NBA fans, meet your new superstar, Kevin Durant.
If that last sentence seems a little strange, then it’s because Kevin Durant has been presented to basketball fans as a superstar for two years now. He was Player of the Year in college, won Rookie of the Year last season. From Day 1 in the NBA, he has been the best player on his team. He has all the hype that a player not named LeBron or Kobe could want. But there was one troublesome, little detail; until recently, he wasn’t producing like a superstar.
His rookie numbers were superficially impressive. He averaged 20.3 points per game. That stat alone probably won him the Rookie of the Year award, but the real story was that he was part of a draft class that has been slow in skills development and in adjusting to the NBA game. I might have been tempted to give the ROY award to Atlanta Hawks forward Al Horford, but a better decision would have been to simply not award anyone in the category. But then sneaker companies would riot.
In all fairness, the draft class of ’07 was an unusual case. Three of the best players from this draft were missing in action last season. Portland Center Greg Oden missed the campaign with a knee injury. Portland guard Rudy Fernandez and Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol missed last season due to obligations with European pro teams.
Some top 10 picks such as guard Mike Conley of the Memphis Grizzlies, forward Yi Jianlian of the New Jersey Nets and Corey Brewer of the Minnesota Timberwolves appear to have been vastly overrated. A few others such as Thaddeus Young of the Philadelphia 76ers, Joakim Noah of the Chicago Bulls and Rodney Stuckey of the Detroit Pistons are just beginning to meet the expectations that come with being a high draft pick. The smart money is on the rookies to beat the sophomores in the annual challenge game during All Star Weekend in Phoenix next week.
For the longest time, that 20.3 points per game was all that Durant had to hang his hat on. His rebounding, 4.4 boards per game, was subpar for a 6’9” player; he didn’t pass the ball particularly well (2.4 dimes per contest); and he failed to get to the free throw line much (only 5.6 attempts per game). Pile that on to the fact that his shooting was atrocious. Durant shot 43 percent from the field, which was below the league average, and from behind the arc, he bricked a miserable 28.8 percent from three-point range. Stat-savvy basketball fans have always known that a healthy points-per-game average can cover up a lot of other sins; last year proved that it can cover up a lot better than Oliver North during the Iran-Contra scandal.