Kevin Durant was not the Best Rookie

Posted on May 1, 2008 by


Readers of The Wages of Wins Journal have seen all season that, according to Win Score and Wins Produced, Kevin Durant was not having a great rookie season.  Now that he has been named Rookie of the Year, I thought a brief review of Durant’s entire rookie season might be worthwhile.  

Reviewing the WoW stories

Let me start this review by re-hashing the stories offered on Durant since he was drafted last summer.

As the following post from July 7, 2007 indicates, the college numbers fully supported the notion that Kevin Durant would be an excellent NBA player.

Looking Back at the NBA Draft, Part Two

Less than two weeks after this post, though, we began to see evidence that Durant might not be a stellar rookie.  As the following posts indicate, he did not play well in summer league action.  He was also not good in the exhibition season.  And as the regular season progressed, he was again not very good.

July 17, 2007: Disappointing Durant

July 21, 2007: Durant Disappoints Again

October 31, 2007: Will Kevin Durant Be the Best Rookie?

November 16, 2007: Choosing the Best Rookie in November

November 27, 2007: Evaluating Future Stars in Baseball and Basketball

November 28, 2007: The Top Rookies, Again

November 29, 2007: Re-Hashing Durant, Melo, and Stack

December 31, 2007: Should the Rookie of the Year Help His Team Win More Games?

February 13, 2008: The Assistant Coaches Choose the Best?

March 25, 2008: Horford Also Tops Durant in March

The Rookie Durant

Now that the season is over, we now know that Durant was not a great rookie.  Okay, we who look at Wins Produced (which might just be me) know this.  The sports media has selected Durant as the Rookie of the Year.  In other words, the media thinks Durant was the best rookie. 

Durant did lead all rookies in scoring.  But when we look at all the stats, it’s clear that Durant has problems his rookie season.

A player can accumulate points by being an efficient scorer and/or taking a large number of shots.  Durant’s scoring was really about taking shots.  His adjusted field goal percentage (45.1%) was well below average.  He was also below average with respect to steals, turnovers, net possessions (rebounds + steals – turnovers) and assists. 

For a shooting guard he did show that he could rebound and block shots.  He is also able to get to the free throw line.  But these positives were swamped by his negatives, and hence when we look at Win Score – which summarizes all the box score statistics – we see a below average player.  An average shooting guard will post a Win Score of 6.1 per 48 minutes played.  Durant only offered a Win Score of 5.2 (per 48 minutes played).

A similar story is told by Wins Produced and WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes].  For the season he produced 0.7 wins and posted a 0.012 WP48.  Again, these are well below average marks.

What of the other rookies?  When the All-Rookie team – selected by the coaches — is announced I will comment on the entire 2007-08 rookie class.  For now I will simply say that of the rookies who received votes from the media, Al Horford, Jamario Moon, Luis Scola, and Carl Landry were above average performers.  Each of these players would have been better choices than Durant (in fact, of those receiving votes, only Juan Carlos Navarro and Al Thornton offered less than Durant).

Answering the Arguments for Durant

Supporters of Durant will offer excuses for why he did not produce this season.  They will also try and argue that he seemed to improve as the season progresses.  And they will argue that someday Durant will be the best player chosen in 2007.

To these arguments I say…

1. The fact is he did not produce.  The award for Rookie of the Year should go to the player who did play well, not the player who might have played well in different circumstances.  If we are going to follow that logic, give the award to Greg Oden.  He also might have been the best rookie if he simply didn’t get hurt.

2. Durant might have played better in March and April.  The award, though, is Rookie of the Year.  It’s not, Rookie of March-April.  The first four months of the season count and we should not ignore these games in giving out awards that represent a player’s accomplishments for a season.

3. And to the argument that Durant might someday be better…I think that is entirely possible.  But again, this is an award for what a player did as a rookie.  And as a rookie, Durant was bad.  No matter what he does going forward, that fact is not ever going to change.

– DJ

Our research on the NBA was summarized HERE.

The Technical Notes at provides substantially more information on the published research behind Wins Produced and Win Score

Wins Produced, Win Score, and PAWSmin are also discussed in the following posts:

Simple Models of Player Performance

Wins Produced vs. Win Score

What Wins Produced Says and What It Does Not Say

Introducing PAWSmin — and a Defense of Box Score Statistics

Finally, A Guide to Evaluating Models contains useful hints on how to interpret and evaluate statistical models.