With the Oklahoma City Thunder and Portland Trail Blazers squaring off later this evening, Mark Travis and Steve Kays debate who they would choose to start a franchise with if they were given a choice of Brandon Roy or Kevin Durant (who was six-of-24 from the field last night and 0-10 from three with six turnovers against the Clippers /low blow).
Kevin Durant is on his way to becoming the face of the NBA. Durant’s Oklahoma City Thunder won 50 games last season and pushed the defending-champion Los Angeles Lakers in a first-round series to games. On the year Durant averaged 30 points on amazing shooting percentages of 47.6% overall, 36.5% on 3-pointers, and 90% from the free throw line on 10 attempts per game (most in the league). His 30 ppg earned him his first of many scoring titles.
And if you’re into advanced stats, then here’s a nugget: Durant’s Player Efficiency Rating (PER) last season was 26.23, which was the 3rd highest in the entire NBA.
Durant’s accomplishments last season earned him the runner-up for the 2010 MVP award. He established himself as the 2nd best small forward in the league after LeBron James.
Kevin Durant is just 22 years old and has barely tapped into his potential. If there was any doubt about him, he showed that he’s the real deal by what he accomplished for Team USA this past summer. In the 2010 FIBA World Championships Durant was far and away the best player when he averaged 22.8 ppg on 63% shooting, 46% on 3-pointers, and 89.5% on free throws. In the last 3 elimination games Durant averaged 33 ppg, including 28 points in the gold medal game against Turkey.
I think we’ve established that Kevin Durant is a great player, but what about when compared to Portland’s Brandon Roy? First off Durant has the advantage when it
comes to age. KD is just 22 years old to Roy’s 26. And Durant doesn’t have a scary injury history like Roy does. Roy’s injury problems date back to his college days and
have spilled over into his NBA career. Heel problems caused him to play just 57 games in his rookie year and more recently he’s had surgery on a torn meniscus in his right knee. Overall Roy has missed 54 games in 4 seasons, compared to Durant’s 10 missed games in 3 seasons.
Also, Durant is by far the better scorer. He shoots an equal overall percentage as Roy, but both shoots better on free throws and 3-pointers and and shoots more of both as well (7.7 FTAs vs 5.7 FTAs). And obviously scores more per game (career 25 ppg vs 20 ppg). KD also averages more rebounds (6.2 vs 4.6), steals (1.2 vs. 1.1), and blocks (0.9 vs. 0.2) than Roy.
In the playoffs they’re basically a wash. Roy has taken part in two playoffs series, losing both two games to four. Durant has appeared in one playoff series, also losing two games to four.
Here’s advanced stats guru John Hollinger on Durant: Last season Durant ranked among the top 10 small forwards in eight different categories, including a couple
(blocks, rebounding) that have nothing to do with offense. He nearly led the league in usage rate and led it in scoring.
If Kevin Durant has a weakness, it’s his passing. He ranked 65th out of 67 small forwards in pure point rating. His turnover ratio, in particular, was exceptionally bad for a high scorer who doesn’t get many assists.
Brandon Roy has the edge in passing and limiting his turnovers, but that’s about it. Durant has the edge in scoring, rebounding, age, and injury history. Last but not least in a recent poll of the NBA general managers, 55.6% of them said they would sign Kevin Durant if they were starting a franchise today, which was the most by far of any player. LeBron James came in second at 25.9% while Brandon Roy did not receive any votes.
Over the past six months, Kevin Durant has been anointed as the savior of the NBA. He beat on LeBron James for the scoring title at the end of last season (even though James deserved it but chose to sit out the final four games of the season), he decided to tweet the details of his contract extension rather than hosting a one-hour television special, and he was the best player on Team USA for their gold medal run through the 2010 FIBA World Championships. The NBA fan base was so eager to find a replacement for James as the face of the NBA that some actually started calling Durant the best player in the league. As Steve mentioned, NBA GM’s said they would choose Durant over LeBron if they can start a franchise with anybody (In that same survey, Tyson Chandler was voted as the most impactful off-season addition. That shows you how much stock we should put into the GM poll.)
