Blog Entry

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

Posted on: April 20, 2011 4:32 pm
Edited on: April 20, 2011 5:28 pm
Kevin Durant dropped 41 points in Game 1. Is there anything Denver can do to slow down Durantula? 
Posted by Matt Moore

So Kevin Durant had a pretty good Game 1. 41 points on 13-22 shooting, 9 rebounds, and 2 assists . You know, not bad. It was one of those games where you just have no idea how to guard Durant. Nailing heavily-contested pull-up threes, getting free off a pick and rising up, knocking down shot after shot after shot. It was a stunning performance, and proof that Durant probably should have had higher consideration for the MVP this season. It was assumed that Denver would have no way of guarding him, but few expected it to be that bad. 

Still, Denver has to come up with something in Game 2. Usually, in these types of situations, a team will opt to let the superstar beat them and focus on shutting down everyone else. Except, in Game 1, Durant and Westbrook combined for close to 70 percent of the Thunder's total offensive output, and they still won. So if they're going to try and at least make Durant's success marginally less efficient, they have to come up with a plan. After rewatching some things using Synergy Sports, there are some patterns.

The Nuggets tried everything against Durant. Here's a list of players who defended Durant at one point or another, and this doesn't even count switches off the pick-and-roll: Danilo Gallinari, Wilson Chandler, Al Harrington, Kenyon Martin, and Raymond Felton. Nothing worked, but some things worked less than others. The objective isn't to stop Durant. It's simply to put him in a position to have to make the toughest shot possible, consistently. Here they are in reverse order of effectiveness.

Kenyon Martin: This was a single possession for a reason. Martin is a big, and has no chance of sticking with Durant. He showed hard, Durant went around. Game over. 

Raymond Felton: The idea's not bad, right? Try and guard Durant on the perimeter with a guard who can apply ball pressure. Durant easily posted him and scored over him. Felton simply doesn't have the size to combat Durant's frame. That one's a non-starter. 

Al Harrington: Similar to Kenyon Martin, but not as much of an issue. Still, Harrington was frozen when Durant blew by him, once off a pick, once in isolation. Harrington, again, seems  like a good plan. A bigger forward to body KD, with some length and a little bit of quickness to hang on the step back. But this just goes to show you Durant's underrated speed. One pump and Durant blew by him. Harrington's a bad defender, which is obviously an issue, but even physically, he doesn't hang. 

Danilo Gallinari: So close. Gallinari very nearly had Durant a few times. His spacing in ISO was solid, he played him well into help defense, and Gallo's big enough to handle Durant in the post. The issue comes in off-ball movement. Gallinari gets caught looking to find the ball, and in that tiny time frame, Durant would create just enough room to catch-and-shoot. Twice Durant came off the screen so fast Gallo was still catching up to the strong side by the time Durant had peeled into the lane. Gallo might be able to guard Durant in three to four years. But, right now, he doesn't have the awareness to stick with him.

Wilson Chandler: This is the guy. Chandler gave up points to Durant. You know why? Because he's Kevin Durant. But of Durant's nine misses, four can be attributed to Chandler's defensive effort. Three are thanks to Durant just missing, and two were good help defense. On Chandler's first possession guarding Durant on a shot opportunity, he jumped the passing lane and nearly created a steal. The Thunder recovered the ball on a scramble, but Durant was forced to shoot a last-second heave with Nene closing. Miss. Chandler has the explosion to catch Durant enough on the step back, as he did in the second quarter, forcing a bad, backboard-only miss. And twice, Chandler recovered off the pick-and-roll and blocked Durant's jumper, which is nearly impossible. Chandler keeps his positioning, plays hard to Durant's shooting hand, stays with him off-ball, and in a big, big adjustment, overplays him to drive him to help defense. It makes it hard for the back screen to close right, the front screen remains open for the supporting defense to help. If you're not going to trap, this is what has to happen consistently. Durant shot 15 free throws. Chandler only granted four of those, despite being the primary defender. 

This isn't a roadmap to slowing Durant. There isn't one, unless you are able to physically put him under water. But the Nuggets do have things they can do to try and make it as hard as possible for KD. Bringing more aggressive traps is a really dangerous maneuver considering the guards Oklahoma City has, and they have the finishers for the easy dish in Perkins and Ibaka. But that, combined with primarily sticking with Wilson Chandler may be Denver's best bet. At some point, though, you're dealing with what happened to Chandler multiple times. Great spacing, good contest, tight defense, and Kevin Durant just hits the shot.

