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Next Generation: Dissecting Durant

December 11, 2007 | By Steve Simon | comment on this post

Maybe your team is rife with injuries. Maybe your draft strategy left a lot to be desired. You may have already decided that, only six weeks into your fantasy basketball season, your chances of recovering are as slim as Keira Knightley. I’m here for you. I want to give you reason to go on with your fantasy basketball season, to look down the road and see that all is not lost. Welcome to the newest RotoRob column, Next Generation.

It’s important to note that only one rookie, Brandon Roy, ranked among the top 120 fantasy basketball players last year. While it is extremely rare to be able to count on a freshman for across-the-board contributions, some will be able to help you right now in a few categories. For team owners like myself that play in keeper leagues, you can add or trade for rookies now and, even if they are currently receiving limited minutes or providing inconsistent productivity, you can stash them away until the point in their young careers when they finally realize their potential and produce on a nightly basis.

SPOTLIGHT: Kevin Durant

“With great powers comes great responsibility.”Ben Parker, Spiderman

How Did we get Here?

Arguably the most offensively gifted and most captivating freshman to bolt for the NBA since Syracuse stud Carmelo Anthony, we last saw Durant’s Texas Longhorns get taken down by the USC Trojans despite his 30-point effort. During the pre-draft workouts, much was written about his inability to bench-press 185 pounds. Durant was selected with the second overall pick behind Greg Oden and found himself as the centrepiece of a rebuilding Supersonics’ squad with an excellent opportunity to make the rare fantasy contribution as a rookie.

Where Does he Fit on the Team?

Neither the team’s style of play nor the position Durant has been playing will benefit him in his rookie year. Unfortunately for Durant, the Sonics find themselves running primarily out of the half-court set rather than operating on the run. Additionally, Durant has been seeing a majority of his time at shooting guard rather than one of the forward positions. Both situations place him further from the basket and, as a result, Durant’s field goal percentage and rebounding have suffered. He neither has the strength nor the handle in traffic at this stage in his career to get closer to the hoop, and often times finds himself settling for contested shots 18 feet or further from the basket.

What we Expected

First and foremost, a starting job and an abundance of minutes. With the departure of Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis, Durant was expected to find himself in a position in which he was quite familiar – carrying a majority of the scoring load. Standing at 6’10” with a 7’4″ wingspan, and possessing extraordinary quickness and jumping ability, Durant was also projected to excel in the steals and blocks categories. It was likely that he would also chip in some 3-pointers, as he displayed a deft touch in college by nailing more than two per game and shooting it at a 40 per cent clip. It was a safe bet to project that he would remain a proficient free-throw shooter (81.6 FT% last year).

What we Didn’t Expect

Unfortunately, the current state of the Sonics does not allow for the 19-year-old to settle in gradually. Armed with the pressure of being the go-to-guy at his age, one might expect some bad shots accompanied by an ineffective field goal percentage. Rebounding figured to be a problem in Durant’s rookie year, given his slight build and the amount of time he’d be spending on the perimeter covering most teams’ shooting guards.

How do You Like me Now?

That all depends upon where he was selected in your fantasy draft. If an owner reached for him too early, there’s most likely a degree of disappointment. The 39.3 field goal percentage is brutal, and 4.57 RPG soft. Durant is a catch-and-shoot guy right now. He is moved way too easily, whether he is attempting to box out for a rebound or moving across the lane for a mid-range jumper. He has trouble even posting up smaller guards, slashing to open spaces, and hitting the offensive glass. For me, Durant is simply not a great start right now, given the aforementioned FG% and the 17 attempts per game. His impact on your team’s field goal percentage is akin to the negative influence Shaquille O’Neal’s FT% had on a team in his prime.

If Durant fell to you in later rounds or if you’re building for the future, Kool & The Gang should personally drive to your home and serenade you with “Celebration.” Durant has amazing shooting mechanics, which allows him to pour in 20.33 PPG in his sleep. He has shown the potential, even in his rookie season, to contribute mightily in every single category with the exception of FG%. In fact, he is only 1 of 14 players currently averaging at least one point, rebound, assist, steal and block per game this season.

Player his Fantasy Numbers most Currently Resemble

Ironically, it’s Ray Allen.

Allen: 40.9 FG%, 90.8 FT%, 45 3PT, 4.42 RPG, 3.32 APG, 1.05 SPG, 19.37 PPG
Durant: 39.3 FG%, 84.1 FT%, 28 3PT, 4.57 RPG, 1.9 APG, 0.95 SPG, 20.33 PPG

Simon Says

Durant showed great potential to rebound in college, and with added strength, the boards will follow. With some muscle, he’ll have the ability to get closer to the hoop and, inevitably, will dramatically improve the shooting accuracy. What we are seeing is quite simply a player that will, conservatively, be a top-20 player next year. Furthermore, if he keeps taking gradual steps forward this season and takes it into another gear after the All-Star break, I would go so far as to say he has a good chance to be a top-12 player next year at the age of 20.

Rising

Jamario Moon, SF, Raptors: Heading into the season, the Toronto Raptors were comprised of a roster that consisted of perimeter-oriented players, many of which lacked toughness. There were plenty of shooters, but few to rebound or defend. The makeup irked no-nonsense Coach Sam Mitchell to the extent that during their November 10 game he inserted former Meridian Community College Eagle, former Albany Patron, and former Harlem Glotbetrotter Moon into the starting lineup. The 27-year-old rookie has long arms and possesses fantastic athleticism, consistently providing his owners a very solid source of rebounds, steals and blocks on a nightly basis. Other than Durant, I believe that Moon’s experience, minutes and steady contributions in multiple categories strongly indicate that as long as he maintains his hold on the starting job he will be the rookie that is the safest play on a forward basis.

Falling

Sean Williams, C, Nets: Timber! Arguably the most sought after rookie on the waiver wire after posting a November 17th line of 22 points, eight rebounds, two blocks and two steals, owners took some comfort in the belief that they could at the very least count on him to be a reliable source of blocks. Seemed plausible, but with three blocks in his last five games, it may officially be a good time to temper the enthusiasm. In fact, Williams has played himself out of a contributing role from a fantasy perspective, punctuated by a DNP CD on Sunday. Over his last five games, Williams has mustered only 2.5 PPG, 0.8 BPG and 5.0 RPG in 12.8 MPG. Until there is a significant increase in minutes, the Nets’ first-round pick cannot be counted on to consistently contribute. Move on, nothing to see here…

Keep an Eye on

Daequan Cook, G, Heat: Armed with the ability to shoot the mid-range jumper and long-ball with relative ease, the athletic 20-year-old out of Ohio State is getting a rare opportunity from Pat Riley, who enjoys playing rookies about as much as Paris Hilton enjoys her privacy and wearing panties. Seemingly out of nowhere, Cook has earned a steady 22.2 MPG over the last five. One thing we know about Cook is that he is a pure scorer. Playing alongside big-man Oden a year ago, Cook was able to nail 1.4 treys per game. Similarly, he may be able to find himself with wide open looks provided Shaquille O’Neal still commands the respect of two defenders. Cook also excels in the transition game, and if he can get to the line he may be able to contribute in the FT% category, having missed only once thus far in 24 attempts.

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