Durant is a great player, but to put him in the same conversation as LeBron is a testament to how desperate the NBA is for someone to replace James rather than proof that Durant “has arrived.” This debate could be Durant versus LeBron James, but in that case, Steve wouldn’t have a chance. Thus, I’ve chosen a player similar to Durant in that he doesn’t get a lot of pub, is one of the nicer guys around the NBA, and is actually better than Kevin overall.
Brandon Roy is one of the NBA’s most spectacular players, though he often doesn’t get the recognition that his play warrants. Night in and night out, Roy is one of the most efficient scorers and players in the league thanks to his supreme understanding of the game and ability to make up for his lack of elite athletic ability. Roy is already adapting his game to fit the style that an older guard would play, accelerating the process that Kobe Bryant is going through now. Roy’s decision to ditch the attempt to hang with the high flyers around the league and to adapt to his physical limitations is strong representation of his IQ level.
Roy fell barely outside of the top 10 for points per game last season but still posted a strong 21.5 points per contest on 47% shooting from the field. Roy did have a down season from beyond the arc, where he shot just 33% after coming off of a 38% campaign from three in 2008-2009 but his mid-range game continued to be above average as he shot 43% from 16-23 feet for the fourth time in as many years, according to HoopData. Roy saw a dramatic increase in his percentage between 10-15 feet, going from 41% to to 46.7%. Though he will likely regress back towards that 41% mark this season, Roy could stay around that latter figure if he continues to post-up, where he is extremely effective.
According to Synergy Sports Technology, Roy ranked in the top 75 in all offensive categories,which is something that even LeBron James failed to accomplish. Overall, Roy ranked 64th in the league with his average of 1.01 points per possession on 1390 offensive plays. Roy’s most effective offensive play type came when he posted up. He didn’t do it as often as he should have, but when Roy did put his back-to-the-back, he produced 1.01 points per possession, 18th best mark in the league and one of the top post-up rates for a shooting guard. If Roy can continue to take advantage of his underrated strength and creativity on the block, he’ll add yet another dimension to his already complete offensive package.
Roy was also very effective in isolation situations, where he ranked 22nd in the league with an average of .99 points per possession. Roy’s ball-handling is top notch for a two guard and his ability to create open looks for himself, whether it be a stepback jumper from the mid-range, where, as I mentioned before, he is an above average shooter, or a basket at the rim, where Roy shot 64% from last season, is one of the big reasons he is such an effective score.
One of the big factors for the Trail Blazers to achieve more than a playoff berth this season will be the emergence of LaMarcus Aldridge as a solid #2 man on a title team rather than being a nice complementary piece that scores at a good rate. An encouraging number when projecting Aldridge’s growth is the chemistry that the University of Texas product has with Brandon Roy. Roy ran the pick and roll 236 times last season, most of which came with Aldridge as the big man. Roy produced .92 points per possession in those situations, the 33rd best rate in the league, and Aldridge’s ability to not only finish at the basket but also pop out and hit the mid-range two created a dynamic pick and roll/pop duo last season. With shooters like Nic Batum and Wes Matthews spacing the floor and Gred Oden waiting on the weakside for an offensive rebound or dunk attempt, the Blazers have a lot of options when they run the two/four pick and roll and a lot of the options will be open this season because of Roy’s ability to pick apart a defense with his penetration and passing.
Roy was also rather effective when moving off the ball on basket cuts or when he was running off screens, though those two play types are not major components in the players offense. Most of the time, Roy is the one finding the cutters or isolating at the top of the key waiting for a shooter to pop up on the wing.
Defensively, Roy uses his strong and tall frame to body up his man. His lack of athleticism makes him a non-existent shot blocker but he has quick feet and hands and reads passing lanes well, so he is able to contribute on the defensive end by getting stops and steals. According to Synergy, Roy was the 19th best isolation defender in the league last season as he allowed just .66 points per possession in those situations, holding his man to 28.2% shooting from the field. Roy isn’t a stopper by any means but when he has to play defense, he steps up his game and does a more than respectable job on that end of the floor.
Now that we’ve taken a look at Roy’s individual strengths, lets see how he compares to Durant.
