I just finished reading an article over at nyloncalculus.com about what Kevin Durant’s shooting chart looks like without Westbrook in the lineup and then with him in the lineup. I quoted the summary below but you really need to read the whole thing to appreciate and fully understand the differences. I’ll give you my thoughts on the matter when you get back… go ahead… I’ll wait.
Simply put: during the past 1.5 seasons, when Kevin Durant is on the court with Russell Westbrook, he is scoring from only a fraction of his preferred shot locations. As I mentioned at the onset, this is not an indictment on Russell Westbrook or Scott Brooks. KD has been hurt and working his way back into regularity, which may help stabilize these Hunting Grounds. Also, there is not necessarily a 1:1 relationship with increased court space and points scored. From a predictability standpoint, however, Durant appears to lose some of his offensive spontaneity. Less spontaneity potentially means (relatively) greater opportunities for the defense to succeed. The Thunder currently sit in 10th place in the uber-competitive Western Conference, with either a 41% or 73% chance of making the playoffs this season (depending your flavor of metrics and/or which part of ESPN you ask). Expecting Durant and Westbrook to continue to play together 75% of the time is entirely reasonable. Thus, getting over the hump and into the Second Season may rest on Durant not changing his shot volume, but getting different looks going forward.
I think the author nailed it when he pointed out that Durant becomes more predictable with Westbrook on the floor. But what does that mean for the team?
NylonCalculus seemed to think that it was a detriment to the team for Durant to shoot from less areas of the floor, and I can understand that thought, but I can certainly see it being a plus.
Durant is Better Off (maybe even prefers) Shooting from Fewer Spots
There’s a pretty good chance that without Westbrook on the floor Durant is forced to take some shots that all other things being equal he’d rather not take at that moment. If you’re a fan you want your guy taking shots they want to take and that they make with a high percentage – you do not want them shooting something they have to settle for. It’s reasonable to think that without Westbrook on the floor the defense can cheat and force Durant off of his few favorite spots leaving only his slightly less desirable shots available. I’m leaning towards the idea that Westbrook lets Durant get more of the shots that he does want and less of the others.
When I was a younger man and played ball competitively my mindset was about helping the team by doing whatever it took to win. If the defense sagged of didn’t close out quickly allowing me to get my favorite shots I’d take them all day. We had plays designed to get me a shot at points X or Y on the floor. Other players had spots they liked and we just did what we could to get people shots they wanted – and when that all broke down or didn’t work out ideally then we’d take whatever the defense gave us. I tend to believe that’s what is going on with Durant / Westbrook.
My guess is that Durant is getting a higher percentage of the shots that he really wants when Westbrook is on the floor pulling defenders out of position. Take a look at the pictures below.
I imagine the picture on the left (or top depending on how your browser renders it) as what life is like WITHOUT a penetrating point guard – shooters have to work to get open shots, and even then “open” just means they jumped first and hopefully higher. The second is what life is like with a point guard that can draw the defense. Shot variety goes down and you become predictable – which isn’t bad – because the real result is that you get exactly the looks you want.
So what do you think? Let me know in the comments below.