Saturday, May 25, 2013

A Look Back at Kevin Durant's Playoff FT Shooting

His Oklahoma City Thunder squad was eliminated in the second round of the NBA playoffs by Memphis, but Kevin Durant's postseason free-throw shooting showed an interesting trend that I thought might be of some interest.

Durant first crossed my radar screen early in his career, specifically when he played against Texas Tech in Lubbock as a University of Texas freshman in 2007. Standing 6-foot-9 and sporting a deadly three-point shot, Durant fits into what one sportswriter calls the "Stretch 4" category of big guys who can shoot from outside.

Durant is a career .884 free-throw shooter as a pro. During the 2012-13 NBA regular season, he was even better at .905. As shown in the following graph depicting each OKC playoff game this year, Durant's shooting from the stripe continued at this lofty level, for the most part. The team's free-throw percentages track with Durant's, in part because Durant gets a large share of the team's attempts, but also because Thunder players generally are good from the line. (You may click on the graphic to enlarge it.)

As can be seen, however, Durant's free-throw accuracy dipped in the final three games against Memphis. In his first eight playoff games (all six against Houston and the first two vs. Memphis), Durant never fell below .800 in any individual contest; cumulatively in these first eight games, he shot .882 (75/85). In Durant's (and the Thunder's) final three games, in contrast, he never reached .800 in any contest and shot a cumulative .667 (18/27).

Just a blip? Possibly. Fatigue? Maybe. One could do a statistical comparison of Durant in his first eight vs. his last three playoff games. However, most statisticians would probably consider such a test to be "cherry-picking" (deciding to conduct a test only after seeing a sharp drop in Durant's free-throw accuracy).

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