Kevin Durant: Is Declining FT Rate A Concern?

Oct 7, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) looks on during the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 7, 2015; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) looks on during the first half against the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center. Mandatory Credit: Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports /

It’s only preseason, but Kevin Durant began the Oklahoma City Thunder’s game vs. the Dallas Mavericks Tuesday shooting 1-for-9.

Chalk it up to not being totally focused because it’s preseason if you want, but either way, it didn’t look pretty.

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On some of those misses, and some of the five turnovers KD had, there was contact, leaving Durant searching for a call. He’d get caught on a drive, forced to pick up his dribble too soon and couldn’t recover with anything positive.

It happens to Durant and it’s not terrible. It’s hard being nearly 7-foot and handling the ball the way he does, slicing through a defense. Even with how skilled Durant is, defense in the right position can make it difficult and at least awkward for Durant when he puts it on the deck in traffic.

Searching for a foul is rarely a good thing and when you’re a player like KD who has lived at the line at times in his career, it’s only natural to expect to hear that whistle a lot. Over the last three years, Durant’s been hearing that whistle less and less.

It’s common for an aging scorer to see his free throw rate decline in his career. And it usually happens around this time. It did for Kobe Bryant, Dwyane Wade, Michael Jordan and LeBron James when they turned 25. The challenge is how you respond or in Durant’s case, if this is really going to be a thing yet.

KD FTr /

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You can now look at last season and say with near certainty that KD was never 100 percent. Sure, he dropped 30 in a half vs. the eventual champs and had the fourth-best PER in the league, but it all was never quite back.

Not quite back might explain the free throw rate. In 2012-13, Durant’s first 50-40-90 season, his free throw rate was at an all-time level at .523 as he attempted 9.3 free throws per game. The next year when he won the MVP, it remained pretty high at .477.

He had to take on an added load that year with Russell Westbrook missing so much time and it’s hard to sustain a free throw rate when you’re taking more shots and handling the ball more.

Last season his free throw rate dipped all the way down to .366. He took just 6.3 free throws in 33.8 minutes per game. He was still super efficient with everything else, posting a career-high 2-point field goal percentage at .564 and shooting .403 from downtown.

But the decline in free throws could even have you questioning if he wasn’t getting the same star treatment he got before, or if he had lost a step.

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  • The lost step could easily be the explanation when you consider the foot injuries. A full recovery might mean that he gets that step back. That remains to be seen.

    A lot was asked of Durant under Scott Brooks. A lot of isolations, a lot of drives, a lot of shots. The Thunder offense under Billy Donovan may become more balanced. The roster is as deep as ever. Ideally, the Thunder won’t need Durant to return to 38 minutes and 20 field goal field goal attempts a night. It could all influence the trend continuing when it comes to free throw rate.

    Players who live at the line, like James Harden or Durant in the past, get the reputation from officials and receive their share of bail out calls. Those calls might not be as frequent for someone who isn’t living at the line like he used to.

    This is as nitpicky as you can get with a player like Durant. His game has so few flaws if any. But there is still something left for the Thunder to get over the hump and win a title. You don’t like to see even the tiniest step back for Durant with something like this if you’re a Thunder fan.

    If nothing else, it’s something to monitor. The preseason is the preseason and it usually isn’t any indication of what’s to come when the games start counting. After a chunk of regular season games, it will be interesting to see if Durant’s free throw rate is close to his MVP year or closer to last year.

    Next: NBA: 25 Greatest Scorers of All-Time

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