The Thunder May Have Just Added A Surprise Power Forward

Kevin Durant playing power forward is not something you hear often, yet it’s a possibility for the Thunder this year. Durant himself alluded to more of a focus on the strategy shift Friday, saying coach Scott Brooks had been using him at the four during training camp for a different look. Week One of training camp is a long way from dropping Durant in at the four in a mid-season game with regularity, but it’s an enticing chance because Durant, though he doesn’t fit the “small” in small forward, also doesn’t evoke the “power” of a power forward. If it sounds like a scenario that doesn’t work in his favor, his shooting and decision-making with the ball could sway it to be an advantage more times than not.

He was described as being bulkier in his upper body by Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, and Mayberry’s judgment on all things OKC is nothing to take lightly. Durant’s upper body weakness in the NBA Draft combine’s bench press test is legend, even though it’s meant exactly nothing in his scoring ability during his career. Even though he prefaced his comments by saying Durant has had trouble keeping offseason weight on during the season before, the report suggested the weight wasn’t just for show this time, that there was a reason for it all and more of an effort to stick with weightlifting during the season.

“I hope so,” Durant said when told he looks bigger and asked if he got stronger over the offseason. “I guess we’ll know when we start banging during the season. But I feel a little bigger, and coach is going to put me down low a little bit more at the 4 so I’ve got to be stronger to guard those guys. I’m just looking forward to doing as much as I can to help this team.”
Last season, Durant entered training camp at 235 pounds. He deemed it “a big thing” for him to have gained 20 pounds since he entered the league in 2007. This year, his body appears to have filled out even more. But there was nothing special, Durant said, that was done this summer.

Mind you, this whole idea isn’t new because of the top 20 most-used lineups last season by Brooks, eight featured Durant playing power forward. Granted, seven are in the bottom 11, and the record in those games is 53-47 for OKC. Durant won’t survive long banging on the low block on defense because even a bulkier Durant is all relative. Offensively it makes sense, though, if done in limited chunks. Durant would give up the length advantage he has on most small forwards, while adding an edge in quickness and handle.

Without the use of a Synergy Sports-type video analysis there’s no easy way to know how Durant has done when playing at power forward as an individual broken out of team stats. Anytime he’s in the low-block area, however, he shot 46 percent last season in the areas outside the key but inside the three-point arc. Via and Hoopdata statistics, inside the paint he was at 43 percent, and at the rim it was 70 percent. The only players defined as small forwards better at 3-to-9 feet last season with more than 24 average minutes on their teams were LeBron James, Carlos Delfino, James Johnson and Kawhi Leonard.. While you can’t dismiss that a number of those baskets last season came off drives (plays he wouldn’t be making if he’s setting up on the block and calling for the ball) that’s still the area he’d be working in on the block more regularly. Pau Gasol, Marc Gasol, Tim Duncan, LaMarcus Aldridge and Kenneth Faried are all player whom Durant would face in the West on the block. Could Durant keep up with them for extended time? Because of his defense down low, no. But it does allow Brooks an opportunity to explore mismatches at the center, three and two positions (Westbrook is always a mismatch for his opponent in many ways) because of carrying out the threat of Durant on the block more often.

What do you think of Durant playing down low more often?

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