“When you watch them play, the joy is not there. That’s pretty clear to me.”
That’s what David Thorpe said on TrueHoop TV today. And with that lack of joy, has manifested some causes for concern.
Things like the downturn in ball movement and in team play, and the rise of selfish stat-padding and too much individual awareness.
Thorpe said Russell Westbrook has remained Russell Westbrook — “he’s marvelous and a pain in the butt at the same time” — but has noticed a changed in both Serge Ibaka and Kevin Durant. He notes Durant’s penchant for flailing his arms in the air when he’s open, and Ibaka seeming to take more notice of his box score than his actual on court impact.
One thing Thorpe mentioned specifically was KD recently pointing out to the scorekeeper that he was owed two points on the big board, using that as a reference for Durant’s attention being on superficial things like the scoring title or 50-40-90. And while I think some of that extracurricular stuff has factored in with KD, because come on, he wants to play well and do historical things, the fact is Durant has been doing that stuff with the scorekeeper for a long, long time.
KD tracks his numbers in his head obsessively throughout games, down to turnovers, assists, what he’s shooting from the floor, rebounds and of course, points. I remember a game last season where Durant threw a half-oop, half-shot out of bounds. He came over to the scorekeeper and asked him if he had scored it a turnover or a shot attempt. The scorekeeper said turnover, to which Durant said, “Good, I’d rather have a turnover than a miss.”
Or take Durant’s answer to the halfcourt heave thing. Some could perceive that as him being selfish and valuing individual stats over team. But in reality, he’s just doing what everyone else with a brain would do.
Now is that some cause for grand concern that KD values himself over team? I think if you’re really asking that, then you don’t know jack about Durant. Thing is, he cares about himself and his individual performance because he has a brain. Every player does. They all study box scores at halftime and after games. They want to know. Some let it influence their play on the floor more than others, but with Durant, while he’s tracking and thinking about stats, he’s still playing with only the mission of winning. Doesn’t take a genius to know though that the better Durant plays, the better chance of that the Thunder have.
The concerns Thorpe has though, which I think very legitimate, he says have an easy cure. The postseason. And I think he’s dead on. In the playoffs, stats don’t matter. The scoreboard only does. Let’s face it: Over the haul of an 82-game schedule where you know your team is good and will likely be a top-two seed, it’s sort of easy to get bored, or at least distracted. I think those things like 50-40-90 or triple-doubles or scoring titles are what help keep your attention night to night. Winning is the priority, of course, but within that you might need a little extra personal motivation to get up for the game.
In the playoffs, all that is gone. It’s about having more than the opponent, and that’s it. So some of those seemingly selfish characteristics fly out and the mission and goal becomes much clearer.
“The postseason magically heals a lot of wounds,” Thorpe said.
One wound though that hopefully gets a bandaid? The gash Derek Fisher’s playing time has put in the team. Thorpe put it this way: “He’s just been horribly bad.” I think that’s being nice. And that sort of thing can also weigh on a team. Especially guys like Kevin Martin, Thabo Sefolosha and Reggie Jackson who are losing minutes while Fisher high-butts his way around the court for 15 minutes a night. Fisher is supposed to add chemistry and be a “locker room leader.” But honestly, it’s not hard to see how his addition could upset the locker room some simply because he’s taking their time.
All that said, Thorpe still thinks the Thunder win the West, and uses a nice analogy to illustrate why. He says Scott Brooks is like a jockey riding horse right now. He has the whip, but he’s just letting his thoroughbred run right now. And when the time comes, he’ll crack the whip.
At least, that’s the hope. Otherwise, these issues might become something scarier — problems.