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Is Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant Unthinkably Overrated?

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Is Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant Unthinkably Overrated?
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No player is without his detractors, including Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder. While most consider him to be the No. 2 player in the world behind LeBron James, there are those out there who find him completely overrated.

They base this view on a few key areas of Durant’s game that appear to be sub-par. Great players do not have to be great at everything, but they certainly cannot be bad at anything.

Durant’s defense and ball-handling have all come under attack by critics. Some of the criticisms are valid, some not so much, and we will go through and evaluate the merits of the two most common ones.

Ball Security

One area that comes under attack fairly often is Durant’s handling, or mishandling, of the basketball. The stats seem to support that notion.

Despite improving almost every other area of his game over the past five seasons, Durant is actually averaging 3.8 turnovers per game during the 2012-13 NBA season, a career high. That mark matches his average from the previous season.

Part of the problem with this is that Durant has also increased his assist average to 4.6 per game in an effort to become a more complete player. While that effort is admirable, it has made him more prone to turnovers.

One would hope that Durant will continue to improve in that area as he matures even more, learning what passes he can and can’t make. There is evidence to support that idea, namely in how he improved his dribbling since his earlier NBA years.

When looking at Durant’s ball security issues, we must look at his career average, as it is a better indication of how good he has been on the whole at keeping the ball safe. For his career, Durant has averaged 3.2 turnovers per game.

That mark sounds too high, and it is, but it seems less frightening when one considers that LeBron James, the only player that Durant supposedly trails, has averaged 3.3 turnovers per game over the course of his career.

The verdict here is this: Durant has ball security issues, but they are not as major as they may seem at first glance.

Defense

One of the biggest critiques of Durant’s game has been his defense. While Durant’s effort on the defensive end is usually good, this is still a fair critique, as he has often shown poor fundamentals on that end of the floor.

At times, Durant has major trouble moving his feet on defense, especially against smaller, quicker ball-handlers. This makes him unable to stay in front of the ball and more prone to fouling or giving up drives into the lane.

Defending the pick and roll also can be a problem. It is vital for the player whose man is screening to hedge hard on the dribbler to prevent penetration. Durant’s lateral quickness is a problem here as well.

Check out these highlights of Durant’s defense in Game 4 of the 2012 NBA Finals for some evidence of these problems:

Granted, in that game Durant made these mistakes against the best player and team in the world. However, this is an appropriate stage to judge Durant on given how highly rated he is by most NBA fans.

Right now you might be thinking, “OK, I’m convinced. Durant is a bad defender and is therefore overrated.”

Hold up, I’m not done yet.

When we look at the stats, we seem to get a different outcome. Durant is averaging 1.6 steals and 1.4 blocks per game during the 2012-13 season. Those do not seem to be the stats of a bad defender.

The truth is that, while Durant is not a great on the ball defender, he does have incredible length.

His wingspan of 7’5” combined with a height of around 6’10” makes him a matchup nightmare on the perimeter, and not just on offense. Durant’s best contribution on defense are his abilities to make skip passes more difficult and to contest shots. His long arms make it hard on opponents to get shots off and make passes.

When Durant uses this length to his advantage, he is even more effective as a one-on-one defender. Check out this play in which he guards Kobe Bryant one-on-one. It is indicative of the effect he had on Bryant this entire game.

As you can see, Durant uses his length to make up for his lack of lateral quickness.

This allows him to stay in front of Bryant and make the resulting jump shot extremely tough on his opponent.

Bryant is no spring chicken, and he really does not have the same athletic ability as he did earlier in his career. However, he is still one of the best one-on-one scorers in the game, and the fact that Durant was able to do so well defending him is evidence against the “Durant sucks at defense” idea.

The ruling here is this: Durant can be a poor defender at times, but when he uses his length to make up for his lack of other abilities, he can make up for most of the deficiency.

Overrated?

Truthfully, Durant probably is overrated. Then again, most NBA stars probably. There are very few who do not have glaring weaknesses that can only be found by analyzing their game intensely.

The real question here is whether or not Durant is more overrated than the average NBA superstar, and the answer is no.

Durant’s leadership and work ethic are unquestioned, and those are obviously the most important attributes he must have. He is among the most clutch players in the NBA, and he led a team to the NBA Finals at the ripe “old” age of 23.

Overrated? Yes, Durant probably is. Overrated by being considered the No. 2 player in the world? Absolutely not.

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