- There’s no real risk to the Rockets’ all-switch-all-the-time approach when it comes to Kevin Durant.
- You don’t have to worry about winding up with a bad matchup on Durant because all matchups are a bad matchup against him.
HOUSTON — Warriors. Rockets. The NBA Finals … er, Western Conference Finals begin on Monday here in Houston. We’ll be breaking down various angles of the conference finals over the next few days, covering the ins and outs of the analytics, the X’s and O’s, and, of course, the action.
We continue with this: what’s the effect of the Rockets’ switch-heavy scheme vs. Kevin Durant?
This is the question I started asking my fellow scribes here in Houston:
“Given how good Kevin Durant is, as a baseline, against any matchup, is there a real efficiency gap between him being guarded by the more capable Rockets defenders, and him being guarded by Chris Paul or Nene?”
I singled those two out because they are two players likely to be in the rotation, who also are most easily identified as “liabilities.” Paul is 6-0, so his size makes it easy for Durant to get looks and get to his spots:
And Nene is a plodding, aging center. He’s strong as a bull and will have use in this series, but vs. KD, it’s not a fair fight:
But pay close attention to that sequence. Nene keeps up on him, doesn’t back off. His hand is up the whole way. He puts in a good contest. Durant drills it anyway.
I looked at the matchups from these playoffs vs. all players who fit one of those two criteria, either a small guard (such as Rajon Rondo at 6-1) or plodding big men (such as Pau Gasol). Durant in the playoffs surprisingly scored only 9.3 points on 17.3 possessions against such players in the playoffs. The Warriors as a team, however, scored 1.4 points per possession, an absurd mark, thanks to help defense being exploited, and, well, the rest of the Warriors being really good.
The point here is that there’s no real risk to the Rockets’ all-switch-all-the-time approach when it comes to Durant. In some ways, it’s a gift. You don’t have to worry about winding up with a bad matchup on Durant because all matchups are a bad matchup against him.
The question becomes whether the Rockets can survive a Durant onslaught if they limit the other options effectively enough. What the Rockets can’t do is manage the one-on-one scores from Durant and the back cuts the Warriors create off fear of their weapons.
Durant hasn’t had a great playoffs, surprisingly. Yes, he’s averaging 28 points per game on 49% shooting, but he’s made only 28% from 3-point range. In pick-and roll-situations, Durant has turned it over on 12 of his 52 possessions, via Synergy Sports.
His matchup is individually terrifying for any opponent. Durant is a nearly 7-foot prime athlete with crazy athleticism who can glide to the rim for dunks in two steps and also just happens to be one of the finest shooters the league has ever seen.
If Durant is the best player in this series, the Warriors likely win. He’s an impossible matchup to solve. However, if he has a great series without being otherworldly, and the Rockets are able to keep up their switch scheme without sending help, that goes a long way in their favor.