Opposing players avert your eyes: This man can actually get better
Kevin Durant is coming off of one of the most efficient seasons of all time.
In his sixth season in the NBA, Durant seemingly mastered opposing defenses, averaging 28.1 PPG, 7.9 RPG and 4.6 APG while shooting 51.0 percent from the floor, 41.6 percent from three and 90.5 percent from the free-throw line.
In fact, Durant was just the sixth player in league history to join the 50/40/90 club (shooting at least 50 percent from the floor, 40 percent from distance and 90 percent from the line).
Durant also took steps defensively, averaging career highs in both steals (1.43 per game) and blocks (1.30).
Despite his greatness, though, there are areas that he can improve on to become an even better player. In particular, there are three areas of inefficiency that the Durantula can work on during training camp that will take both him and the Thunder to the next level—as scary as that may be for the rest of the NBA.
1. Mastering the Corner Three
It's no secret that the most productive shot in basketball is the corner three. Per 82games.com, NBA players shoot 42.5 percent on corner threes, producing 1.18 points per shot. This easily dwarfs both "straight-up" threes, which produce 1.05 points per shot (38.8 percent), and "wing" threes (34.9 percent), which produce only 0.89. The corner three is even more efficient than shots from the low paint (inside six feet), which produce 1.17 points per shot.
Why, then, does Durant barely ever shoot from the corner?
Durant launched 334 three-pointers last season, knocking down an impressive 43.4 percent. However, he only shot 20 of these from the corner (hitting eight of 20 attempts). This means that a mere 6 percent of Durant's threes came from the so-called "money zone" in either corner.
Not only that, but Durant took a staggering 205 threes from the wing, the least efficient spot on the floor.
What's terrifying is how good Durant is on threes from the wings. While the NBA average is only 34.9 percent from the wings, he shoots an astounding 43.4 percent. This shows us that if Durant can get more comfortable shooting from the corner, he will become even more dangerous from the outside.
Here's a look at Durant's three-point shots by location, compared to league average:
|Made (Durant)||Attempts (Durant)||Percentage (Durant)||Percentage (League)|
Looking at Durant's form, there is no reason that he shouldn't be taking and making more threes from the corners. After all, it's not like he suddenly loses his stroke when he does venture into the corner:
2. Shoot Fewer Threes Off Screens
Durant struggled mightily shooting threes off screens last season. There were 292 possessions where Durant ran off screens and then either shot the ball or turned it over, according to Synergy Sports (subscription required). In those possessions, Durant shot only 17 of 62 from long range (27.4 percent).
When shooting two-point field goals off the screen, Durant was his normal, economical self, burying 51.7 percent of his attempts.
Shooting threes off of screens is one of the hardest things to do in basketball. Very few players have become good at it, and those who have are among the best shooters we've ever seen.
Most of the time a player is not very balanced coming off of a screen. This causes him to shoot from an awkward angle. When you add the increased difficulty of shooting off-balanced from over 20 feet away, you get one of the least efficient shots in basketball.
Here's an example of that with Durant during the 2010 playoffs:
Of course, it's not just Durant that struggles here, but he does struggle more than some of his elite shooting contemporaries. Let's take a look at a few of the best long-range shooters in basketball to illustrate:
|3PT% in non-screen situations||3PT% off screens||Difference(+/-)|
As you can see, even the best of the best shoot a considerably lower percentage off the screen. But for Durant, the difference is enormous. He goes from being nearly 10 percent points above league average (35.9 percent) to over 8 percent below average.
Durant needs to put much work into his form in this aspect of his game, or simply shoot more from mid-range in those situations. Case in point, this jumper in a game last season against the Kings:
3. Protect the Ball
As Durant's career has progressed, Durant has not only led the league in scoring three times, but has also steadily increased his assist totals (peaking at a career high 4.6 APG this past season).
This has also led to more turnovers.
While turnovers are a natural part of basketball, Durant has begun regressing a bit in that department, ranking in the top five in turnovers three times in the past four seasons.
|Turnovers||Turnover %||Usage rate|
What's concerning about the turnover numbers is that the usage rate, while high, has not gone up accordingly. In fact, it has gone down. Despite that, Durant saw a huge spike in turnovers the past two seasons (keep in mind, the 2011-12 season was only a lockout-shortened 66 games).
What are some of the reasons this is happening? Well, clearly Durant is making more of an effort to be a distributor, judging by his increase in assist averages—from 2.7 APG in 2010-11, to 3.5 APG in 2011-12 and 4.6 APG last season.
It's likely that Durant is trying really hard to get his teammates involved, and that is leading to more turnovers. Remember, this is a guy who has been a scorer all his life. It's only natural that he would be a little out of his comfort zone making things happen for others.
Here's an example of that from the 2012 NBA Finals:
And another from earlier in the 2012 playoffs:
As unselfish as Durant is, it's clear that ball distribution is something he needs to work on.
We know how good Durant is, but there is still room for improvement. There are still ways to eliminate bad shots and turnovers, and improve upon his already ridiculous efficiency.
Considering he has improved in each of his first six seasons, look for Durant to once again make changes to his game this year. That's what the truly great ones do.