Kevin Durant is a lot of things. He’s arguably the best isolation player of all time, he’s one of the most efficient high-volume scorers ever with his 60.9 true shooting percentage (TS%), he’s been an impressive passer with his career-high 5.1 dimes per game and he’s a lover of cupcakes.
One thing KD doesn’t get enough credit for is his defense. After an impressive boost to his blocks last year with 1.6 per game, he’s shattering that number with 2.3 per game to put him second in the NBA.
He's getting help-side blocks like he usually does and his on-ball defense continues to just jump off the tape. This block on Kevin Love yesterday drives that point home:
KD on Love pic.twitter.com/qPXwCCeUqZ
— Michael Gallagher (@MikeSGallagher) December 25, 2017
On Christmas, you probably saw KD stop LeBron James on two key possessions to help the Warriors earn a win over the Cavs. Yeah yeah, maybe be fouled LeBron, but it wasn’t called and that’s really all that matters. KD himself had an interesting take on it after the game. He talked about how dudes playing ball at 24 Hour Fitness are probably complaining about it now. “They’ve been in that position before, but not on Christmas,” Durant said (via The Athletic). “I’m sure if they get that call next week at 24 Hour Fitness, they’re going to be pissed.” He’s right and he closed his press conference with where he thinks those “that was a foul” takes should stay. “Keep that [expletive] on Twitter,” he said. I love villain KD.
The Warriors now have the No. 1 defense in the NBA and they’re just behind the Rockets for offense. A big reason why has been KD and he continues to talk about how he wants to be a better two-way player. “This is just showing me that my formula works ... now I have to test my ceiling,” KD said (via Yahoo! Sports).
There are so many ridiculous stats on Kevin Durant’s defense, according to Synergy. Here are some of the highlights:
|Near basket (non-post up)||45||0.87||83|
|All plays < 4 seconds on shot clock||49||0.43||95|
|Jumpers < 17 feet||20||0.2||100|
|Overall PNR ball handler||74||0.78||88|
|Burner account tweets||6,735||0.00||1,000|
KD’s rim protection accounts for a good chunk of this and there’s some overlapping because some of the drives are isolation and a lot of those short jumpers may have to do with his near-basket numbers, etc. Regardless, KD has been a monster in isolation, post-up and on PNR defense this year, and you'd be hard-pressed to find someone who can make such an impact on these play types.
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One other interesting wrinkle in this situation is how many blocks the lineups with KD, Draymond Green and Jordan Bell rack up the defensive stats. That trio has played together for 79 minutes this season and their stats have been very tasty. Per 48 minutes, that unit puts up 13.4 blocks and 15.2 steals. As a reference point, the NBA averages are 4.8 blocks, 7.8 steals and 22.5 assists. Yes, the Warriors are a fantasy factor on both ends with their league-best blocks, assists, field goal percentage and free throw percentage. Looking at that trio's overall defense, it’s incredible with an 82.7 defensive rating to get them to a +27.5 net rating. Plus, their offense isn’t too shabby with a 110.2 offensive rating. More on that a little later.
So is KD the Defensive Player of the Year? He has to be in the mix. Kawhi Leonard and Rudy Gobert aren’t going to play in enough games, and it’s not like Draymond Green is being a consistent defensive force, as well. In fact, Synergy has him as a 45th percentile defender this year, which makes KD’s case even more compelling. Although, Dray’s impact on defense is from help defense and he’s even said he’s the quarterback as recently as Monday. "I'm kinda like the quarterback [on defense], but every quarterback needs a great receiver,” Green said (via ESPN). "Isn't Antonio Brown in the MVP talk this year?" KD really isn’t in the MVP mix because of how well LeBron James and James Harden are playing, but DPOY has to be on the table.
Like Antonio Brown when he's healthy, KD has been a fantasy monster this year, averaging 26.2 points, 7.2 boards, 5.1 assists, 2.3 blocks, 0.8 steals and 2.4 treys on 50.0 percent from the field and 88.1 percent from the line. KD was the top dog per game last year in nine-cat leagues, but he’s slightly dropped to fourth this year because his 53.7 percent from the field last season was incredible. KD is still in the mix to be fantasy’s top player this year, and like Hassan Whiteside, he’s doing it with blocks.
Then there’s the case of Jordan Bell. Over the weekend, coach Steve Kerr said Zaza Pachulia was “probably” going to get his starting job back once he’s healthy. Well, that “probably” was basically like a probable tag from the Spurs because it didn’t happen with Bell getting the start on Christmas. Although, the bad news here is Zaza is expected to start on Wednesday in a matchup-based move against Derrick Favors and the Jazz.
