Welcome to the new column series! We’re still patiently waiting for the NBA to come back, but at least one thing we have a lot of right now is time. I’ve always wanted to do a series where I look up a bunch of relevant info and stats to try to answer some questions about players, so it makes sense to give it a whirl now.
The players in this series will be guys who may have a wider range of opinions for where they should be drafted in 2020-21. Injured players, 2019-20 breakouts, players who disappointed in 2019-20 and possible change of scenery for guys will be the focus. We’re going to kick it off with a Hall of Fame player we haven’t seen in a while.
Kevin Durant is certainly in the running for best nine-cat fantasy player of the last decade and it’s a pretty easy argument to make. In 2009-10, he was first overall both per game and for total value (82 games, values via basketballmonster.com). He followed that up with No. 1 per game and for total value in each year for 2011-12, 2012-13, and 2013-14 before a Jones foot fracture knocked him down in 2014-15, and even coming in at No. 2 the next year in 2015-16 (Stephen Curry’s 2015-16 season is the best nine-category season ever over the last 15 years). KD was still eighth per game in 2016-17, fifth per game in 2017-18, and fourth per game in 2018-19 as a Warrior with a hit to his usage rate. Here’s a snapshot of his stats from the last 10 years (via NBA.com, all stats mentioned below are also via NBA.com/stats).
Of course, you’re not drafting a player based on what he did, you’re drafting him for what he’s going to do for the upcoming year. As you know, KD has been out since his Achilles tear on June 10, 2019. We’re almost at 11 months of rehab right now, and chances are he’ll have until around Christmas to heal for the start of the 2020-21 season. That could give him close to 18 months of recovery from one of the toughest injuries to get over as an NBA player. Durant is also going to turn 32 in late September, so he’s past his prime by traditional standards. The added hiatus because of the NBA being on hold should be huge to help limit additional playing-time restrictions.
Obviously every injury is different, but a good example to compare to is Rudy Gay, who tore his Achilles at 30 and has similar weight to KD -- Durant is a few inches taller, though. Gay suffered the injury on Jan. 19, 2017, he was not limited in camp in late September, he even played in a preseason game on Oct. 6, and he was able to make it back to the court for his season debut on Nov. 2. He even played in a back-to-back set right off the bat (that would likely wouldn’t happen these days), and he was without formal restrictions. Durant is going to have around twice as much time to recover compared to Gay. It’s worth a quick mention that KD did have a right calf issue in 2017-18 as well, so the extra time is huge. Gay's stats have fallen off quite a bit, but of course he's not nearly the player Durant is and the Spurs have basically used him situationally, especially lately when he's losing minutes to guys like Drew Eubanks. Gay did also have a heel injury later that season, but it was to his other leg and not the same leg as the Achilles tear. This could be a compensation issue, but again KD is going to have close to double the amount of time to recover compared to Gay.
Prior to 2019-20 and besides the aforementioned Jones fracture year, KD has been one of the most durable high-volume players in the league missing the following amount per season starting with 2009-10: 0, 4, 0, 1, 1, 55 (Jones fracture), 10, 20 (MCL left knee sprain was main issue), 14 (ribs for 6, right calf for 3, aggravated ankle for 4, thigh for 1), 4. Excluding his right calf, Durant doesn’t have many soft-tissue injuries that have kept him out for a very long time, and without the glaring Achilles issue he’d have a Harden/LeBron-esque durability grade for drafts. Of course, you obviously can’t totally ignore the Achilles risk with KD having multiple right-calf issues, as well.
Besides the major post-Achilles factor, KD finds himself in a new situation. As you can see in the first paragraph, Durant did see his value dip a bit from his perennial No. 1 spot prior to his Jones fracture year, becoming a top 2-8 guy after that with most of that time coming with the Warriors. KD’s usage rate did fall to 29.1 over his three seasons per game in Oakland, which is down from his 31.4 when he went on that No. 1 rank run from 2010 to 2014 -- a career-high 33.3 in his MVP 2013-14 season. KD was the guy for free throws in his No. 1 run, but he fell off a bit in the GS system with almost a drop of about 2.5 makes per game as a Warrior compared to his peak Thunder days. KD’s efficiency was up a bit while with the Warriors for the most part, but he did drop off a bit in 2018-19. Although, each of his last three seasons were his best for FG%. We’ll get to the defensive side and his improvements there, but let’s take a look at how KD altered his scoring style on his new team and see if it can translate to Brooklyn.
KD has been widely viewed as one of the best isolation scorers ever, but actually he wasn’t affected too much from the move to GSW in that regard. In his last year with the Thunder, KD had 3.8 ISO possessions per game at 3.8 points per (85th percentile). He followed that up with 2.5 possessions and 2.6 points per (89th percentile), 3.6 possessions and 3.8 points (87th percentile), and 3.7 possessions and 3.9 points per (86th percentile). Considering his dip to usage rate and minutes, it was pretty much a push there and getting older didn’t impact his efficiency negatively whatsoever.
