“Durant is a finisher. Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Eric Maynor set Durant up, and he puts the ball in the bucket. More than a third of the time, he skips the middle man and does it himself. In every other economy in the world, specialization is valued, appreciated for the benefits it presents. Different scales of specialization have transformed industries and, hell, civilization itself.”
Disagreements like these speak to my love of basketball. More specifically, they speak to my love of thinking about basketball. Ziller has an incisive point: An excellent specialist can be more helpful to a team than a jack of all trade machines. I appreciate this logic line, especially when it’s deployed to defend Dennis Rodman’s Hall of Fame selection. Tom goes on:
“Yet because Durant is single-minded in his focus and singularly talented in one given area of import, he’s dinged and it’s suggested he’s not a reasonable candidate for the label of Greatest Of All Time. It doesn’t make any sense. But it’s easy to see why Strauss would get to this point: in sports, we’re in love with the well-rounded player.”
I don’t need Kevin Durant to transform into Larry Bird, but I expect a modicum of roundedness from a G.O.A.T challenger. His game doesn’t have to be round like a hippo; I’d settle for a morbidly obese iguana. For his career, Durant’s averaging 3 turnovers and 2.7 assists. The sentence, “Kevin Durant makes (blank) look like Jason Kidd,” works with such names as Ray Allen, Dirk Nowitzki, and Reggie Miller.
The last MVP winner to have a negative A/TO was Moses Malone. The last MVP winner to have tallied more turnovers than assists in four separate seasons was Karl Malone. Both men lived far from the perimeter, apparently in a place where the name “Malone” was quite common.
Could Durant break the mold and become “the best player” as well as a net-negative creator? Certainly possible, but I’m betting against it. If KD indeed does become the league’s No. 1, I think it will happen as a result of improvement outside his speciality. Fortunately, poor court vision does not have to be an immutable deficiency.
Durant will likely never be “good” as a passer, but he can look to the aforementioned Karl Malone for inspiration. Malone went from an 8.8 assist % in 86-87 to a whopping 24.5% in 96-97.
This isn’t entirely uncommon. Stat virtuoso Kevin Pelton sent me a “quick and dirty” study that showed decent assist % gains for most players after they enter the league. While KD seems uncommonly poor at this facet, there is hope for adequacy–though I’m predicting that four years does a flaw make.
But, in defense of well-rounded…
All skills being equal, it is better to have all skills. Basketball abilities don’t exist in a vacuum; often, they compliment each other. Kobe Bryant’s ability to pass wins him shooting space. Chris Paul’s decent jumper scares defenders out of his passing lanes. It could be an aberration, but Durant took a small step back last year. Granted, players don’t improve on an unbroken continuum, but I wonder if KD suffered from being a bit predictable, specialized.
There is also an issue of what we are defining here. Say Kevin Durant relies on Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Eric Maynor to notch a league-best PER. Say he could not sniff such a feat on a team of poor passers. Would this make him the “best” player, or does it make him the most efficient for that season?
My ideal G.O.A.T/B.I.W can thrive in any situation. He can get his own and create for others. Durant’s lack of passing is a bug and not a feature. To be the best, he must either hurdle over it with (somehow) even better shooting, or he must round out those rough edges and become a morbidly obese iguana for the ages. In the meantime, we basketball bloggers will focus on our specialty: Having impassioned debates over the marginal differences between players who don’t know of our existence.
Follow Ethan on the ol’ Twitter @SherwoodStrauss