The U.S. slipped past a scrappy Russian squad 89-79 today behind a ho-hum 33 from Kevin Durant and 12 from Russell Westbrook. As pointed out to me via Twitter, the Thunder duo notched over half of Team USA’s total output. That’s pretty cool.
KD was absolutely fantastic, hitting 11-19 from the floor and basically carrying the U.S. to a win. Without Durant’s scoring ability, Team USA would have been in a lot of trouble. Westbrook keyed a third quarter run that basically put the game away. He was all over the place, flying in passing lanes, attacking the rim with no regard for his own well-being and dunking the ball on fast breaks. His energy fired up Team USA and was a major part in the win.
But one thing Fran Fraschilla pointed out during the game that I thought was a smart point: In international play thus far, we’ve seen KD play much more as a one-on-one player than we have during his time in the NBA. With Scott Brooks, Durant runs a lot off of high screens and pin-downs. He scores a lot in transition and a lot off cuts.
In fact, according to Synergy Sports, Durant had 634 isolation plays last season and scored on 45 percent of them. Twenty-five percent of Durant’s overall touches come on isolation. He had 204 plays on pick-and-roll plays, 253 on spot-ups, 404 coming off screens and 365 in transition. So yes, most of his plays came in isolation. But compare that to say, LeBron, Kobe, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony who are the other elite scorers Durant is compared with.
LeBron had 758 iso plays, and only 49 coming off screens. Carmelo had 783 iso plays and just 25 coming off screens. Wade gets the majority of his touches on pick-and-roll as the ball handler and 176 touches coming off screens. So it’s pretty clear, of the elite scorers in the league, Durant gets his points a different way. Kobe had 804 iso plays and just 123 coming off screens (and 523 off post-ups, which is way higher than anyone else). KD is more like Ray Allen than LeBron, Kobe or Carmelo.
But with Team USA, KD has been used a lot more in isolation situations, playing more one-on-one than usual. Now obviously that’s just a difference in Coach K’s system compared to Scott Brooks, but either way, Durant is going to score. KD has worked extremely hard in the offseason improving his strength and ball-handling ability in traffic. So maybe that opens the door to more isolation and one-on-one play.
One underrated aspect is in end of the clock situations. Last season, Durant struggled getting free to get a late shot up. I even did a video breakdown about that exact situation. One of the reasons is because KD scores mainly off of someone else’s penetration or from a set play. In a late clock situation where Durant needs to create his own, he struggles, especially if a second defender is ran at him. With this improved one-on-one play, KD might just be the deadly late game scorer we know he can be.
The perfect mix for Durant and the Thunder is for him to be able to do both. You want Scott Brooks to still call his sets for Durant. You want KD still rolling off screens. But you also want Durant to have that takeover ability, something that he’s showing off a little in Turkey.
Will it be something we see this season? I’d say it’s likely. Brooks had to be creative with Durant last season to make sure he played to his strengths. As KD’s game evolves, so will the way he scores. Add in the ability to score in one-on-one situations along with the lights out shooting and ability to curl off screens, and you basically have an unguardable player. Oh, and let me mention yet again, he’s not even 22 years old yet.