Kevin Durant Is a Serious Defensive Player of the Year Candidate
A few weeks back, I wrote about how Kevin Durant is having the best season of his career. I talked a lot about his scoring, shooting and advanced numbers. However, his defensive numbers were only touched on briefly.
Durant's defense could've just been a product of a small-ish sample size, or maybe it was solely due to an increase in pace with the lightning quick Golden State Warriors. For whatever reason, it wasn't covered in great detail, which was the wrong thing to do.
A Big Man's Night
In Wednesday night's hard-fought 121-111 win over the Toronto Raptors, Durant showcased his offensive ability, finishing the contest with 22 points on 8 of 15 from the floor and 3 of 5 from beyond the arc. He even tallied 7 assists in his 38 minutes on the court, but, though it might be hard to believe, Durant's defense was better than his offense.
He didn't have any steals, but the lanky 6'11" (or 7', depending on who you ask) forward blocked five shots, including this dismissive rejection of a DeMar DeRozan dunk attempt.
A couple of his blocks were as authoritative as any center you'll see in the game today -- or even in years past.
Since 1983-84, Durant became the 10th player ever to post 22 points, 17 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 blocks in a game. Take a look at the caliber of players we're talking about here.
Each of those nine players were power forwards, centers or a combination of the two in their careers. They lived around the basket, sucking up rebounds and blocking shots on the regular.
Up until now, you could say Durant is an anomaly, as a tall small forward with guard-type skills -- and you'd be right. But according to Basketball Reference, Durant has played 58% of his minutes this season at the power forward position. His previous high was 26% a year ago.
This means that when Durant's at the four, Draymond Green is at the five in Steve Kerr's small-ball lineup. Green, at 6'7", is no ordinary type of rim-protecting center -- the one we envision blocking shots into the third row. That being the case, it's almost as if Durant is that player and he's the leader of the Warriors' defense.
If you want to say otherwise, last night's box score will disagree. In the Golden State victory, Durant had five of the Warriors' nine total blocks and led the team with a defensive rating of 98 points allowed per 100 possessions. The next-closest player was Green, at 109.
In a nutshell, that's how this season's gone.
A DPOY-Caliber Season
Granted, Draymond still leads the Warriors in defensive rating, allowing just 98 points per 100 possessions, and is tied for second in the league in that category. Durant does have a season-long rating of 100, though -- tying a career-low while also slotting him eighth among all NBA players.
As far as rim-protecting goes, Durant is now averaging 1.6 blocks per game, accounting for 25.4% of the team's league-leading 6.3 per game. At this point, the team's total blocks are up 3.8% from where they were a year ago with the services of Andrew Bogut. Draymond, with 1.3 a game, is the only other Warrior with more than a block per outing.
Not that these two are competing, but Durant and Green are pretty even, as evidenced by their 2.2 defensive win shares apiece. In terms of defensive box plus-minus, however, Green has a commanding 5.0 to 2.6 advantage.
If we turn to on/off numbers to answer the question of whether Durant or Green is playing better defensively, Durant would be the guy.
With Draymond off the floor, teams actually shoot at an effective field goal percentage 2% worse than they do with him on (48.8%). They also have a higher offensive and total rebounding percentage in his time on the court, as well.
In contrast, the Warriors have a better defensive rebounding rate (75.6%) when Durant's on the floor and allow a lower effective field goal percentage (47.6%). This, combined with his offensive impact, makes up a difference of -6.9 in net rating with Durant off versus on the floor, compared to Green's -5.2 (via NBA.com).
This is not to say Durant's going to win Defensive Player of the Year. If I had to put my money on it, Green would be my prediction (at least, between the two). Durant's likely to lose votes for his offensive reputation and for the fact that he's Green's teammate.
This does not mean Durant isn't worthy of consideration, though. Depending on which way you look at it and what metrics you're reading into, he could be the better defender so far this season.
Either way, Durant's filled a void for the Warriors as a shot-blocker and he has played his role really well so far. Whether he or Green fight for Defensive Player of the Year accolades is completely irrelevant in the bigger picture. The duo is a force to be reckoned with for opposing offenses, and Kevin Durant is a big reason why.