It’s no secret. Kevin Durant has not been playing like Kevin Durant through five games. He’s still averaging 26.4 points per game, but it’s on 37.4 percent shooting, including 28.6 percent from 3. (That 0-10 game really threw things off.)
Durant has been a bit of a slow starter the past few years and typically, he hits a stretch around the middle of December where he absolutely becomes unguardable. Last season, he averaged around 25 ppg on mediocre averages before launching into that ridiculous scoring fest where he put up 25 points or more in 29 straight games. He had a stretch where he averaged 32 ppg on 50-50-90 shooting for over a month. So don’t fret. KD’s just a slow cooker.
Though the one interesting thing I’ve notice is how Durant is being used a little different. For instance, the past two games against the Clippers and the Blazers, Durant took just eight total free throws combined. Consider that last season, he attempted over 10 a game and led the league. KD is a fantastic scorer, but he does it so efficiently because he gets to the line and makes his free throws.
But currently, he’s settling. And therefore, he’s not seeing any of those easy looks.
For example, so far this year Durant is attempting just 3.8 field goal attempts at the rim, down from a career average of over five. He’s taking more 3s and more shots from 16-23 feet than ever. He’s still being assisted on a regular amount of shots, but there are more isolation plays and more jumpers.
Though honestly, a lot of the issue is, the ball just isn’t going down. Durant doesn’t miss 10 consecutive shots from 3 very often. But it has happened. Last season, he went through a stretch where he missed 14 straight spanning three games.
The concern, albeit a small one, is that he’s not getting to the stripe with any regularity. It’s mainly an issue from the lack of ball movement for the Thunder and bad spacing. Durant doesn’t have anywhere to drive and create contact, therefore, he can’t get to the line. Plus, he’s forcing the issue a bit himself, trying too hard to be aggressive. Which is part of the reason his turnovers are at 24 through five games.
Against the Blazers, the Thunder kept trying to post Durant at the top of the key for an isolation on Nicolas Batum. It worked to some degree, but only on a few possessions. Instead of running sets where KD curls off screens and pops off pin-downs, it was all one-on-one. That type of stuff works a lot for the likes of Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony, but Durant is more deadly getting the ball on the move. Obviously developing that isolation game will make him that much better and when you’re 6’11 and you can shoot over any defender, I’ll take it, but I feel like there was better offense to be had.
Another aspect is that KD is pressing. He’s trying a bit too hard to live up to expectation. He’s trying a little too hard to be a star. He’s trying to hard to be The Leader. Understandable too, because he’s heard about it all summer. It’d be hard to hear about how you’re going to be the MVP and then to not go out and try and play like it. He’ll settle in soon enough.
(Two things I’m adding because I just thought of them: 1) John Krolik who is nothing short of brilliant pointed out to me that KD hasn’t been able to use the Rip Move much and maybe that’s directly related to his jumper not falling. To my count, Durant has only used the rip successfully just once this year. And 2) I think here’s another situation where Nick Collison is so helpful. Durant coming off a Collison screen is just that much more open than Durant coming off a Jeff Green or Serge Ibaka screen.)
All of this will be straightened out soon enough because Durant is too much of a basketball player to go very long. The miracle of it all is that the Thunder is still 3-2 despite KD’s struggles. The Thunder offense hinges almost exclusively around Durant’s shot-making and playmaking ability, but because of Russell Westbrook’s stellar play and some scrappy offense from Jeff Green, Serge Ibaka and others in a few spots, the Thunder’s done enough to get it done.
Both the offense and defense have been issues for OKC this season and we saw both start to get sorted a bit against the Blazers. The two didn’t work in concert very often, but the offense clicked in the first half to keep OKC in it while the defense is eventually what got the job done in the second.
Things need to improve though. The game against the Blazers was nice, but it doesn’t mean everything is all well, good and fixed. The offense still lacks movement and fluidity (OKC ranks dead last in assists per game) and the Thunder has to quit playing so much one-on-one, selfish basketball.
Once they figure out those things, which in turn will help get Durant straightened out, we should be pretty darn all right.