with Durant either. Thabo is awful in player pairs with Durant. Krstic was quite weak too. Either Durant is a very difficult teammate or Presti is not a good lineup designer or Brooks is not a good coach or some combination. They probably get better with time but how much, how quick? And does one weak link doom them or gets changed out eventually? Time will tell.
Nix
2009-06-05 15:51:03
I think it's different for each player. Kristic seems like he's allowed to do more when Durant was out. He's a guy who needs shots to get going. So I find it more that not enough offense is run to him. Westbrook is that one that doesn't make sense. You would think that with Durant out he would be looking to score more, but his assist numbers were way up. Maybe Durant encourages Westbrook to drive more when they play together? Maybe their friendship causes RW to want to perform better when Durant is on the floor?
Joe
2009-06-05 17:30:51
You make good points J.G. I thought about this subject a lot, and one thing that the stretch of games without KD, Green and one without Thabo that became apparent to me is that 1)the team didn't quit 2)the team had heart 3)Brooks can coach. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to roll over without the star, but this team did just the opposite. Brooks changed up the system a bit, strictly focusing on getting good shots close to the basket, and a lot of defense, and lo and behold it worked. And it carried over. The wins dropped off, but most of us noticed that the team continued to work hard to get good shots close to the basket even after KD got back. I also think KD gave better effort on defense when he came back, seeing his team mates excel so much in that area while he was out. There are players in this league that year in year out "get theirs", as in, they get their numbers, but their team is seldom much of a winner. Guys like T-Mac (never out of the first round), Antawn Jamison and others. I think when the team went on the tear, people began wondering whether KD was going to be one of those guys. I think all of us that follow the Thunder see KD as a kid who wants to win badly, and is willing to leave it all on the court and give 110%. So, with that attitude, and another year or two in the league of experience, and with some more complimentary players, KD will put this talk to bed.
Crow
2009-06-05 20:09:14
The way to keep KD to 32 minutes would be to take him out around the 6 minute mark of the 1st and 2nd quarter where he is cold or not playing good D. You wouldn't mess with the second half. This would also be an opportunity to try to get Krstic or whoever you want to emphasize going. It would also reduce the Durant-Green time which was hurting the defense. But I doubt they'd do it. Better if they did and then no longer had to I'd think. But maybe year 3 is different without the tactic. Maybe.
Crow
2009-06-05 21:14:05
If you look at shots in the paint (inside shots + times fouled - assuming it is 75% of total times fouled) Westbrook and Durant both take about 7.4. Westbrook produces 8.6 points. Good. Durant produces 11.2, almost 30% better. Great. Want more Durant going inside. Less Westbrook? Wait n see.
Chas
2009-06-06 09:51:27
Great post. I really hated when people started criticize KD during this stretch instead of pointing out how great the coaching was and how well the reserves responded. It was a good thing for a young team to experience not a critique of Durant. In the future, I hope that Durant becomes a better passer and learns that he can wait till the second half or just whenever his team needs him to sink the dagger in to the opposition. But, that will come with greater maturity and I'm enjoying the ride so far.
J.G.
2009-06-06 09:52:12
<a href="#comment-9969" rel="nofollow">@Joe </a> Excellent points and the sheer fact that they kept playing AT ALL after that 3-29 start should reveal just how much heart this team and the coach has. <a href="#comment-9963" rel="nofollow">@Vega </a> Absolutely, but you definitely can't blame people for asking the question, "If they can do this without KD, why aren't they doing it when he's on the floor?"
Crow
2009-06-08 13:58:27
Ideally I'd think you want to surround Durant with: A vet PG who knows when to give him the ball &amp; where &amp; when and when not to. He should hit the 3 pointer and probably be a pest on defense so Durant man does not get easy access to the ball in good spots. And instructs / encourages and / or yells at Durant to play defense. They have Watson but that wasn't near enough on any criteria. A volume 3 pt shooting SG. Ideally who can take the tougher wing on defense. They have none of the former, especially in combination with the latter. An inside scoring big that defenders can't leave to respond to Durant's penetration into the lane without getting hurt bad. Don't got it unless White with health restored and weight room work gets back there. A 7 foot center with quick feet who plays like a veteran (probably will have to be one). Krstic isn't bad but isn't great either.