If I asked you, “What does Kevin Durant do best?”, you’d probably say shooting or scoring. Its the obvious answer when you have someone averaging 30 points a game and has highlights packed with smooth-looking jumpers. But, at least on the shooting front, you’d be wrong. Kevin Durant took just under six shots a game last season from 16-23 feet and he converted on just 37% of them, which is 3% below the league average. Brandon Roy took five shots a game from that range, converting 43% of them, 3% above the league average. Between 10-15 feet, both shot 47%. Within 10 feet, Roy shot 46% and Durant shot 43%. From three-point land, both Roy and Durant are 36% shooters. The only location where Durant had a better percentage was at the rim, where his five inch height advantage should give him an advantage.
The only reason that Durant averaged more points per game last season than Roy, or Dwyane Wade or Kobe or LeBron, was the fact that he got to the line a remarkable 10 times a game. And if you watched the OKC-LAL series in the playoffs last year (or even their home opener against the Bulls last week), you would know that there are quite a bit of fouls handed out in that building (Also, most will recall Durant getting treated like “Michael F’in Jordan” in Boston last season.). What I am trying to say is that Durant is the beneficiary of a lot of calls. Not to say LeBron or Wade or Kobe aren’t, but Durant shot the most and made the most of all of the superstars in the league.
Once you get passed the shooting numbers, which prove that Roy is just as good of a shooter than Durant if not better because of his advantage from the mid-range, there is really no part of the game (running an offense, passing, rebounding, defense) that Durant is better at than Roy.
Durant’s rebound rate (11% of all available boards where grabbed by him) is superior to Roy’s (7.3), but when you consider that Durant is five inches taller than Roy while playing on a team with no center while Roy plays on a squad with the NBA’s best rebounder (Marcus Camby led the league in rebound rate with 22.3% of available rebounds. Oh, and Greg Oden and Joel Pryzbilla, who played 21 and 30 games respectively, also ranked in the top five), its not as big of a discrepancy as you would think.
When it comes to passing the ball, its really not even close. Durant ranked 261st in assist rate last season, with just 9.1% of his possessions ending with an assist. Roy doubled that number, with 18.3% of his possessions ending with an assist. Durant is also a turnover machine when he is handling the ball. According to 82games.com, Durant had a “hands rating” of just 10.7, which is a metric culminated by turnovers. Durant was tagged with 141 ball-handling turnovers and 81 bad passes. Roy’s hands rating was 18.4 and he was only marked up for 61 ball-handling turnovers and 53 bad passes. When the Thunder isolate Durant in crucial situations, he often drove into the lane and spun out of control, losing the ball and costing his team a possession. On the contrary, as I mentioned before, Roy is one of the best ball-handlers and creators in the league.
Speaking of crucial situations, Roy also outranked Durant in crunch time situations. Roy scored 38 points in the final five minutes of a five point game PER48 minutes on 46% shooting from the field with assist ratio of 6.6 and a rebound rate of 7. Durant scored 36 points PER48 minutes but did so on 36% shooting from the floor and 26% shooting from three-point range. Additionally, his rebound rate was just one above Roy’s at 8 and his assist ratio was just 1.8 (compared to 4.1 turnovers). Durant also finished last season with a -6 plus/minus in crunch time while Roy was a +6.
Finally, addressing Steve’s point that Roy and Durant’s performances in the post-season are a wash: that’s a joke. In 2008-2009, when the Thunder were busy winning 23 games, Roy was the only Blazer that was consistently performing against the hard-nosed Rockets, posting 27 points, five rebounds and three assists a game while shooting 46% from the field and 47% from three.
Last season, Roy only played in three games against the Suns due to a hamstring injury (which he came back early from), so his averages were not all that impactful (9/2/2 in just 83 minutes). The funny thing about that is, he was still probably better than Durant, who scored 96 points on 123 field goal attempts while shooting 35% from the field and 29% from three. Up against a good defender for six games, Durant folded and his often questioned lack of strength became a major issue against Ron Artest. The Lakers team defense didn’t allow him to get free off screens and his entire offensive game was folded at that point. Do you know what the only reason his scoring average should at a misleading 25 points per game was? If you guessed free throws, you’d be right. Even against the defending champs, Durant got calls and got to the line 11, 13, 11 and 15 times during four of the six games.
