A Substitute for War

Basketball philosophy

The evolution of a player: Old Dirk, young Durant/Young Dirk, old Durant

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Dirk Nowitzki

Image via Wikipedia

One of the reasons I find this Dallas-Oklahoma City matchup intriguing is the comparison between Dirk Nowitzki and Kevin Durant. Both guys are nearly incomparable to another star in NBA history due to their length and shooting ability for their positions – except maybe to each other.

What I see in Durant is shades of young Dirk, a player who’s height, speed and jumpshooting ability allow him to dart around the court and find open shots whenever he wants. Dirk started his career at C actually, where his speed and off ball cutting was even more pronounced. What’s fascinating about Durant’s current game to me is how despite being the 2 time scoring champion, he needs remarkably little set plays to get his points. The Thunder don’t run a ton of isolations for him and they don’t run a ton of screen and roll type plays. He’ll get a few buckets cutting off the ball, find open 3s when the defense doesn’t catch up, catch defenders with fakes to get to the free throw line or get by a defender closing too fast to get to the basket – The fact that his height and shooting make finding a shot so easy, allows this. Before you know it he has 25 points. For Dirk and Durant this gives their teams an interesting dimension as it allows open shots to be created without the ball in their hands – just by defenders doubling them before they get the ball out of fear. This opens up the offense for teammates, effectively having the same effect as an on ball player’s passing out of double teams would.

It’s in older Dirk that I see what I expect Durant to evolve into when he hits the later stages of his prime. In the second half of his career the Mavericks became the ultimate set play team, running one of the slowest paces in the league while they methodically pounded home points with Dirk pick and roll/pick and pops. Later still, he developed what has now become one of the league’s most unstoppable shots – His mid post fallaway. Because virtually every player he faces is smaller than him, there’s not much they can do as he backs them down and then shoots over them.

This unstoppable shot is the biggest thing missing in Durant’s arsenal. All the great scorers in history seemingly had that demoralizing set play move, where the team could say “Alright, we’re getting a bucket here.” Kareem Abdul-Jabbar had the skyhook. Michael Jordan had his turnaround jumper. Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal had unstoppable ass attack post ups. Dirk now has this mid range fallaway. Durant doesn’t have that killer go-to yet. Oklahoma City felt this lack of an isolation shot as their lead fall away in the last 5 minutes of Game 4. He had no way to initiate a pass out of a double himself when Dallas smothered him and forced his teammates to blow the lead. Dirk meanwhile destroyed the Thunder with his unstoppable mid post play. But I think Durant will get there. And I think it’ll be a post up move, like Dirk.

Think about how unguardable a Kevin Durant killer mid-high post game would be. Like Dirk at PF or Kareem at C, virtually every SF in the league would give up the height advantage in spades. He’d simply turn around and shoot over them. If they stuck a taller, slower defender on him he’d blow by them to the rim. Furthermore, I expect Durant’s ability to draw fouls off jumpers and fakes to go from great to completley ridiculous if he started posting up. Durant also has the work ethic and mindset to develop his game like this, as opposed to Lebron who does not seem interested in going in the post. I’m guessing that by 30, we are talking about Durant’s post game as one of the league’s signature shots while the Thunder play with more of a structured, set play offense.

Ultimately I believe Dallas will close out this series with Dirk’s advanced post game getting the edge over Durant’s raw speed. But if Durant reaches his full potential he should become an evolutionary Dirk by the second half of his career, matching his height and skill advantage with greater athleticism and speed. Right now Dirk is the evolved version of Durant in skill and fundamentals, but if Durant maximizes his potential he will be Dirk’s evolution in physical ability. He’s not there yet though.

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Written by jr.

May 25, 2011 at 12:14 pm

One Response

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  1. Good call.

    Crow

    November 6, 2011 at 3:02 pm


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