He dominated play in the FIBA World Championship, entered this season pegged as the front-runner for MVP and showed flashes of dominance in the preseason. So why is Kevin Durant shooting 39 percent from the field through six games, while averaging more than twice as many turnovers as assists? It's become one of the biggest mysteries to the Oklahoma City Thunder's season thus far. But here are five possible reasons why Durant has gotten off to a slow start.
Stronger defenses: No one inside the Thunder's organization thought added attention on Durant would be a problem. But so far it has thrown him off his rhythm. Already, we've seen opposing teams run two additional defenders at Durant the moment he catches the ball. It's made Durant make quicker decisions, which has led to rushed shots and additional turnovers.
Lack of support: The Thunder's supposed improved supporting cast has been anything but to start this season. Thabo Sefolosha, Jeff Green, James Harden and Daequan Cook so far have failed in their roles of taking pressure off Durant by providing floor spacing through perimeter shooting to keep defenses honest. That foursome has shot a combined 10 of 57 (17.5 percent) from 3-point range. Their ineffectiveness has allowed more eyes to lock in on Durant and more defenders to load up without the threat of someone else knocking down open shots. And because his teammates are also in so much of a shooting funk, Durant's playmaking hasn't paid off thus far either.
He's pressing: In his fourth season, Durant is attempting to make his biggest leap as a complete player by becoming a bona fide playmaker. The ball is in Durant's hands more than it's ever been and it has taken away from what he does best, which is score. Durant has admitted to thinking too much on the court rather than playing instinctively as he's always done. That largely explains his current 4.6-turnover average, as Durant has spent stretches over-passing and dribbling his way into charges. Durant was incredibly effective coming off screens last season, but he will never reach his full potential as a player by scoring mostly in those spots. The results of Durant's evolving playmaking skills might be repulsive now. But two seasons from now, he'll be much better by going through these current growing pains.
Shot selection: Simply put, Durant has settled. With everything else sputtering, Durant's desire to fight for higher percentage shots has dipped as well. Through six games, only four of Durant's 22.8 average shot attempts have come at the rim. He finished last season attempting 5.3 shots at the rim. And his efficiency has slipped as well, from a 69.8 percent conversion rate last year to a 58.3 percent clip this year. Although Durant has doubled his attempts from within 10 feet, he has attempted two more shots per game from 16 to 23 feet and nearly one more 3-pointer a game than he did a year ago. Durant's more passive attack also has resulted in 1.2 fewer free throw attempts than last year's league-leading 10.2 mark. We aren't likely to see Durant continue to misfire so much from the perimeter. But to boost his percentages, Durant must continue to be assertive in attacking and finishing at the rim.
Fatigue: Durant would never admit to it, but it's possible he is drained. Lately, Durant has dropped more and more hints that fatigue has set in. He admitted to having a stretch of exhaustion in training camp. And following Sunday's game against Boston, he acknowledged he could have used a bit of a breather rather than playing nearly 44 minutes. Durant currently leads the NBA in minutes at 42.7 per game. Add those to the team-leading 28.2 average he logged for Team USA — which came on the heels of an 88-game season last year in which he played 39.4 minutes — and it's understandable how he might be drained. Even 22-year-olds get worn out.
THUNDER VS. SIXERS
When: 7 p.m.
Where: Oklahoma City Arena.
TV: FS Oklahoma (Cox 37, HD Ch. 722).
Radio: WWLS 98.1-FM, WWLS 640-AM.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW
* Sixers guard Andre Iguodala is not expected to play tonight because of an Achilles injury.
* Philadelphia ranks third in steals with 9.43 per game.
* Thunder forward Jeff Green is doubtful tonight because of a sprained ankle.
Pos., Player, Ht., Pts., Reb., Ast
G, Russell Westbrook, 6-3, 21.2, 6.5, 7.2
G, Thabo Sefolosha, 6-7, 188.8.131.52, 2.0
F, Kevin Durant, 6-9, 27.7, 7.0, 2.0
F, Serge Ibaka, 6-9, 10.5, 8.2, 0.0
C, Nenad Krstic, 7-0, 7.3, 5.3, 0.3
Pos., Player, Ht., Pts., Reb., Ast
G, Jrue Holiday, 6-4, 14.1, 3.3, 6.1
G, Evan Turner, 6-7, 9.3, 6.0, 2.6
F, Andres Nocioni, 6-7, 9.0, 4.0, 1.1
F, Elton Brand, 6-9, 18.6, 8.1, 2.0
C, Spencer Hawes, 7-1, 4.6, 2.6, 0.6