It’s a funny thing: If the Thunder had started 1-2 without the trade, most would’ve just seen it as a small sample with not big reason to worry. But under the circumstances, there’s a rush to draw conclusions and question ideas.
Kevin Durant though tried to put the brakes on all that Monday at practice.
“It’s not the end of the world man. We’re 1-2. We’ve got 79 more games,” he said. “We got a long ways to go. We’re not going to come in after every loss and put our head down and blaming the world because we lost or mad at the world because we lost. It’s just a part of the game. We’ve just got to bounce back.
“We easily could’ve been 3-0,” he said. “We not putting rotations or anything on why we lost these two games. We had these guys up 11 yesterday and we didn’t execute. We had San Antonio up three, we had a few breakdowns in that fourth quarter. It’s not like we’re just totally discombobulated or out of sync. We’re playing together, we’re passing well, defense is good at times but could be better. We just got to focus in and lock in every single minute.”
That’s kind of been my point all along with this new-look team. In terms of production, not much has changed. Kevin Martin has very clearly fit in just find without much pain over working him into the offense. It’s just that Russell Westbrook stunk against San Antonio and the defense stunk against Atlanta.
Chemistry is an easy angle and an obvious buzzword around the team, but realistically, the Thunder look fine. The scoreboard is a funny thing because if it had the Thunder at 3-0, would we be singing praises and ignoring any issues?
One issue I wonder if is in play: The Thunder are having trouble getting up for games right now. The letdown of losing in the Finals is still moderately fresh and these November games against the Hawks and Blazers have to feel kind of meh compared to that. I wonder if they just want to fastforward to April and forget all of this and it’s causing them to lack a sense of urgency.
It’s far too early to make a determination on anything, but the Thunder are definitely in an interesting position. It’s just about keeping a watchful eye on their development. They’re different and they’re going to play differently. One such area being Point Guard KD.
He’s averaging nearly seven assists a game thus far and taking fewer shots. Points are points no matter how you get them but you don’t want Durant’s efficient unstoppable scoring being sacrificed at the expense of more passing. A forced KD jumper is often better than a wide open look created for Thabo.
“I wish I could do a little better than I do it now. I just try to play as hard as I can and leave it all on the floor,” Durant said about his passing. “I want to find my teammates for open shots and make the right basketball play. Sometimes I could shoot over two people but that’s not always the best shot. I know I could make that shot but that’s not always the best shot. So I’ve just got to find a balance.
Who knows what prompted the change. Scott Brooks says it wasn’t the Harden trade that pushed KD into taking on a more playmaking role, but that it was always part of the plan. Maybe it was after watching LeBron rip OKC up in the Finals doing it.
“This is probably the first year I’m passing the ball a little bit better, getting more assists, handling the ball a little bit more, but I’ve just got to find the balance in between knowing when to go score the ball or knowing when to make the right pass,” Durant said.
One thing about Durant that you can’t argue: He’s playing hard. He’s bringing it, he’s working his tail off on the floor. He’s rebounding, he’s defended and he’s trying to make the right plays. Some have resulted in turnovers, some in poor decisions. But as he says, he’s a work in progress and he’s working at improving himself.
The question is, what suits the Thunder the best on the scoreboard? Like KD said, we’ve got 79 games to get a better grip on all of it.
On defense: “The concern to me is, we take pride in never giving up a 30-point quarter. And we started the game off giving one and then we gave a 28 and a 29-point quarter. You can go back last season, I don’t know exactly how many, but it’s probably under 40 of them, that we gave up. So we have to address that issue. It’s the No. 1 issue.”
On how much effort matters versus fundamentals: “I think you have to have the effort. You can have great fundamentals but if you don’t have the effort, it’s not going to work in this league. A lot of times we will go and change coverage up, but you have to give the coverage and the fundamentals a chance with great effort. It’s the egg and the chicken type theory. But I really believe with our defense we have good fundamentals but it only works with great effort.”
On if KD is playmaking more because Harden is gone: “We need Kevin to get into defensive boards. That gives us two things: We get the rebound. Which sometimes we can have difficulties doing that. And the other thing, we don’t have to have an outlet bringing the ball up the floor. He can be a playmaker from that point position. That was always in the mix, that was always in the plan but I think it’s more because he’s rebounding a lot more at a higher clip.”
On Ibaka: “He is one of the most prideful athletes I’ve ever been around.”
On if anything on film seemed to be a simple fix: “Effort. Our effort. That’s as simple as that. We’ve got to bring more on the defensive end. And on the offensive end I have to be more aggressive and stronger and quicker and just do everything I can to help my team.”
On how long he can keep up his current pace of minutes: “About 10 years. I think so. I feel good. Every time I come out of the game I’m ready to go back in after about 30 seconds.”
On if he’s ever handled the ball this much: “Nah, not really. I feel good at it, I feel good doing it too. It’s not like guys are stripping me at halfcourt or I’m losing the ball dribbling.”