ORLANDO — Kevin Durant offered up one reason why he accepted the invitation to participate in this year's 3-point contest at All-Star Weekend.
“I did so bad last year, I'm going to be more focused and ready to make some shots this year,” said Durant, a late add into Saturday night's sharpshooting event as injured Atlanta guard Joe Johnson's replacement. “All that smiling stuff I was doing last year is going to be out the window. I'm going to look forward to making some shots.”
How bad was Durant last year? Out of 25 shots, Durant made just five for a total of six points at All-Star Saturday night in Los Angeles. One of his few made 3-pointers was a multicolored money ball, which is worth two points. It was the fewest points in a 3-point contest since Vladimir Radmanovic tied that same point total in 2005.
The performance gave credence to Durant's long-held claim that he simply isn't a 3-point contest type of shooter.
This year, though, Durant insists he'll be dialed in. Last year, his approach was so out of character that even the event's broadcasters could pinpoint Durant's downfall.
“That's not his natural shot that he's doing right now,” said TNT analyst Kenny Smith as Durant finished the second-to-last rack. “That's not the shot that he takes in a game. So he's trying to alter his shot because he knows it's so many racks. Even when you practice on your own, you take gamelike shots.”
Durant was aware of the difference last year, too.
Now, the reigning two-time scoring champion will seek to use his performance Saturday night as a lesson he can take with him throughout not only the final 32 games of this season but also the rest of his career.
“I got to shoot every shot the same,” he said. “It's sometimes I don't jump. It's sometimes I don't leave my hand up there. I've just got to be disciplined in my shot and hopefully this 3-point contest will help me out with that.”
From 3-point range, Durant is a career 35.8 percent shooter, a very respectable clip. He's shooting 36.5 percent this year, which is tied with his connection rate of seasons ago. His 4.7 attempts per game trail only last year's 5.3 average attempts for his career high.
But as he continues to evolve as a player, Durant says he needs to be more judicious with his 3-ball.
“I think I've got to keep it down,” Durant said. “I shot eight (Thursday) night. But I got wide-open looks. If I got a wide-open look, sometimes it's tough to turn down. And records show that if we turn down an open 3, we turn the ball over right after that. So I just try to take wide open shots … If they're open, I've got to take them. If not, I can't shoot a contested 3. I got to get something going to the rim.”
Durant is relying much less on the 3-point shot as he strives to become a complete player. While operating as a facilitator much more this season, Durant has passed up long-range shots and made it a point to get to the basket for higher percentage attempts.
According to Hoopdata.com, Durant is shooting a career-high 50.8 percent between three and nine feet. He's also taken an average of 1.2 more shots in the 10 to 15 range this year and has reduced his shots from 16 to 23 feet by two per game and his 3s by 0.7 per game.
“I like how he uses it. It's unique,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He can use it in transition. He can use it in the half court. And Kevin's one of the few guys that can use it on a pin-down. It's hard to come off a screen, turn around, get your feet gathered, shoulders squared up to the basket and shoot it. But he can do that. He can do it for game-winners and he can do it in a half court set. Kevin is a terrific and talented kid that has the skill set that not a lot of people have.”
Brooks said Durant's mix of length and shooting ability makes him a dangerous threat to shoot with success from long range against any defender. And Durant's ball-handling skills, Brooks said, always will keep opponents off balance.
“If you don't guard him, he shoots over you,” Brooks said. “If you guard him, he can drive around you. And he can go left or right. We're not coaching that. That's what he is. He works on that every day. But we need him to shoot 3s.
“I like him to shoot four or five a game because when he's out there it really opens up the lanes for Russell and James to get inside and score easy buckets around the rim. But he can't live out there. There's going to be nights that he's not shooting well from outside.”
Durant's growing post game, which Brooks said is an aspect the team works to improve every day, should become the counter to the 3-point shot.
“With that, he can score and he can command a double team and it allows our shooters on the perimeter to get shots,” Brooks said.
Asked about Durant's chances of winning Saturday's 3-point contest, however, Brooks showed absolutely zero confidence in his star forward.
“He has no shot of doing that,” Brooks said, only half-jokingly. “I'm not being hard on him. But Kevin has no shot of winning the 3-point contest. Like I tell him, how do you think you're going to go out there and shoot five racks of basketballs and not practice it one time in practice?
“I mean, he's a gamer. I will give him that. That guy is a gamer. He is a ballplayer. But he's not that good. That would be disgusting to the game if he did win it.”