The Eyes of Texas are shining bright in the National Basketball Association.
Soon-to-be NBA MVP Kevin Durant headlines the spectacular Longhorn basketball year. We discussed this back in January.
The 25 year old Durant elevated his game to career highs and carried an injury-riddled (and sometimes puzzling) OKC roster to the #2 seed in the Western Conference while averaging 32 points per game, 7.5 rebounds and 5.4 assists. Along the way, Durant shot better than 50% from the field and 87% from the free throw line operating in a Scott Brooks offense best described as "Hey, Kevin, umm, do something extremely difficult so that we can score!"
For historical context, only three NBA players have ever scored more than 2500 points, grabbed 500 rebounds and had 400 assists in one season. Kevin Durant is now one of them. The other two are Wilt Chamberlain & Michael Jordan. They were good.
Durant scored more than 30 points 45 times this year while simultaneously achieving a career high in assists. In fact, during most of Westbrook's absence, Durant played de facto point guard. Without Westbrook, Durant led the Thunder to a 25-11 record while playing and defending three positions on any given night.
Any knock on Kevin Durant as a defender isn't just outdated - it's now legitimately ignorant and a reasonable litmus test for people who parrot opinion and those who watch games. According to Synergy, KD the defender has one of the lowest opponent field goal percentages in one-on-one situations in the NBA. This is how he stacks up next to Lebron James (props to Daily Thunder & Synergy) guarding individual shooters:
||0.78 ppp (34.3 FG%)
||0.48 ppp (20.9 FG%)
||0.85 ppp (32.1 FG%)
||0.54 ppp (33.3 FG%)
||0.73 ppp (37.5 FG%)
||0.86 ppp (38.3 FG%)
||0.92 ppp (42.1 FG%)
||0.92 ppp (34.5 FG%)
||0.58 ppp (35.7 FG%)
||0.81 ppp (47.1 FG%)
I would never argue that he's a better defender than James - no one in league history possesses LBJ's defensive versatility and size/motor combination - but the statistics are fairly startling. And my eyes confirm them in watching the Thunder play - Durant is now one of the better defenders at his position(s) in the entire league and consistently makes his opponent miserable on both ends of the court. With little rest for the weary - Durant is third in the league in minutes played.
The 28 year old had career highs in points and rebounds (23.2ppg, 11rpg; career averages are 19-8) for a Portland team that earned the 4/5 playoff seed in a hyper-competitive Western Conference. Aldridge is arguably the most skillful big man in the NBA and his growth into a rebounding force was instrumental in elevating his Blazer team into a contender. He's currently at the height of his basketball powers and clearly one of the league's elite.
Almost out of the league months ago - the Raptors
waived him in December - Joakim Noah
recently credited Augustin with saving the Chicago Bull's season
. Augustin leads the Bulls
in scoring (14.9 points per game) and is second in assists (5.0 per game) and has paired with Noah in leading a team that should have tanked after the Rose injury and Deng trade into a legitimate Eastern Conference threat. The undersized Augustin is playing the best basketball of his life, exhibiting a penchant for clutch late game shots, and will likely play a major role in the future Bull rebuild.
The overseas journeyman has thrived in Phoenix under the outstanding coaching of Jeff Hornacek
(aka the anti-Scott Brooks) and is asked to guard the other team's best forward irrespective of size differential, do the dirty work, and drill corner threes in Phoenix's awesomely entertaining offense. While players like Dragic and Bledsoe will rightfully receive the lion's share of credit for Phoenix's surprising season (the Suns
were expected to be the worst or second worst team in the NBA) Tucker's presence has indisputably added wins to the Suns bottom line. His 9.5 ppg, 6.6 rpg stat line may not impress the casual observer, but Tucker is a fan favorite who does the little things and should expect the next contract he signs to be in the 3 year, 8-10 million range. An amazing reward for his persistence after six years slogging it out in international basketball.
Still exiled to Cleveland and having rebuilt his jump shot, Thompson exists in the solid middle class of NBA power forwards playing for a team that doesn't understand how to draft or acquire talent with a point guard that would rather shoot a contested three than run the offense. Only 23 years old, Thompson would benefit from a change in scenery.
Currently on the
rebuilding Boston Celtics
, Bradley is considered a premier lockdown defender and is currently at career highs in points per game and assists with a much-improved jump shot. He'll be a part of the on-going Boston rebuild.
Currently under contract with Los Spurs
, James saw 29 minutes of garbage time the other night while the Spurs rested starters. NBA journeyman that Pop may find a role for one day.
Also under contract with Los Spurs and effectively the 3rd team point guard behind Parker and Mills.
A Rocket role player, Hamilton is logging 10-15 minutes per game and still has upside if he can develop the handle to play 2 or the defense to guard 3.
Sexy Dexy is currently a Rocket, but should continue on the NBA Big Man signing carousel.
All told, a pretty spectacular year for former Longhorns.