The Defensive Short: Keeping Kevin Durant at arm’s length

Kevin Durant
Jun 6, 2018; Cleveland, OH, USA; Golden State Warriors forward Kevin Durant (35) shoots against the Cleveland Cavaliers during the second quarter in game three of the 2018 NBA Finals at Quicken Loans Arena. Mandatory Credit: Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

How do you defend a guy who is the size of a center, moves like a guard, and can score from anywhere on the floor?

You can’t.

But you have to do whatever it takes to make his life difficult. Kevin Durant is arguably the best scorer to ever play the game so there’s no stopping him. However, you have to keep him at arm’s length at all times to make sure he doesn’t get anything easy.

The focus when defending him is everything that you do before he gets the ball. You want to be physical and make him work for the ball, force him to exude energy in areas that he doesn’t want to.

Once he gets it, it’s all about him keeping him at an arm’s distance. With Durant’s height and point of release, the chance of blocking his shot is slim to none.

One of Durant’s favorite shots is his crossover into a shot. He brings the ball out as if he’s going to cross, but he rises midway through into a shot. That’s his go-to move, especially in crunch time situations.

In multiple games this season, Durant has hit some clutch shots from this very move. He lulls his defender to sleep, rises, and the rest is history. I cringe sometimes because I look at the defender and just wonder why are you giving him so much room. If you look below at the video, Jonathan Isaac of the Orlando Magic gave him so much room to the point that it was like a warm-up shot for Durant. Playing back without even having a hand up to discourage the shot is not the answer.

I know it’s easier said than done but when it comes to a deadly shooter like Durant, you can’t let him get clean looks off. Durant’s quickness and ability to get to the basket scares defenders which is why they play off at times but you have to trust your ability to move your feet as well as your teammates behind you. Help is going to come that’s why it’s a team game so you have to trust your teammates.

Durant loves to shoot more than he loves to drive and more times than none, he’s going to rise up and shoot in those situations. Playing off of him and giving him space is not going to get it done. If Isaac plays up a little more with a hand up ready to contest, that can discourage Durant from taking that shot or make him more uncomfortable when attempting a shot and the final result of that game could’ve ended differently.

Kobe Bryant vs. Kevin Durant
Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) keeps the ball away from Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant (24) in the second quarter of an NBA basketball game in Oklahoma City, Friday, Dec. 13, 2013. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Five-time NBA Champion and 12-time All-Defensive Team, Kobe Bryant was asked on a recent episode of The Corp, who was the toughest guy to defend and his answer was Durant.

Dan Katz: “You said that Tony Allen was the toughest guy to defend you. Who was the toughest guy to defend?”

Bryant: “Kevin Durant. That was the one. I retired without being able to figure out how I can stop him. When he first came in the league he was easy to defend because he couldn’t go right and shoot. He used to shoot across his face so that was a weakness that he had. Also in the post, he couldn’t turn left shoulder. Everything was right shoulder so that gave me areas that I could shut off.

Then he started developing it. Now he can pull up left, he can pull up right. He can shoot the long ball. He has runners, left hand, right hand. Before he had a left hand finish at the rim, I could always send him left. Force him all the way to the basket, even with the advantage of his size he was still uncomfortable finishing with his left. So I could clamp the right hand and now force him into tough situations.

But now he developed that. So then I couldn’t really figure out, is this a rhythm thing? I’m trying to count the seconds he takes to make his moves. When does he make them? What times in the game? I couldn’t really figure out that rhythm yet. So I retired not being able to figure him out.”

Sheesh! This is magic to a basketball lover’s ears. Look at how much detail and how in-depth Bryant went to in attempts to trying to stop Durant. It takes this amount of effort and attention to detail to be great. Counting and timing a guy’s move…I mean come on man! Even after all of that, Bryant still couldn’t figure it out and no one else has since. This is the highest praise for Durant and it comes from a well-respected player.

So I’m not saying that guarding Durant is easy because we all know it’s not. There’s really no stopping a guy who has his capabilities. But, you have to be smart and make him work his ass off to get buckets. Denying him the ball is always an option but when he gets it, keep him at arm’s length and make his life difficult so he can’t put 50 on your head.


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