The Extra Pass: Putting some numbers, perspective to Kevin Durant’s amazing season

13 Comments

Kevin Durant is going to be your MVP.

He could well lead his Oklahoma City Thunder back to the NBA Finals — Oklahoma City has set the bar in the West this season. If another team (San Antonio, Golden State, Memphis, Portland, the Clippers) has designs on reaching the Finals out of the West they are going to have to do it by besting OKC. Right now I’m not sure any of them can.

Durant is having a monster season — it was a typically very good season until Russell Westbrook needed another knee surgery. We all expected OKC to still be good but stumble a little, instead we have seen the best of Durant, who has shown an amazing ability to both score efficiently and create shots for the Thunder.

To try and get my head around what he’s done and how he’s going it, I went to the numbers from the NBA’s Sports VU cameras, plus the breakdowns from Synergy Sports, and those together those paint a fascinating picture.

• Durant leads NBA in points per touch (of guys who have played in at least 35 games) — he touches the ball 66 times a game (38th most often in the league) but scores .46 points per touch.

• While Durant averages 5.5 assists per game he creates 10.1 assist opportunities a game for his teammates (he sets guys up that often, they just don’t always hit the shot).

• Durant averages 5.5 drives a game that start outside 20 feet and get inside 10 feet, and he is shooting 58 percent on those plays.

• What Durant does a lot is pull up — takes a dribble or a few them pulls up from outside 10 feet. He does that 7.5 times a game and shoots 45.6 percent on those (eighth best in the NBA of the guys who take at least two a game). What you don’t want to let him doo is pull up off the dribble from three, he is shooting 46.9 percent on those.

• Fitting with that, the primary way Durant gets his shots is as the pick-and-roll ball handler (allowing him to drive or pull up) — he gets 20.6 percent of his offense that way and shoots 53 percent, scoring 1.04 points per possession on those plays.

• Durant also gives you a lot of isolation — 16.6 percent of his shots come that way and he shoots 45.6 percent overall, but he knocks down his threes in isolation (51.1 percent) and he gets to the line, so he scores an impressive 1.09 points per possession that way.

• He is a beast in transition — 15.4 percent of his shot attempts come that way and he shoots 64.3 percent.

• If you want a weakness, he averaged 4.6 points a game from catch-and-shoot opportunities and is shooting only 39.2 percent on those.

LeBron James admits Warriors pose one of biggest challenges he’s faced in Finals

1 Comment

LeBron James is used to being the underdog in the NBA Finals. It started with the first time he got a team there, the 2007 team where after LeBron the two leading scorers were Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden — that team was not really Finals worthy and the Spurs showed that with a sweep.

Entering his seventh straight NBA Finals in 2017, the Cavaliers are again heavy underdogs. When asked about the challenge these Warriors — now with Kevin Durant — pose LeBron was nothing but complimentary, speaking to Dave McMenamin of ESPN.

“It’s probably up there,” James said after the Cleveland Cavaliers’ practice. “I mean, it’s up there. Obviously, I’ve played against four Hall of Famers as well too, with Manu [Ginobili], Kawhi [Leonard], Tony [Parker] and Timmy D [Tim Duncan] on the same team. And if you add Pop [Gregg Popovich] in there, that’s five Hall of Famers.

“So it’s going to be very challenging. Those guys are going to challenge me. They’re going to challenge our ballclub. This is a high-powered team, and I’ve played against some other [stiff competition]. I’ve played against Ray [Allen], KG [Kevin Garnett], Paul [Pierce], [Rajon] Rondo and Doc [Rivers]. So it’s going to be very challenging not only on me mentally, but on our ballclub and on our franchise.”

The Warriors bring four of the top 15-20 guys in the NBA (depending on where you want to rank Klay Thompson), with two of then in the top five with Durant and Stephen Curry. However, what makes the Warriors more dangerous is the way they buy into the offensive system, move the ball and set screens/move off it, all of which makes them greater than just the sum of their parts. Well, that and the fact they had the second best defense in the NBA this year.

Cleveland, however, is probably the team best suited to beat them. Nobody has a good answer for guarding the 1/3 LeBron/Kyrie Irving pick-and-roll, Kevin Love is one of the best power forwards in the game, they are strong on the glass and can be impressive on defense (the challenge will be doing it consistently this series, they haven’t had to up to this point). Ultimately, LeBron is the great equalizer, he is the best player in the game.

All that said, Las Vegas oddsmakers have Golden State the heavy favorites (those odds are a reflection of what the betting public thinks). If LeBron and the Cavaliers pull this off, it will be one of the biggest upsets in NBA Finals history.

Lonzo Ball will never be as good as this fan-made video of him destroying people in 2K17

6 Comments

Ultimately, nobody has any idea how good Lonzo Ball will be as an NBA player. Franchise cornerstone? All-Star? Above average starter? Rotation player? He will fall somewhere on the scale, but even for NBA teams it’s a guess as to where. (His dad apparently thinks he will end his career compared to Jordan, I seriously doubt that.)

However good he ends up being, he may never be as good as he looks in this 2K17 fan video made by Shady00018. The Lakers should pray he does: Dropping Stephen Curry on a crossover, dunking over Rudy Gobert, throwing no-look passes like beads at Mardi Gras? It’s impressive, if unrealistic.

Then again, reality Lakers fans don’t always intersect.

 

LeBron James on the Finals: “I feel good about our chances. Very good.”

2 Comments

If there is one team in the NBA that can knock off the Warriors in a seven-game series, it’s the Cavaliers. They are the best team in the NBA at creating mismatches and isolating them, and in Kyrie Irving and LeBron James they have two of the best isolation scorers in the game. Cleveland is strong on the boards and is capable of impressive defense. Also, they have the best player on the planet.

If nobody else is confident in the Cavaliers chances, he is.

Here is what LeBron James said his confidence level facing the Warriors in a Finals trilogy.

What else is he going to say?

And if anyone should be confident, it’s LeBron. He can change a series.

From the outside, we saw a series last year where everything needed to go right for Cleveland to win — LeBron playing the best ball of his career for the final three games, Kyrie Irving hitting big shots, Draymond Green getting suspended, Andrew Bogut getting injured, Stephen Curry being off (due to injury or fatigue or just a slump). And even then took the Cavaliers seven games and heroics at the last minute. Now the Warriors add Kevin Durant, and it’s hard not to see this ending differently.

However, LeBron James is the one guy who can alter that vision. And he’s confident he can do it, he’s done it before.

Steve Alford: LaVar Ball never meddled with UCLA Basketball

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
4 Comments

Is LaVar Ball just a harmless loudmouth, or will he actually undermine the team that drafts his son, highly touted guard Lonzo Ball?

The Lakers, who hold the No. 2 pick, are the most likely team to find out.

President Magic Johnson said LaVar won’t affect whether they draft Lonzo, but coach Luke Walton wants the team to ask UCLA coach Steve Alford about LaVar’s involvement.

Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times did just that:

Was LaVar Ball around the team much?

“Zero,” Alford said.

Was he ever at practice?

“Never at practice,” Alford said. “Never at practice; never called me.”

Did he ever try to meddle in your coaching?

“Never,” Alford said.

LaVar has said his other sons, LiAngelo and LaMelo, will play for UCLA. So, Alford has incentive to maintain a productive working relationship with LaVar. The players’ high school coach had a much worse experience dealing with LaVar.

Alford vouching for LaVar means something, but the total picture is more complex.

Still, LaVar would hardly be the first difficult parent of an NBA player. He’s just the most public. Even if he’d try to meddle into the Lakers, they might be willing to handle that to get his talented son.