Portland fans are always asking themselves where their team would be had they drafted Kevin Durant over Greg Oden. While it may have given therm quite the scoring duo, lets hope they don’t forget that they already have a better face of the franchise in Brandon Roy at the helm.I’m not sure what Mark is referencing in regards to Tyson Chandler being voted as the most impactful offseason addition. In the GMs’ survey LeBron James was voted most the impactful offseason addition with 89.3% of the votes, while Chandler was 3rd with 3.6% of the votes.
Kevin Durant doesn’t receive preferential treatment playing at home as Mark alluded to. On average Durant shot 10.2 free throws per game last season. At home he shot 10.1 free throws per game and on the road he actually shot more free throws per game, 10.4 to be exact. So there’s no home bias there. And maybe Durant is the beneficiary of a lot of calls – some of them questionable – but what superstar isn’t? LeBron James also averaged 10.2 free throws per game last season. Are James’ free throws more “deserving” than Durant’s?
I would argue that Roy is not an equal shooter to Durant because KD shoots more free throws and more 3-pointers – and shoots both better than Roy. Plus when Durant is shooting a lot of free throws that means his team is getting into the bonus early, meaning that his teammates are getting to the free throw line more often as well.
And as Mark mentioned, Roy definitely has the advantage when it comes to ball-handling. Roy is one of the best creators with the basketball in the NBA, although so far this season Durant has displayed some better ball-handling skills than in years past.
Overall, Brandon Roy is currently a more complete basketball player than Kevin Durant. He has advantages in passing, ball-handling, and might be more “clutch” than Durant (if you’re into those advanced stats). But Durant is a scoring machine and a matchup nightmare who is capable of playing several positions on the basketball court.
Durant also has the responsibility of scoring for the Thunder. The next highest scoring player on Oklahoma City last season was Russell Westbrook who scored 16.1 points per game. Brandon Roy doesn’t face the same scoring pressure Durant does since last season his Blazers had six players scoring in double-digits every game. Despite being the #1 scoring option for his team Durant still managed to score 30 points every game on average.
Like I said before, Roy is more a complete player. But he’s also older, more injury-prone, and a worse scorer than Durant. There’s a reason that Durant was the 2009-2010 MVP runner-up last season while Roy didn’t place. Kevin Durant has gotten better each and every year he’s been in the NBA, while the same cannot be said of Brandon Roy. Durant was a slight surprise last season but he won’t sneak up on anyone this year when he’s eventually named the NBA’s Most Valuable Player of the 2010-2011 season.
That’s my point, re-Chandler. He received a vote. That goes to show how much GMs care about the survey. Its a poll. The results don’t matter. The survey is flawed. The participants have voluntary bias.
To answer you question regarding free throw attempts and whether or not LeBron deserves them more: yes, he does. James is unstoppable when going to the basket and its pretty easy to understand why a defense would foul him rather than allowing him to throw one down or spin one beautifully off the backboard. Durant is a jump shooter. Jump shooters shouldn’t be getting to the line 10 times a night. Most of his free throws come off of sweepthrough moves and holding calls when he is running around screens.
Steve seems to have been swayed in favor of Roy in every facet of the game save for shooting and scoring. So, the question becomes is Durant that much better than Roy at scoring that it makes up for the deficiencies Durant has in every other area? No, he isn’t. I’ve already presented the numbers, which prove Durant is a below average shooter, and without free throws, Durant is a guy taking 20 shots a game to score 20 points. With free throws removed, Roy took 16 shots to score 17 points last season.
Durant’s ability to get to the line, whether or not he deserves every attempt, is definitely a valuable trait, but its not a big enough game changer to sway this debate in the favor of Durant. Steve said himself that Roy is the more complete player and despite his constant ploy that Roy is more injury prone, which, to this point, is true, Durant’s build is susceptible to some dangerous and devastating injuries. And because Roy does not depend on athleticism and instead uses craftiness to be effective offensively, his injury history is not as troubling as it would be for someone that made their money because of their hops or speed. Durant may be younger, but he’s played just 39 fewer games in his career than Roy to this point.
Steve may be right with his last assertion. Durant may be named the MVP of the league this season. His overall persona and flashy highlight reels tend to win writers over. But if any of the voters that will be filling out their ballots come season’s end find their way to this post, I’m certain they’ll release the obvious flaws in Durant’s game and start to question just how valuable he is as a one-dimensional player who’s greatest strength (shooting) ranks below the league average.