Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Rashard for Durant: A Downgrade in '07-08?

Let me make this clear to start with: I am talking about only the 2007-08 season in this post.

I would definitely rather have Kevin Durant than Rashard Lewis over the next ten years. There's just been so much chatter about these two things:
1) 2007-08 is perhaps the last chance to keep the Sonics in Seattle;
2) Kevin Durant could be the savior of basketball in Seattle.
I'm just wondering if Kevin Durant in his rookie season (he turns 19 in September) isn't a slight downgrade from Rashard Lewis in his prime (he turns 28 in August).

I fully expect that, if the Sonics end up with Durant, as I think is likely, they will let Rashard go as a free agent. The team is just losing too much money to pass up a chance to save circa $10M when there's a position overlap.

I also think it makes basketball sense for them to try to execute a sign-and-trade with Rashard. I don't think the Ray-Rashard-Durant lineup works. I agree with Jay Aych, who offered these thoughts while moonlighting as a commenter on The Big Lead:
    2 problems I see with trying to play Allen-Durant-Lewis together. First, the Sonics will just compound their current problems on defense with this lineup. Lewis & Allen already subpar defenders, if Durant has one weakness right now, it's his questionable defense. Think they would have some serious issues guarding some 4s, especially the ones out West. Second of all, I think you would definitely see issues arise with enough shots being spread around between the 3 stars. I just see no way that Lewis re-signs if the Sonics take Durant, unless it's for a sign & trade.

OK, let's go to the comparisons.
Here are Rashard's numbers:
2006-07: 22.9/6.7/2.5; .461/.390/.841; PER: 20.7

Rashard's PER has risen steadily since 2002-03:
2002-03: 16.7
2003-04: 17.5
2004-05: 19.4
2005-06: 20.0
2006-07: 20.7 (30th in the NBA)

[About PER: John Hollinger's rating of a player's overall per-minute productivity]

I see him still being on the uptick at age 28, probably around a 21.0 PER. Of course, the main weakness of PER is that it doesn't measure defense beyond blocks and steals, and Rashard is a weak defender. That said, although Durant can block shots, I don't see him being ready to be a good NBA defender overall at a 6-10/220 and 19 years of age.

So, can Durant be a 21.0 PER player in '07-08? Well, let's take a look at some other All-Star caliber players - in all cases, I'll look at their seasons one year removed from high school (remember that PER is a per-minute rating):

LeBron (2004-05): 27.2/7.4/7.2; .472/.351/.750; 42.4 mpg; PER 25.7
C Paul (2005-06): 16.1/5.1/7.8; .430/.282/.847; 36.0 mpg; PER 22.1
T-Mac (1998-99): 9.3/5.7/2.3; .436/.229/.736; 22.6 mpg; PER 20.6
Amare (2003-04): 20.6/9.0/1.4; .475/.200/.713; 36.8 mpg; PER 19.8
Howard (2005-06): 15.8/12.5/1.5; .531/.000/.595; 36.8 mpg; PER 19.3
Kobe (1997-98): 15.4/3.1/2.5; .428/.341/.794; 26.0 mpg; PER 18.5
KG (1996-97): 17.0/8.0/3.1; .499/.286/.754; 38.9 mpg; PER 18.2
Melo (2003-04): 21.0/6.1/2.8; .426/.322/.777; 36.5 mpg; PER 17.6
Dirk* (1999-00): 17.5/6.5/2.5; .461/.379/.830; 35.8 mpg; PER 17.5
Bosh (2003-04): 11.5/7.4/1.0; .459/.357/.701; 33.5 mpg; PER 15.1
*using Dirk's second season, when he was vastly improved at age 21.

Trying to slot Durant into the list above, I'd say the following:
1) I do not think he is a LeBron-quality player;
2) Guys who came out of high school and were in their second season generally ranked higher than guys in their rookie year after one year in college (with the notable exception of Chris Paul);
3) Guys who came into the league with exceptional physical strength seem to fare better, quicker - and Durant is rail-thin.

I know that Durant was a dominant player in college, but so was Melo. And even though the college season was warm and fuzzy with Oden and Durant in school, the NCAA talent ranks are still vastly depleted compared to 10-20 years ago due to players leaving early for the league. You might say that players learn more on the floor in college than they would in more limited minutes in the pros, but I don't believe Durant learned a whole lot about the game from Rick Barnes, after watching the clueless offense that Texas ran.

I'm going to slot Durant in at about a 19.0-20.0 PER player for 2007-08.

Don't get me wrong, I love Durant's potential as a player, and I definitely think he *could* be a 21.0 PER player in his rookie year, possibly a little better. But, even so, the Sonics would be getting a player who is about the same as the player they'd be giving up in Lewis. So I think it might be asking a lot for Durant to be a "savior" as some are expecting.

That said, I do think that the Sonics can be an improved team because of these two factors:
1) They lost a ton of games due to injury to 3 starters (Allen - 27 games; Lewis - 22 games; Swift - 82 games) in 2006-07. Staying healthy could go a long way.
2) What kind of piece do they get in return for Rashard in a sign-and-trade? This could be as important to the Sonics' prospects in '07-08 as the introduction of Durant.
But man, life sure doesn't get any easier in the Western Conference.

I'll continue to support the efforts of Save Our Sonics and Storm, and I sure hope I'm wrong, because I don't want my commute to the closest NBA venue to change from a 10-minute walk to Key Arena into a 3-hour drive to the Rose Garden, but I have trouble being irrationally exuberant in the face of the data.

Thanks to my favorite Bug and Crank, Jeff Schwager, for making me think of this topic. On an unrelated note, Jeff wonders: "Is that the missing circle of Rasheed Wallace's hair on the back of Drew Gooden's head?"


At 3:43 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Kevin Durant will be a dunkadelic swingman in the mold of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and Tracy McGrady. Rashard Lewis will be a great addition for a team looking for a second option on offense. RL would be a perfect 3 member fit of the Lakers joining Kobe and Lamar.

At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You might want to think about what you just said. If you have Durant's PER slotted for 19-20 for his rookie season, that would mean that he would be BETTER THAN Lebron was at the same age. A PER of 19-20 at age 19 would project him to be one of the top players of all time. I too project him between 17-20 and think he's a once an every 5-10 year player. If he's even close to our projections then he'll be more than just a savior and would put Seattle back on the map. Count on it.

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