If a player is in a “good” offense, that typically means he’s getting favorable looks at the basket. One way is getting open looks from deep, and KD had made just 38.4% from deep overall with the Warriors, which is down from 39.5% in his last five seasons in OKC. KD has routinely been an excellent catch-and-shoot guy regardless of team with four-straight seasons of 40+% made on catch-and-shoot. He did get a noticeable boost in Oakland with a 48.6% on catch-and-shoot treys in 2017-18, and it did drop to 40.8% to explain his overall drop from deep in 2018-19. Digging a little deeper, KD was only wide open on 18.1% of his treys in 2018-19, 20.5% in 2017-18, 25.7% in 2016-17, 21.6% in 2015-16 (last year in OKC), 16.5% in 2014-15 (Jones fracture) and 15.4% in 2013-14 (MVP year). Similar numbers with the Dubs compared to his last year in OKC is a good sign that he can take his 3-point shooting anywhere.
The other aspect of getting good shots is scoring in transition. In his first year with coach Steve Kerr, KD did have a career-high 22.9% of his points come via fast break, but the other two years were on par with his OKC stint at 17.6% and 16.3% in his last two seasons. We don’t know who is going to coach the Nets next year, but he should still have a decent shot falling in the 15-20% range. Another non-issue for KD as he got older was how he moved while on the court. His average speed on the court was faster as a Warrior overall and his slowest GS year was just 0.1 MPH slower than his fastest in his last three years at OKC. He was also moving noticeably faster on offense with the Warriors, which does have a little to do with the offensive system.
Driving to the hoop is one of the best ways to draw a foul, and that’s one aspect of KD’s game that did drop off a bit in the Bay Area. He had 7.5 drives per game in 2018-19, 5.7 in 2017-18, 5.5 in 2016-17, 8.2 in 2015-16, 6.3 in 2014-15 (Jones fracture), and 9.3 in 2013-14 (MVP). The dip in drives can account for close to half of his decrease in free throws per game from when he was elite, and KD scored 7.3 points per game off drives in his MVP year as one of the most efficient players on those (LeBron James was the only high-volume guy better than KD). Plus, his efficiency on drives in GSW wasn’t the problem with KD falling in the 54-57 FG% on drives. Obviously an Achilles can affect his explosiveness, but KD’s length has helped him score when tightly contested. Plus, KD was hanging around 20-22% of his points coming via the free throw line over the last three years after his 22.0% in his final year.
Shot location is always a big factor for high-volume scorers, and it’s usually tied to the above factors. Let’s take a look at the percentage of his shots coming at the rim (first column), how he shot on those (second), the percentage of his shots in mid-range (third), performance on mid-range (fourth), and his two-point FG% (last).
The headlines here are how great he was on twos in his first year in Oakland, putting up a 3.9% increase in his 2P% from a stellar 2015-16. It’s easy to see why when he was making 78.2% at the rim and those accounting for 22.1% of his shots. That’s massive and explains why he had a career-high 53.7 FG% and not being close (52.1 in 2018-19, also career-high eFG% and TS% in 2016-17). The second interesting part of this is how despite the success in 2016-17, KD really went back to firing away on mid-range shots and thriving in 2018-19 there to put up his second-best 2P% in this sample. Besides the increase in 2P% with the Warriors, it’s not like he was better from the rim in the last two years compared to where he was with OKC. All that said, there’s not much to suggest the move to GS helped him on twos, and it’s more about him just being a very, very good offensive player. We'll get to more of this below, too.
Another big aspect to KD’s stat lines was the steady increase in assists. Since his Jones fracture year in 2014-15, his assists per 36 have increased in each season (4.3, 5.0, 5.2, 5.7, 6.1). You’ve probably heard about the times KD complained about a pass-happy offense in Golden State, and the system was a clear factor in KD’s increases. The Warriors led the NBA in assists each season and did so with some significant margins: 5.1 per game in 2016-17 (!), 2.2 in 2017-18, 2.0 in 2018-19. On the flip side of that, KD’s sidekick in OKC, Russell Westbrook, is routinely among the league leaders in unassisted buckets. In his last season with Russ, KD only assisted him 65 times on 852 passes (7.6%), and Russ wasn’t even the No. 1 guy for assisted buckets from KD in any of the last three years together (Serge Ibaka all three, Reggie Jackson No. 2 in 2013-14 to put Russ third). In Oakland, KD’s passes resulted in dimes much more often when dishing to his offensive weapons. In 2018-19, his top assisted guy, Klay Thompson, had an assisted bucket on 23.3% of his passes, and Steph was still at 11.6% as the No. 2 guy. Yes, the fact that those two guys are two of the best 3-point shooters of all time explains a lot of it and 3-pointers being assisted more often than twos is a massive factor, but his Brooklyn teammates will all be a step up from Westbrook as a shooter. The Nets will have a new coach, but GM Sean Marks has made it a priority to put shooters out there, especially one of the league’s best shooters in Joe Harris. The Nets should re-sign him next year, but either way they'll find ways to get shooters out there.
