Tuesday, December 4, 2007

The Ewing Theory, Durant Style

If you are at all a reader of ESPN's Bill Simmons, then you're familiar with the famous " The Ewing Theory." Here, The Ewing Theory is explained quite simply:
  1. A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).
  2. That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.
And inexplicably, the team left without the superstar somehow accomplishes more the following season. Thus was the fate for Ewing's New York Knicks when they had their most successful season while their best player was injured. Some other famous examples of said theory include:

-Tennessee wins a national championship after Peyton Manning graduates
- Kentucky basketball wins a national championship after the loss of Rick Patino, Ron Mercer and Derek Anderson

But the more you think about it, the more the theory makes sense in the context of the 2008 Texas basketball team. As great as Kevin Durant was (evidenced by my man-crush) it seemed the team liked to watch him as much as the fans did. It wasn't even that Durant was a me first player; in fact he most certainly was not. But, with him on the floor, everyone seemed to feel like it was going to be up to Durant in the end.

The 2007 Texas team was as hyped as any team the Longhorns have ever fielded. With Durant, everyone expected that he would single handedly lead Texas to the Final Four. Well, its not that easy. With Durant in the mix, most players (other than DJ Augustin) never really found their place in the offense. Damion James was the most notable victim. Everyone knew James was an incredible talent, but for whatever reason, he just never seemed to be able to do the things he wanted to. With so much of the offense flowing through Durant, James never knew when it was his turn; and in turn this left him an indecisive and therefore ineffective offensive threat.

In 2007, Kevin Durant was the slasher, Durant was the shooter, Durant was the body inside. This left Augustin and Durant with defined roles and the other three on the court to adjust their game every night. For this year's team Augustin distributes, Justin Mason slashes to the basket, AJ Abrams is the spot up shooter and Damion James is the muscle inside. Never underestimate the value of a team where every player knows their role every night. If nothing else, these teams are consistent. And with the amount of talent on this Texas team, they are going to be consistently solid in every game this year.

So don't get me wrong, Kevin Durant took the Longhorn basketball program to new heights of exposure and prominence, even if he only took them to the 2nd round in the NCAA Tournament. The ironic difference is, that without Durant, this is a more complete Texas team, and therefore more built for a long run into March Madness. With wins over Tennessee and UCLA, Texas is already showing what type of team fans can expect this year. It's a team that relies on everyone to perform. Some nights, Abrams may hit 7 threes, others DJ may need to score 20 or have 15 assists, or James may be asked to hit his jumper all night. The nice thing for Rick Barnes is that, this year, they can.

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