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Thursday, December 10, 2009
Kevin Durant eats plus/minus for breakfast



Layne Murdoch/NBAE via Getty Images
Now making his team's defense way better: Kevin Durant.

By Henry Abbott

This is such a funny story. In most of the NBA, it's kind of a geeky sideshow.

But for a certain bunch of people, mostly in Oklahoma City, it's war.

Here's the basic gist of it: For his first two years in the NBA, Kevin Durant had some of the worst plus/minus numbers in the NBA -- even as his traditional stats were off the charts.

It was a weird deal. Very weird.

I wrote about it, and it was taken as some kind of mean-spirited attack, even though I said all kinds of nice things about the player. Perhaps they were a little hung up on plus/minus expert Wayne Winston's statement that Durant's numbers were so bad, he wouldn't take Durant on his team for free.

Durant responded to that post, basically by saying that real fans appreciated the fact that he was playing as hard as he could, and whatever plus/minus was we'd be better off letting Kevin be Kevin.

In a response, I talked about plus/minus. It can be ignored in small pieces. But two years of telling the same story ... that's a lot of evidence. Watching a metric ton of Durant video made clear that while he's amazing at tons of things, he had a miserable time defending the pick-and-roll, and closing out on shooters. Those two things alone could explain why his team allowed so many more points per possession when he was on the floor. He also tended to end up shooting against double and triple teams more than most players.

It's a new season, though, and players Durant's age improve quickly.

And so far this season?

Kevin Durant may have the greatest plus/minus improvement in NBA history.

He was one of the very worst players in the league by that measure last season, and now he's second-best. Only Dirk Nowitzki rates better in Wayne Winston's adjusted plus/minus. As of today, Durant's Thunder are giving up 11.5 fewer points per hundred possessions when he's on the floor. And they're scoring 13.75 more. That's unbelievable. (Interestingly, the next best player in the NBA, according to this early-season measure, is Marc Gasol. Then LeBron James and Luol Deng. If those numbers seem a little funny ... it's early yet. Plus/minus means a lot more with bigger samples.)

Durant's agent, Aaron Goodwin, denies this has anything to do with a newfound regard for plus/minus. "Kevin is a great player working hard to get better on offense and defense each day," says Goodwin. " His team overall is playing better, and they are competitive in games now. Kevin Durant wants to be one of the best to have ever played the game, and he works hard toward that goal."

Meanwhile Winston is regretting his exact choice of words. "I should have said 'If KD played in the future like he played in his first two years I would not want him on my team.' Clearly he has made a fantastic improvement. ... I would certainly want him given how he plays now. He is first team NBA and possibly MVP."

I have been asked if I regret what I wrote. Heck no! I wrote he had great potential, but playing D like that, and taking some of those shots, he had hurt his team in his first two years.

Problem solved.

Hats off to Durant for his hard work. It's a happy story. Take a bow, Kevin!

(And, if you have a free minute, could you tell your fans to stop sending all that hate mail?)