It might be rainy in Oklahoma City. However, it’s 8 a.m. and Kevin Durant is already in the gym taking shots. Jump shot from the wing. Awkward one footer off the wrong foot from the other side. Step back there. Step back three. Euro step through the lane. Swish. Swish. Swish.
“Every road trip, we land and he goes to the gym at 8:30,”Kendrick Perkins said of Durant. “It doesn’t matter if we practiced or didn’t practice. He’s going to the gym. A lot of the shots KD makes, people think that’s some unbelievable shot, one-legged step-backs and stuff like that, it don’t surprise me, because I’ve seen him. I watch him work on that in practice.”
Hundreds of shot attempts by one of the greatest basketball players in the world. Fueling his tank to get better, to no longer be number two behind LeBron James.
Swish. Power post move for the jam. Bombs away from the wing, Durant drains another three.
The Seventh year player has continued to press his growth. First he was too skinny, too lightweight. Then he didn’t play any defense. Last year when Russell Westbrook got hurt, people started saying he wasn’t clutch.
He’s changed a lot of minds this season. Multiple game winners, no buzzer beaters, but just a true ability to be clutch during clutch moments. (Clutch is defined by final five minutes and the game within five points).
We’ve sat and watched as Kevin Durant has turned up his game with the vacancy left by Westbrook’s injury. He dropped 12 straight games of 30 or more points. He also hit the 40 mark four times and even eclipsed the 50-point mark.
“He’ll practice shooting off the wrong foot, and he’ll make those look easy,” Derek Fisher said. “Kevin’s dominance is almost more similar to Shaq’s dominance, where he’s shooting 60 percent. He’s incredibly efficient. He’s not taking 30 shots to get 30 points.”
That’s something Durant has been working on this season, being more efficient. Since Westbrook has been out, he might have needed to let that go a bit to help get his team then. However, in his infinite ability, Durant has been able to do both during this stretch of 11 wins out of the last 12 games.
“And I always can grow, Durant said. “So if I see that situation again the defenses threw at me, I know what to do. I’m familiar with it. And I can help my team. It’s all about progression. I know that. I’ve just got to keep finding ways to get better.”
Durant’s growth as a player hasn’t just been limited to himself. His become more of a facilitator since the Westbrook injury. His assists are up. He’s making the right passes at the right moment. Against the Memphis Grizzlies on Monday night, Durant had eight assists, seven to Serge Ibaka.
“I think he’s figured out a lot more about the game, and himself, and our team,” said forward Nick Collison.
One way Oklahoma City has been able to get other plays more involved in the evolution of the pick-n-roll in the Thunder offense. When we look back upon the 2013 playoffs, there was a lot of Durant isolation and jump shooting. When Durant is gathering one or two defenders, he’s finding the rolling man to the rim or the man who popped off the for the wide open jumper.
In the past, Durant would have hesitated passing that ball. However, his relationship with his team mates, his trust and the growth of players all mesh together that has this team with the second best record in the NBA, despite missing a top 10 player.
While Oklahoma City’s talent is young and not really playoff proven (see: Jeremy Lamb, Steven Adams and Perry Jones), they’re hungry to win and want to learn how to get better in this league. Despite losing super star James Harden and then renting out Kevin Martin, many national pundits expected some regression from the team who had the best record in the Western Conference last season.
“Well, we got a lot younger, and those guys want to be led, and they want to be taught,” Durant said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I’ve been in the league for a while, and I’ve learned from some great vets and some great coaches. Just try to help the younger guys, and teaching them what I’ve been through, and some of the situations I’ve seen in this league. Everybody wants to listen, and they respect me, too. That goes a long way.”
With Reggie Jackson continuous growth on the court, Durant, while facilitating through the offense is no longer running the offense. In the 2013 playoffs, Durant brought the ball up a lot, as said before, did a lot of isolation plays. This year, they’re moving throughout the offense, and using screens to create more open looks for players. This is also why we’ve been able to see Ibaka hit so many wide open jump shots.
For Oklahoma City to go as far as they possibly can, they’ll need this level from Durant night in and night out. He’s got the ability to provide it nightly. Even during the 10-game winning streak, Durant was able to shoot at an astronomical rate. He shot 61.2 percent from the floor, over 56 percent from three-point range and a smidgen under 90 percent from the charity stripe.
According to NBA.com, Durant is on pace to be the first person since Michael Jordan in 1991-92 season to average at least 31 points per game on at least 50 percent shooting (31.1 PPG and 51.2 percent).
One thing that helped Durant’s scoring be so high, and his efficiency so good, is his ability to get back to the free throw line. He’s averaging 10.4 free throws per game since Westbrook had his third surgery. Before that, he was averaging 9.4 free throws. That extra attempt is due to his aggressiveness, and the double teams that he’s facing this season.
While Durant has always been in the talk of the MVP award. This is the first year he’s just absolutely solidified his position as the best player this season. That was just cemented more when the Thunder played the Miami Heat on January 29th. Oklahoma City won in blowout fashion, 112-95. However, it’s the way Durant played is how it happened.
While LeBron James scored 34 points, but it was Durant’s 33 points on 12-of-23 shooting. He also grabbed seven rebounds and dished out five assists. He challenged what James was able to do offensively. James really had to get his points the difficult way. Miami doubled, they switched and they just couldn’t defend Durant. It’s the growth in his game. He gets to his spots and he hits hit shots.
Even when Westbrook returns to Oklahoma City’s line up, the Thunder’s success will be primarily dependent on how well Kevin Durant plays. It has since October 29, 2008, the date of the first ever Thunder game. Westbrook is vital to Oklahoma City’s ability to get through the playoffs. However, if Oklahoma City is going to win a World Championship, they’ll need Durant to continue this level of play.
We’re watching history right now, one of the greatest players to ever play the game. They’ll talk about Durant’s offensive prowess in the same breath as Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. Sounds crazy, but Durant hasn’t really hit his prime yet. He could in the next year or so. Plus, he wants to play until he’s at least 40. On projections, Durant could end up being the all-time leading scorer in NBA history. If he played until he was 40, Durant’s projected to score around 45,000 points. That’s almost 7,000 more points than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s 38,387 points.
So, it back and enjoy the ride Thunder fans. We’re watching a once in a life time type of scorer. The scary part about it all, he’s getting better.Oklahoma City Thunder tickets? Thunder Digest has you covered at Totallytickets.com! We invite you to follow Thunder Digest on Twitter and like Thunder Digest on Facebook. Our Podcast is on iTunes. We also have a Thunder Digest Instagram account if you love fun Thunder photography!