Paul George Would Rather Guard LeBron James Than Kevin Durant

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistDecember 9, 2013

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At first blush, it might seem like Paul George committed NBA blasphemy by naming Kevin Durant—and not LeBron James—as his most difficult NBA matchup.

Per Scott Agness of

Following the Pacers’ 118-94 loss in Oklahoma City, George told reporters that Durant is his toughest cover in the league.

"It is," he said. "It is a tougher matchup. I watch their games, I watch a lot of NBA games. And offensively, KD is most of the times he’s scoring in bunches off of iso plays and one-on-one plays.

"And when they play against us, he’s moving a lot. He’s the screener, he’s getting back-screened and he’s coming off pin-downs and it’s a little different when I’m guarding him and it makes it a tougher cover."

This isn't blasphemy, though. It's simply George stating a fact.

Durant went off for 36 points on 14-of-23 shooting against the Indiana Pacers on Dec. 8.

Dec 8, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder small forward Kevin Durant (35) handles the ball against Indiana Pacers small forward Paul George (24) during the first quarter at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODA
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

The Oklahoma City Thunder ran Durant all over the floor, forcing George to trail the league's scoring leader around curls, through brutal screens and over the top of high picks at the top of the key. Nobody questions George's primacy among the league's perimeter defenders, so the Thunder wisely made it difficult for him to ever catch KD in squared-up isolation situations.

Agness charted the plays from that game and determined that Durant attacked George just twice in one-on-one situations. George stopped him on both occasions. All of KD's other baskets came as the result of some sort of off-ball movement.

So when George says it's harder to cover Durant than James, he's really just making an observation about the way the Thunder utilize KD. The Miami Heat generally put the ball in LBJ's hands and very rarely send him running from sideline to sideline through a gauntlet of bone-jarring picks.

George struggles mightily to contain James on the block, but at least he gets to take a crack at the King without getting bumped off by picks and tired out by off-ball action.

Here are the numbers from last season's larger sample:

Durant and James with Paul George on the Court in 2012-13

LBJ's efficiency is off the charts, but again, we see the sheer volume of Durant's production makes it a real chore to stick with him. All OKC wants to do is spring Durant for shots as his defender struggles to track him down.

Miami lets James drive and kick, post up and shoot spot-up jumpers. Put simply, it doesn't take nearly as much of a physical toll to stay with James.

Keep in mind that George never came close to saying that Durant is a better player than James. All he said was that Durant is the hardest guy in the league for him to guard.

Based on the way OKC uses Durant—and the available numbers—it's tough to argue with George on this one.

He'll put his theory to the test a few more times this season, facing LeBron and the Heat Tuesday night and then again on December 18, March 26 and April 11 before seeing Durant one final time on April 13.