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Ball Don't Lie

Kevin Durant sometimes doesn’t want to chuck heaves at the buzzer to protect his percentages, despite his coach’s wishes

Kelly Dwyer
Ball Don't Lie

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Kevin Durant waits that extra tenth of a second before letting go (Getty Images)

During the 1990s, I noticed a curious trend that All-Star guard Tim Hardaway seemed to be at the forefront of. No, it wasn’t his use of the crossover or inside-out dribble to dash past defenders. It was the way he treated last-second, buzzer-beating three-pointers. Not close shots at the end of a game or shot clock, but half-courters at the end of each of the first three quarters. He seemed to be purposely letting the ball go just a half-second after the buzzer went off, presumably in order to shield his shooting percentage from the one-in-100 shot he was attempting. If the shot missed, no harm all around. If it went in? Then the crowd would go nuts and he’d get a few slaps on the back, even if he wouldn’t earn three points for the scoreboard.

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NBA players have been working this way for years, not exclusively, but it’s not uncommon to see players holding off on taking those bombs. And until today I’d never heard anyone cop to it. Not until the NBA player that most deserves to cop to it – the legendarily efficient MVP candidate, Kevin Durant – told Daily Thunder’s Royce Young that, no, he’s not going to take that shot if his shooting percentages on the night aren’t up to his drool-worthy snuff.

Here’s Durant, from Daily Thunder:

“It depends on what I’m shooting from the field. First quarter if I’m 4-for-4, I let it go. Third quarter if I’m like 10-for-16, or 10-for-17, I might let it go. But if I’m like 8-for-19, I’m going to go ahead and dribble one more second and let that buzzer go off and then throw it up there. So it depends on how the game’s going.”

First, the “selfish” tag.

When Durant says “it depends on how the game’s going,” he truly and technically is referring to his individual game on that night. To some this reeks of stat-padding, and needlessly obsessive stat-padding: NBA fans typically don’t freak out over shooting percentages on shots that players tend to take possibly once or twice a week; especially for someone like Durant who averages 19 shots per game on his career.

In terms of sheer honesty, though? We love it. Though Kevin Durant is just about the only player we’ll let get away with it.

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All of this comes in the midst of a fascinating and must-read breakdown from Royce Young. In his feature, he details the way that Oklahoma City coach Scott Brooks has to just about beg for his players to take the heave, even as Young points out that Elias notes that only three out of 205 beyond half-court makes have gone in this season. And this is with three-point shooting getting better and better by the year.

From Young’s piece:

“We talked about it, about seven weeks ago maybe, couple months ago, and we talked about it,” Brooks said. “I said ‘We have to shoot that shot. There’s still time in the game — shoot it.’ The only time we don’t shoot it is if we’re up and it’s the last seconds because you don’t want to do that.

“We had that talk and somebody on our team did not take it that same night, and then we all got on him,” he said. “The next night, somebody made that shot.”

Every player I asked about it remembered Brooks talk right away.

“Yeah he said something to us about it,” said Eric Maynor. “He was like, ‘I be peeping some of y’all be doing that.’ But he know me, I’m going to shoot it.”

Said Nick Collison: “It’s funny because when [Brooks] brought that up, Eric said, ‘I’ll shoot it’ and he made one like the next game.”

(If Scott Brooks ever brought up a talking point at practice by saying “I be peeping some of y’all be doing that” he immediately becomes my favorite NBA coach. He should be yours for that, as well.)

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Scott Brooks applauds the effort (Getty Images)

The odds say it probably won’t matter, but until that “probably” is somehow wiped away (half-court heave defenses are getting more and more sophisticated, after all) and the percentages go down to nil? Then you take the shot. You always try to take the shot; because at the end of the day the difference between 8-19 and 8-20 really doesn’t matter – you’re already shooting a bad percentage before the heave.

You take it. Unless you’re Kevin Durant, who has earned it. Or Tim Hardaway, whose percentages don’t really matter anymore because he hasn’t played NBA basketball for a decade.

Young points out an interview that Shane Battier recently gave to Sam Amick, which raises an interesting point that honestly would not do a whole lot to turn around NBA record keeping if put to the test.

From USA Today:

“Even the heave is a plus-play. But unfortunately we’re not judged on the plus-plays. We’re judged on (shooting) percentages. I think they should take the heave out of the stat book. It’s common sense.”

And if they did change the rule book to reflect this stance?

“You’d have guys fighting to take that shot, because it’s a hell of a fun shot,” he said. “We shoot those shots every day in practice.”

Even the people that decided how baseball should be scored, over a hundred years ago and before Bill James was even a spark in Van Camp’s eye, knew that a walk or sacrifice shouldn’t be charged as an at bat in order not to punish a player’s batting averages. Taking a 65-footer is less somewhat selfless and personally rewarding than showing patience at the plate or moving a runner along, but why not afford it with the same designation?

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If it goes in, it counts. If it doesn’t? Not a shot. And because the shot is so rare, it wouldn’t like we would be harming the record books for all that heaved from half-court prior to 2013.

Of course, the best way around this would be to boast an NBA full of players that aren’t bothered by their shooting percentages, or what writers like me may say about their percentages, good or bad.

As both Trey Kerby at The Basketball Jones and Brett Pollakoff at Pro Basketball Talk pointed out, the Best Attitude Award went to Russell Westbrook:

“No. Nope … If I was considering about [statistics] I’d do a lot of s*** different.”

I believe that’s a koan, Russell Westbrook. A koan to consider, with the clock winding down.

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