Kevin Durant’s underappreciated value as a defender will be vital in determining what levels of success the Brooklyn Nets do/don’t have next year and beyond.
It’s easy to glance over Kevin Durant’s, at times, borderline-elite defensive abilities given how lethal a scorer he is. His size compounded with his skill set makes for an offensive repertoire that is unparalleled in the NBA spectrum. However, let’s zone in what was once a glaring weakness in his game according to pre-draft scouting reports, but was has become serviceable and needed for the Brooklyn Nets to succeed: his defense.
With Durant and Kyrie Irving commanding the ship next season, the Nets are slated to have one of the most dynamic offenses in the league. The tandem can score any which way they want; their proverbial “bags” are endless, and they have a counter to anything the opposition throws at them. Essentially what I’m trying to say is that they’re both pretty good at generating points.
However, there are some warranted—be it moderate at this point—concerns about what the Nets’ half-court defense is going to look like. They’ve overachieved in that sense this year, bouncing back from having one of the NBA’s worst defenses in the opening weeks of the season to an eighth-ranked defense before the league took a hiatus.
If you want to win at this level, you’ve got to play at a high level on both ends of the floor. That’s just a given. So if the Nets want to be in serious consideration for the Larry O’Brien trophy during the final stretch of next year’s campaign, they’ll have to possess a respectable defense. That’s where Kevin Durant helps.
As mentioned, coming into the league one of Durant’s lone weaknesses was his defense. Per NBADraft.Net, he scored a seven out of ten for his defense—his lowest score outside of his actual physical strength, which netted the same result. In fact, this is what experts had to say on his lackluster efforts on that side of the floor:
Defensively, he’s very lax. Tends to be too upright, and should focus more on his defensive fundamentals, getting low in his defensive stance, especially on the perimeter
But as time progressed, as he developed and furthered in his maturation process, that once perceived weakness had turned into an underappreciated strength in his arsenal. He’s quite respectable on that end of the floor, and that is exactly what the Nets will need of him.
During his 2018/19 season with the Golden State Warriors, he defended in the 86th percentile in isolation defense—allowing the opposition a meager 0.69 points per possession. That’ll be crucial if the Nets are to switch frequently in their defensive schemes next year, as he can more than hold up against perimeter threats in isolation.
He also defended the roll man in the pick-and-roll adequately, ranking in the 69th percentile allowing 1.18 points per possession. As for players taking him in the post, where draft reports slighted his strength, he defended to a tune of 0.87 points per possession—good for ranking in the 64th percentile.
Overall, last season he limited opponents to just 40.9 percent shooting. That’s pretty damn good.
Moreover, his first two years as a Warrior saw him place in the Top 20 in block percentage each year, something he had never achieved beforehand. In the 2017/18 season, he finished sixth in the NBA in total blocks and 15th in total contested shots amongst forwards with 9.7 per game.
His presence as a fill-in weakside rim protector, help defender, or just an additional switchable defender will be huge for the Nets’ half-court defense.
He won’t be asked to transform into the 2003-04 iteration of Ron Artest, but if he can limit opponents to 40.9 percent shooting as he did a season ago, that’ll be more than enough.