"Unguardable" is a word that probably gets thrown around a little too much. I'm guilty of using it myself. I'll use that term, for instance, when I watch Joel Embiid halt his momentum on a drive and pull up for a midrange jumper, only to attack with a full-speed Euro step in a subsequent possession. These plays seem "unguardable," and they often are, given that the defender literally can't do anything about it at his current skill level. Perhaps, though, with a better defender, the shot would appear a little more "guardable" than we're used to.
The case of Kevin Durant is different, though. The fact of the matter is that he is guarded on the majority of his mid-range shots, which are already the least efficient shots on the floor. And we're not talking about a 51 percent majority. We're talking about 95 percent of his mid-range jumpers being sufficiently guarded to the point where they are labeled as "contested" shots.
This data comes from a new ESPN video, where analyst Kirk Goldsberry explains that, despite the amount of contested mid-range jumpers he takes, he still knocks them down at a high rate (h/t MajinObi on Reddit).
According to Goldsberry, since the 2013-14 season, he's the only player in the league to average over 1.00 point per shot from mid-range, with a figure of 1.02 points per mid-range jumper taken. This season, one in which he returned from a year of recovery following an Achilles injury, that number is up to a ridiculous 1.09 points per mid-range shot. And as mentioned before, literally 95 percent of those are contested jumpers. 95 percent. Whereas a league average player would hit these same exact contested shots at a 36 percent clip based on estimates, Durant has made 49.9 percent of them.
According to Basketball Reference, Durant's 2020-21 shot breakdown is as follows, sorted from greatest frequency to lowest frequency:
Percentage of field goals attempted by distance
- 3P: 31.5%
- 10 to 16 feet: 23.1%
- 0 to 3 feet: 16.7%
- 3 to 10 feet: 15.0%
- 16 feet to 3P: 13.6%
To have at least a 13 percent FGA share as his lowest bracket — but no distance taking up more than a third of his shot chart — is a good indication of just how varied his scoring attack is. Furthermore, showing his accuracy from each range highlights that he's doing the right thing by focusing a relatively large portion of his game in that 10-to-16-foot range.
Field goal percentage by distance
- 0 to 3 feet: 78.3%
- 10 to 16 feet: 54.2%
- 16 feet to 3P: 49.0%
- 3P: 43.4%
- 3 to 10 feet: 42.6%
These numbers are impressive without additional context. But when you add in the fact that he's smothered on a large amount of them and he just shrugs off the defense, it makes you realize once again just how special a player he is.