KD playing next to Kyrie Irving compared to Stephen Curry can pretty much be considered as a wash from a volume perspective. Prior to 2019-20, Kyrie had sat in the 28-30 usage rate range in the previous four seasons. Even with KD next to him, Curry was still sitting at 29 in usage rate in each of the three seasons.
One thing to consider is how often Kyrie has been missing games. Over the last five seasons, he’s missed a whopping 27.6 games per season. Sure, playing just 20 games in 2019-20 does skew it a bit, but we’re still talking around 20 even without that. When KD doesn’t have a star like Curry or Westbrook, he smashes. That means when Kyrie is down, Durant could have No. 1 kind of upside per game. He might be staggered a bit more, too.
Here’s a look at Durant's lines (points/boards/dimes) per 36 over the years when he’s not next to his starting point guard. Plus, we’ll take a look at how that time without the PG compared to with them from a TS% and usage rate standpoint.
Apparently, #StephBetter when it comes to helping on efficiency. KD’s TS% decrease should get some attention, but it’s not like he was inefficient without him -- he was just super efficient with Steph (67 TS%, 68, 65 in three years). If you dig a little deeper, it is mostly about him just nailing treys next to Steph. In his three seasons with the Warriors, Durant shot 40.6% on 3-pointers when he's on the court with Steph, and he shot just 34.7% on 3-pointers without Steph in that span. It’s also fascinating that KD was more efficient without Russ on bigger volume while adding more assists, too.
Going even deeper than that, here’s a look at KD’s two-point shot location and volume with and without his PGs over his last four seasons:
Some very interesting trends here. The most important one here is that KD gets much more shots at the rim with Steph compared to without him, and he trades off those shots for mid-range. KD was also more efficient on those shots at the rim with his PGs, but up until 2018-19 his efficiency on mid-range shots didn’t change much. It is also very important to note that the Warriors didn't exactly have great offensive players next KD when Steph sat. Sure, Klay is great, but no Steph around and mostly below-average players replacing him made it a little tougher on KD. Still, he was pretty darn good even in that tough circumstance. Again, he's a special offensive player.
Despite the usage rate hit, one of the main reasons KD was able to still be elite for fantasy in Golden State was his increase in blocks. In his three seasons in California, Durant put up 1.5 blocks per 36 minutes compared to just 1.0 per 36 over his time with OKC -- was never higher than 1.2 in a season there. Even from a non-stats standpoint, KD’s defense showed up more on tape. KD was usually starting as a three with the Dubs, but he did slide over to the four much more often compared to his peak OKC days. A common thought is that Draymond Green’s defense may have helped unlock KD’s blocks. However, KD’s blocks per 36 were 0.5 higher without Dray in 2018-19, 0.5 higher without him again in 2017-18, and 0.3 higher without him in 2016-17. This is a fairly clear indication that KD’s blocks were a product of playing more four, so they should be there again in Brooklyn as the Nets go with a smaller perimeter around him.
OK, so this is a whole lot of information and I hope you liked it. The performance trends generally show that a change to Brooklyn shouldn’t impact him negatively just from a situation angle. Odds are his usage rate should see a bump as the most likely difference on the stat sheet offensively. He’s shown he can score at any level, he’s a better shot blocker as a four man, his dimes should certainly be up compared to his Russ days. Plus, maybe he’d be willing to pass more to take some pressure off him. As he’s aged, he’s also shown very little dips as a scorer really anywhere, and he’s trended up as a jump shooter, too. There are obvious concerns about the Achilles, but KD’s upside is so attractive that he still has to be someone to consider in the first rounds of drafts. He gets close to 1.5 years to recover, and earlier comments from his teammates last month suggest he’s right where he needs to be. “He’s unguardable,” Nets teammate Theo Pinson said in March. Durant will probably get managed for the first couple months of the year, but the Nets figure to be in the playoff hunt for 2021. That could help KD get more minutes later in the year when it counts during the fantasy playoffs.
When it comes to picking KD, it’s a tough sell to put him in the top eight just because he’s the most talented player to come off this type of injury. Personally, I have Jayson Tatum ahead of him as a late-first pick, but I’ll be all about taking KD in the 10-14 range in nine-cat leagues.