When it comes to scoring, Kevin Durant knows what he’s doing. He’s won three straight scoring titles and not just that, he’s one of the league’s most efficient scorers to go with it. He doesn’t score points based on volume of shots. He scores points based on the quality of them.
When KD puts up a shot, there’s a very good chance it’s going in. He rarely chucks anything out of rhythm, rarely forces the issue. It’s one of the reasons I think it’s such a beautiful marriage between him, Russell Westbrook and James Harden. KD picks his spots, but doesn’t hesitate. Westbrook shoots first, thinks later and Harden is if anything, a little too reluctant. But together, it all fits really well.
But that’s the Thunder dynamic. The Team USA one is a little different. Because figuring out how to fit and score when you’re playing with Kobe, LeBron, Chris Paul and eight other All-Stars is kind of difficult. So it’s understandable if Durant might be a tad passive at times.
Still, LeBron wants KD to shoot more. Let it fly, unleash, pull the trigger. All of that.
“I told KD (Durant) to just be himself,” LeBron told reporters after the win over France. “On a team like this you can kind of shy away because there are so many great players here. But KD’s on this team for a reason. He’s one of the best players the world has and he’s a three-time scoring champ. So we don’t want the KD that defers. We want the KD that he is in Oklahoma City.”
Durant led Team USA with 22 points on 13 shots, which was the most on the team. But like Coach K in 2010 on the World Championship team, LeBron is prodding KD to be himself and feel comfortable taking shots.
Here’s the thing: Sometimes during regular Thunder games, I wish KD would shoot more. With his ability and effortless ability to put the ball in the basket, if he were willing to let loose, scoring 30, 33 or 35 points a game seems completely reasonable. But that’s the beauty of Durant. That restraint to always focus on efficiency, to focus on including teammates, to focus on the five players working together rather than just getting out of his way is what makes him such splendid player.
LeBron’s not the only one either. Kobe was seen talking to KD during the win over France and when asked what he said, Kobe replied, “Shoot the … ball.”
Said KD: “Sometimes coach was screaming at me. And Chris Paul was screaming at me more than anybody, ‘Shoot the ball!’ I guess I’ve got to be aggressive.”
With Durant’s length and size, the shorter 3-point line, his absurd outside touch and the fact there’s absolutely nobody in the world that’s not on Team USA that can come close to guarding him, it makes sense. Durant is Team USA’s most lethal offensive weapon, because the game just sets up so well for him. With LeBron playing distributor and so much other offensive talent distracting opposing defenders so that they can’t solely focus on Durant, KD is going to have his looks.
LeBron, Kobe, Coach K and everyone else is seeing what we all see. KD can get it when he wants it. Scott Brooks notoriously had to urge Durant to shoot more often at times this season and in the playoffs. Because Durant’s first desire is to play team ball, to fit in, to not force, to work together. It’s his instinct, his nature. And it’s a lot of what makes him such a joy to watch. He scores 30 points, takes 22 shots and does it without looking at all self-servant.
Not to go off on a tangent here, but it’s a big reason so much ire is directed at Westbrook and not Durant. It’s the way KD gets his points, the way he attempts shots. There’s a whole other feel to Durant’s game. It’s selfish while being completely selfless. Him shooting a jumper almost feels like he’s serving the greater good of the team.
(Actually, a quick aside on Westbrook: Clearly, unlike Durant, he doesn’t come close feeling comfortable being himself in this setting. Maybe that’s Coach K neutering him a bit, or maybe it’s just Westbrook’s decision to play completely as a slasher off the ball looking only for opportunities in transition while playing hyperintense on-ball defense. But it’s a little jarring to watch Westbrook so passive with the ball in his hands, especially when he’s even open.)
I fully support Durant shooting more. Because as much as I love America and want Team USA to roll, I almost equally love watching KD score. And lucky for me, best of both worlds means if KD’s scoring, the U.S. is rolling.