adidas superstar 1 Kevin Durant has gone to great lengths to become a top defender
Durant has gone to great lengths to become a dominant defender
While Kevin Durant has picked up his individual defense, the Warriors are still looking for the team defense that was among the NBA’s best last season. Andrew D. 20, the Warriors were in the visitors locker room in New Orleans celebrating Kevin Durant. But they weren’t praising him for his 22 points and eight rebounds. They weren’t talking about his silky smooth jumper or his tight handle, either. No, it was the way he had played on defense, swatting away a career high seven shots.
On one sequence early in the second quarter, Durant’s left shoe had squirmed off after a made basket. He had to get back on defense, so he picked up his shoe, carried it past half court, then threw it out of bounds near the Pelicans’ bench.
Now switched onto Tony Allen, still wearing only one shoe, Durant battled for rebounding position. Allen came down with an offensive board and went right back up with a floater, which Durant volleyball spiked back into Allen’s hands. With Durant still draped all over him, Allen dribbled between his legs, inched closer to the basket and attempted a scoop shot, which resulted in another rejection by Durant.
After the game, a fan shouted in Durant’s direction, “Y’all were setting the Pels up for those blocks!”
It was true. Draymond Green had been emphasizing to his Warriors teammates during the game to avoid cheap reach in fouls in the paint so Durant could be free for an endless buffet of rejection opportunities.
It worked. And now teammates, opponents and fans are starting to recognize Durant’s vast improvement on defense, which, he said, was born out of fear.
“I’ve been a scorer my whole life,” Durant told ESPN this week. “I’ve been a one on one player my whole life. All I’ve thought about in the past was different ways to score, rather than different ways to impact the game. Since 2012 13, I’ve been trying to figure out ways to impact the game outside of scoring.
“Defense started to creep in there probably two years before I got to the Warriors. Defense started to become a focal point for me where I wanted to be trusted. I didn’t want to be the guy where all the film clips are about how they back doored me, or how someone drove around me, or how I’m not contesting shots. I was more so just nervous about being called out during film sessions. That’s why I wanted to get better.”
Durant has been dominant so far this season.
The 2017 Finals MVP has 27 blocks already, second in the NBA behind Utah’s Rudy Gobert (28). Durant is averaging 2.45 blocks per game after setting a career mark with 1.6 blocks per game last season. He also leads the Warriors in defensive win shares (0.053) and is capable of guarding all five positions.
Of all the accolades accumulated over his illustrious career, Durant does not own a single defensive honor. But he told ESPN he would “like to be an All NBA defender.” For now, though, it’s his fear of failure that’s driving him.
“I just want to be counted on by my coaches and my teammates in those situations,” he said. “I don’t want my coach to have to pull me out of the game in situations in the fourth quarter because I can’t play defense and then they need to go to a defense offense [substitution pattern]. I don’t want to be that player. I never wanted to be that player. So that’s what I feared more than anything.”
Durant is currently second in the league in blocked shots, averaging 2.45 per game. Ezra Shaw/GettyOn Wednesday, Durant sat out a game against the Minnesota Timberwolves because of a left thigh contusion. He watched a portion of the contest near the locker room in a space designated for postgame media availability. And he was fully engaged with what his teammates were doing on the floor, particularly on defense.
“Get that!” he screamed after Andre Iguodala nearly picked off a pass.
“That’s what I’m talking about,” he said after a great defensive sequence ended up in a turnover and a transition basket.
Durant acknowledged that the Warriors’ personnel has played a major role in his improvement on D. He mentioned how Green is always switching hard and precise, how Iguodala and Shaun Livingston are always getting deflections and how Steph Curry sneakily steals a rebound away by tapping it out of the hands of a big man before he can firmly secure the ball.
“It’s contagious,” Durant said. “If you’re seeing that all the time, and it’s creating points for you, that s is fun. It’s fun when you get your teammates involved on both ends of the floor and you’re all as one out there on the basketball court. You don’t want to be the liability, and that’s what I’m fighting against.”
“I didn’t want to be the guy where all the film clips are about how they back doored me, or how someone drove around me, or how I’m not contesting shots.”
Durant said the Warriors’ defensive guru, assistant coach Ron Adams, is constantly in his ear, challenging him to make sure every shot is contested and stressing how difficult it is for opponents to shoot over his 7 foot frame. He says it has been the same message since the two worked together in Oklahoma City.
“The No. 1 thing I remind him of is to use your God given ability, and more specifically, use your length,” Adams told ESPN. “I think he’s one of the hardest people to score against when he’s focused fundamentally on defending. I just continually tell him to keep using your length, keep using your length, keep using your length. Maybe he gets tired of hearing it, but I don’t get tired of saying it.”