Bell actually didn’t have a big Christmas on the stat sheet, scoring eight points with six boards, three assists, one steal and one block in 26 minutes. His numbers with KD and Dray were incredible coming into the weekend, but they have dropped in potency. Still, his per-36 averages over the 79 minutes with KD and Dray are 17.8 points, 10.5 boards, 2.7 assists, 2.3 steals, 1.8 blocks and 2.7 turnovers. That's too good to leave on the wire in fantasy.
Even with Zaza starting tomorrow, that’s OK for Bell. Kerr did have a fairly revealing quote on Bell during his in-game interview on ESPN Friday night. "Well, we knew he was good, and we're giving him more and more playing time," Kerr said. Plus, you have to love that Bell took a clutch 3-pointer against the Cavs on Monday even though he missed it. After the miss, Dray and KD were right there to support him and they looked like they were proud of him.
He’s basically the newer, defensive version of Boban Marjanovic because we really just need 20 minutes out of him. I think he'll get it.
Green Goes Red
So remember when the Celtics were really good and could do no wrong in the fourth? Well, yeah it’s basically the opposite now. Over their last 11 fourth quarters, they had a -10.1 net rating, which ranks 27th in the NBA over teams’ last 11 games — the Grizzlies are last at -27.7 (!) and the Rockets are first at +14.3. The Celtics were leading the NBA in defense before Monday, but a bad loss at home had the Warriors leapfrog them yesterday. Again, the fourth quarter is a big reason why with their 27th-ranked 116.6 defensive rating over the last 11 fourths.
If you saw Monday’s game, you probably saw how the Wizards smashed the Celtics on the boards to help give them extra possessions and kill the clock. That’s been a major problem for the Celtics in this cold spell, ranking dead last in rebounding percentage over the last 11 fourth quarters at 45.4 percent.
So speaking of No. 11, Kyrie Irving was arguably the best fourth-quarter player in the NBA before the Celtics recent 5-6 slide. He’s still been pretty solid in the fourth over this span with a 57.0 TS% on a 35.1 usage rate, but he has a putrid 130.3 defensive rating. That's a problem and all those "Kyrie can't defend" takes are flying on the interwebs.
There’s really not much to focus on here for fantasy, but maybe one takeaway would be that we shouldn’t be scared of using players against Boston right now. Yeah, it’s only an 11-game sample, but it’s not like the Celtics went up against some powerhouses: Spurs, Pistons, Bulls twice, the Nikola Jokic-less Nuggets, Jazz, Grizzlies, Pacers, Heat, Knicks and Wizards. You’re obviously not worried about Kyrie’s fantasy value either, and maybe this is a positive to see them slide behind the Raptors in the standings.
The Suns are something else, and you have to give them credit for even winning any games with Devin Booker out of the lineup. They're doing it in a somewhat unconventional way because they've had success with their bench while their starters get worked basically every game these days.
Over the last five games, the first unit of Tyler Ulis, Josh Jackson, Marquese Chriss, and Tyson Chandler has a -35.7 net rating in 55 minutes. Just in the first quarter alone, it’s -44.6 over those 26 minutes, which has obviously put the Suns in a hole on a consistent basis.
Meanwhile, their second unit almost been able to offset that horrible start, postiing a +30.7 net rating thanks to a 127.0 offensive rating in 49 minutes. That unit of Isaiah Canaan, Troy Daniels, Danuel House, Dragan Bender and Alex Len has gained a lot of trust from coach Jay Triano. In fact, Triano has said multiple times that he's trying to save his timeouts because he wants to allow his second unit guys to get rest if needed.
Len and Canaan have been big time lately with Triano praising them and general manager Ryan McDonough said he liked their chemistry together. Canaan has played so well that he sent Mike James packing and he continues to take minutes from Tyler Ulis.
When Booker comes back as soon as tonight, you have to wonder if the Suns would be open to just starting Booker at the point and maybe even bump Ulis out of the rotation -- I don't think this will happen. Plus, the Suns will get Davon Reed back next month, so maybe he is an option to start on this rebuilding team. Basically, there are a lot of questions to be answered.
Hopefully, Len can continue to play every night and it's Greg Monroe or Tyson Chandler getting the night off. It's been seven straight active games for Len, so it's looking good. Both he and Canaan should be owned, especially with PG being fairly thin. I don't think Booker will hurt Canaan too much because he should be out there for 15 minutes without Booker on the court.