Where Would a Healthy Kevin Durant Rank in B/R's Top 100?

Andy Bailey@@AndrewDBaileyFeatured ColumnistJuly 11, 2020

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 10: Kevin Durant looks on during a game at the Staples Center on March 10, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Credit: 2020 NBAE (Photo by Chris Elise/NBAE via Getty Images)
Chris Elise/Getty Images

You likely noticed a couple of prominent absences from Bleacher Report's list of the top 100 players in the NBA. As explained in the introductions to those articles, we set a non-negotiable baseline of 500 minutes played in 2019-20, which eliminated Stephen Curry and Kevin Durant from the exercise.

Of course, healthy versions of those players would've competed for top-10 status. In fact, they might have been shoo-ins. For Durant, specifically, he likely would've been in that top tier of forwards that includes Kawhi Leonard, LeBron James and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

There's no use trying to analyze where Durant will be after he recovers from his Achilles tear. That's impossible to predict. Instead, we'll imagine he never suffered that injury in the first place.

Over the course of the three regular seasons prior to 2019-20, Durant averaged 25.8 points, 7.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists and 1.5 blocks while shooting 52.4 percent from the field and 38.4 percent from three. Curry was the only player who exceeded KD's marks for points per game (25.8) and true shooting percentage (64.0) over that span.

But where Durant really set himself apart was in the playoffs. Among players with at least 500 minutes, his box plus/minus over the last three postseasons trails only Nikola Jokic, LeBron and Kawhi. His 12.8 box plus/minus in those three Finals led the NBA.

(Basketball Reference's Player Game Finder only tracks back to 1983-84, but KD's 11.1 career box plus/minus in the Finals is first all time, just ahead of Michael Jordan's 10.9.)

Video Play Button
Videos you might like

All those numbers are nice, but predicting where a healthy Durant might've ranked in this year's top 100 requires an analysis of how his game might've fit alongside Kyrie Irving and the rest of the Brooklyn Nets.

Over the course of his three seasons as Durant's teammate, Curry had a 30.4 usage percentage. Kyrie's was 30.5 over the same span. That suggests a fairly seamless transition from Golden State to Brooklyn for KD. And at his talent level, he has more free rein than most, regardless of where he is.

But Kyrie brings a different kind of usage than Curry. The former is much more likely to pound the ball into the floor, try to shake his defender with a series of moves and take a difficult shot, whether inside or out. Curry employs those tactics from time to time, but he's much more of a "give it up to get it back" sort of player. The attention he demands while running around off the ball is also one of the NBA's most impactful skills.

When Durant played with another ball-dominant guard in Russell Westbrook, he averaged 27.4 points and posted a 60.5 true shooting percentage. His boosted efficiency in Golden State was due in part to how much defense was diverted to Curry and Klay Thompson.

As good as Durant was with the Warriors, he was heading into his post-prime and to a team that may have looked slightly more like his Oklahoma City Thunder squads. Yes, Irving is a more efficient scorer than Westbrook was then, and there's more offensive talent in Brooklyn than OKC deployed with lineups that featured Andre Roberson and Kendrick Perkins. But those Nets teammates were not going to be on par with Curry, Thompson and Draymond Green.

That means Durant's role might've looked a bit more like it did in OKC too. He would've gotten a couple more possessions per game, perhaps at the expense of a couple of points in true shooting percentage.

In the context of a season highlighted by supercharged individual numbers, Durant being around 28 points, eight rebounds and five assists with a 60-plus true shooting percentage would have again put him in the top-10 range.

What could have set him apart from much of that group, though, is his versatility. The Ringer's Jonathan Tjarks tackled that subject in 2019:

"There is nothing left for Durant to add to his game; he can only refine what's arguably the most comprehensive skill set ever. He's a new kind of 7-footer who is doing things we have never seen before. There have been only four seasons in NBA history when a player has averaged more than five 3-point attempts per game, five assists per game, and one block per game. Durant has three of them. (LeBron's final season in his first stint in Cleveland is the other.) He has his hands on every facet of the game. He creates open shots for his teammates and more space for them to operate on the floor. He also covers for them on defense while scoring with the efficiency of prime Shaquille O'Neal without dominating the ball. There have been only 27 seasons in NBA history when a player has scored more than 25 points per game with a true shooting percentage higher than 62. Durant has six of them."

KD is more than just a dominant scorer—he's a scorer who can adapt to and attack any defense. He can hit threes, pick you apart from the mid-range, go into the post or slash for his buckets. He can score one-on-one or get his points working primarily off the ball, as he did at times alongside Westbrook and Curry.

He can pass, perhaps better than people realize. He's averaged at least five assists in three seasons and four assists in seven seasons. He's a solid rebounder for his position, and he can both protect the rim and stay in front of wings on the perimeter.

It's his ability to do whatever the game calls for that has made him such a dynamic postseason performer. When the pace of the game is a grind and teams apply adjustments and strategies specific to their opponent, most players can at least be slowed down.

Not Durant. He has a counter to anything teams can throw at him. Or, at least, he did.

It's unclear how much of the old Durant will return post-Achilles injury. The outcomes of that injury are varied, but most who've gone through it fail to reach their pre-rupture peaks. Maybe Durant is the one to bust that trend.

But if he'd never suffered the torn Achilles and entered 2019-20 fully healthy, he almost certainly would've been one of the league's five best players.  

Related

    Top 3 Landing Spots for Best Free Agents

    Where the NBA's biggest names could realistically end up

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Top 3 Landing Spots for Best Free Agents

    Preston Ellis
    via Bleacher Report

    Best Free-Agent Signings of the Decade 🤩

    Looking back at the most successful move every team made from 2010-2019

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Best Free-Agent Signings of the Decade 🤩

    Greg Swartz
    via Bleacher Report

    Updated Playoff Picture

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Updated Playoff Picture

    Joe Tansey
    via Bleacher Report

    Lakers' Biggest First-Round Threats in 2020 NBA Playoffs

    What team has the best chance to challenge LeBron and company in Round 1?

    NBA logo
    NBA

    Lakers' Biggest First-Round Threats in 2020 NBA Playoffs

    Andy Bailey
    via Bleacher Report