Because he's incredible. 

And that's what incredible does. 

Since: Jun 11, 2007
Posted on: April 20, 2011 10:26 pm

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

This is the NBA playoffs and Kevin Durant is no superman (well maybe close).  The playoffs are always this way.  Home teams are supposed to win at home.  And their stars are expected to play very well at home.  The key to a series win is taking care of your home court and stealing one on the road.  While I certainly appreciate what Durant is doing against the Nuggets, it's hardly unexpected.  He's a superstar at home.  The bigger story would be if he underperformed in the playoffs at home.  Nobody really stopped Durant all year, why should that change now.  I simply don't see that happening, especially at home.  I like the idea on trying to stop the other four Thunder players and simply doing your best against Durant, realizing he will get his points.  The real story will come about when the series goes to Denver.

Since: Jun 12, 2007
Posted on: April 20, 2011 10:07 pm

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

Nothing has worked so far against Kevin Durant, and I really doubt there is much that will.  He is simply the best player we have seen enter the NBA in quite a while.  He joins LeBron James, Dwyane Wade. Kobe Bryant, Carmello Anthony. and Dwight Howard as the league's elite.  If George Karl can't figure out how to slow him down, I doubt any of us have much of a chance to.  It's really hard to imagine what Durant might be like five years from now.  It's really kind of scary to think about.  He seems to be a quality young man and is truly a pleasure to watch for me.  I can only say good luck to the Nuggets in trying to figure this out.  Maybe shift their focus to the other four Thunder players on the floor?

Since: May 16, 2007
Posted on: April 20, 2011 9:39 pm

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

Great analysis by everyone so far.  Seems like people are really trying to add value to discussion in this thread and really compliment the author on his article and getting this started.  Really one of the best threads I've read here in quite some time.  As far as Kevin Durant, I don't think I have seen yet this year anybody really effectively slow him down much.  We all know he's led the NBA in scoring for two years now.  It seems no one has figured this out yet, therefore there is no model to follow.  It seems each game is an experiment in mostly failure.  Great article, but I'll bet a very frustrating one for anybody truly trying to figure out a reasonable answer to this very important question.  I know I really don't have a good one.

Since: May 20, 2007
Posted on: April 20, 2011 9:25 pm

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

I agree that Chandler is Denver's best answer for guarding duties on Durant.  But i also feel that will not be enough to slow down Durant very much.  Denver needs to develop some type of scheme to bring additional pressure on Durant, especially in Oklahoma City.  Perhaps a trapping zone. Or maybe something else. I don't believe Denver has a single player capable of slowing Durant to any significant degree.  So they need to see something more than pure one-on-one defense.  It will be most interesting to see if this dilemma changes for the Nuggets when the series shifts to Denver.  I have a funny feeling it will be pretty much the same.  We'll know alot more after game two of this very good series.

Since: Jan 22, 2007
Posted on: April 20, 2011 9:02 pm

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

I would sure like the Thunder to play up to their potential tonight.  They seem pretty evenly matched with Denver an must take care of their home court.  Denver is a really tough place to get a win.  I doubt that Durant and Westbrook go off like in game one, but you never know.  It's going to be very interesting to see what, if anything, the Nuggets do differently tonight.  I'll bet they don't change very much.  I agree this is a great series.  I'm glad the Thunder has home court advantage.  Taking four from Denver is a really tough challenge.

Since: Dec 11, 2006
Posted on: April 20, 2011 7:34 pm

Playoffs Thunder-Nuggets: What worked vs. Durant?

I think the Nuggets should employ a box and 1, semi-zone defense to deal with Kevin Durant, Russel Westbrook, and the rest of the Thunder offense.  The 1 would be Wilson Chandler man-to-man on Durant.  With this defense the Nuggets get the needed double team on Durant while reasonably guarding the balance of the Thunder (particularly Westbrook}.  It also provdes a strong rebounding presence.  Sure, this defense has risk, particularly with strong swing playing by the Thunder.  But this is a much more favorable risk for the Nuggets than facing Durant one-on-one.  Denver has been there/done that many times and has been burned almost every time.  Don't really know if Durant can beat the double, but I like the odds beter for the Nuggets than what we saw in Game 1.

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