- Kevin Durant is getting Defensive Player of the Year buzz for leading the league in blocked shots on the Golden State Warriors’ league-best defense.
- Durant has said the lightened load on offense with the Warriors’ bevy of shooters and scorers has allowed him to focus more on defense.
- As if the Warriors weren’t daunting enough, a locked-in 7-footer protecting the perimeter and rim makes scoring on Golden State even tougher.
When Kevin Durant joined the Golden State Warriors in 2016, the NBA world envisioned the terrifying potential of the league’s most lethal natural scorer teaming up with its two greatest shooters to form an impossible-to-cover unit.
Secondary in those visions was how Durant’s length and athleticism would also benefit an already long, switchy defense that ranked among the NBA’s best in the past two seasons.
This year, the NBA is seeing Durant fully engaged on defense, revealing the same type of potential many had expected on the offensive end.
Defense is tough to quantify in the NBA, but one example of Durant’s increased focus on that end is in blocks. Durant leads the league in total blocks, and his 2.3 swats per game is second – and far and away a career high for him.
Likewise, according to the NBA’s stats site, Durant is allowing opponents to shoot just 38.8% from the field when he defends them – eighth-best in the league among players who have defended more than 200 shots.
Opponents are also scoring just 0.51 points per possession against him in isolation situations and 0.94 points per possession on spot-up opportunities.
In other words, Durant is locking folks up. His teammates have noticed, including the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Draymond Green.
“If I had a vote, I’d vote for him right now,” Green said.
He added that he thought Durant was a candidate, “if not the leading candidate.”
“I don’t think it’s really a race right now,” Green said. “The way he’s been playing on the defensive side of the ball has been spectacular.”
Durant has always been a solid defender, but in Golden State’s scheme, he’s applying his length and agility in ways that are almost unfair.
Durant’s advantage has always been his unparalleled skill and athleticism combined with his height. This year, he’s taken his dominance to a new level.
That dominance on each end of the court is intertwined. The Warriors offense has made Durant’s life easier, thus allowing him to go full tilt on the other end.
“Obviously, scoring the ball so much, it’s hard to do both, but now we got so much firepower, I can just focus on defense,” Durant told ESPN’s Rachel Nichols. “Just helping, just using my length and double-teaming and catching the offense off guard, just getting my hands in the passing lane and trying to protect the rim. Defense is something you gotta want to do, and right now, I really want to do it.”
Once again, the tenacity of the Warriors defense is going somewhat under the radar.
Championship teams often have lulls in which they slack off, and defense is the easiest area to do that. The Cleveland Cavaliers are prone to taking naps on defense until games really matter.
But in the Warriors’ fourth season of championship contention, they’re the No. 1 defense in the league, allowing just 100.6 points per 100 possessions. They also force the 10th-most turnovers in the league – a sign that they’re still scrambling on defense.
Durant has added an unforeseen boost on that end. For a team with this much firepower, it’s almost unfair to be so good on defense. And now they’ve turned a 7-foot offensive weapon with a 7-foot-5 wingspan into an elite rim protector.