Despite only playing 26 games for the Nets this season, Kevin Durant is on pace for a historic career year.
Durant’s niche as one of the most prolific scorers the game of basketball has ever known is not up for debate. The Nets superstar is posting career-best numbers in effective field goal percentage (62.2), three-point percentage (47.1) and field goal percentage (54.7). To complement his stellar shooting percentages, Durant is nursing the best offensive rating of his career - 121.5 - with less than a quarter of the regular season played because of injury and two separate stays in health and safety protocols.
His time away with as feared an injury as the game knows hasn’t seemed to add much if any rust to his game. In the latest sample, his three-game return from a three-game absence , the Nets superstar has averaged 25.0 points, 8.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 1.5 blocks. Durant is shooting 60.7 percent (17-of-28) from the field and 62.5% (5-of-8) from deep in 30.4 minutes per game.
Landry Shamet, like many players in the league, has trouble finding holes in Durant’s offensive game. When asked about what aspect of Durant’s game he believes is underappreciated, Shamet praised KD’s defensive efforts while noting his rim protection needs to get more credit.
“He does everything so well. Offensively, we can talk about that all day. The things he does scores the ball at ease, makes it look easy. Defensively, he cleans up a lot of problems at the rim at times. He’s a better rim protector than people give him credit for,” Shamet said. “There are no glare weaknesses in his game and that’s why he is who he is.”
Durant, who has a defensive rating of 110.3, has indeed developed his rim protection game since his championship years with Golden State. What put his name on the map took place on the biggest stage - Game 2 of the 2017 NBA Finals against Kyrie Irving and the Cleveland Cavaliers. He finished with five blocks along with three steals in a big win.
The 32-year-old’s rim protection adds a versatile element to the Nets. Durant, who has played the small forward while seeing minutes at the 4 and even a little as a small-ball 5, can maximize Brooklyn’s team spacing and “switch-ability” using his length and lateral quickness.
Steve Nash, who worked with Durant in Golden State as a development consultant, sees the value in his superstar’s rim protection. The Nets head coach referred to Durant as “an A defender.” Nash also stressed patience and doesn’t want to have him carry that load.
“We know Kevin can be an A defender when he’s fully fit and in rhythm. I think that’s still something he has a gap to close here with that because so much has been thrown at him,” Nash said. “He starts the season having not played real or meaningful basketball for 18 months. Then he has a Covid interruption, then the hammy, then another Covid interruption and then the thigh bruise.
“I think it’s hard for Kevin to fully complete his game without time. We know the potential is there and we see glimpses of it, but I think if we are patient with it and allow him to get his legs, rhythm and all those things to come back, he definitely can be an A defender for us.”
Looking ahead to Portland
Steve Nash hinted he will not play Durant Friday against Portland - the second game of a back-to-back.
“We’ll have to assess it as it goes. I don’t love Kevin playing back-to-backs, especially given the unpredictable kind of season he’s had where he’s had stop and starts whether it’s the protocols or injuries. We’ll assess tomorrow but my thoughts on that are to protect him there,” Nash said. “My vote would likely be that Kevin does not play in the second of a back-to-back.”
While Durant is likely to not play, Kyrie Irving, who’s missing tonight’s game with right groin soreness, will also be assessed Friday. Nash is hopeful he plays against the Trail Blazers.
“Kyrie, we’ll have to assess tomorrow as well,” Nash said. “Hopefully, Kai feels much better tomorrow come play.”
Further down the roster, Nash said Bruce Brown, who will miss his second game Thursday, will be a game-time decision as well. Blake Griffin, who played in the last back-to-back for Brooklyn, could also play vs. the Blazers ... depending on his minutes tonight. So he’s also a likely game-time decision.
“I’m not positive on Bruce. I think that’s a game-time decision tomorrow. Blake; I’d like not to play him in back-to-backs but there is a case if we have minutes leftover from tonight for him, he could play a role tomorrow night,” Nash said. It’s definitely a game-time decision or at least a decision we can make tomorrow collectively.