Kevin Durant wasn't in a promise-making mood Friday.
And the truth is, when it comes to his shot selection he may never again be.
Two days before opening the 2013 NBA Playoffs, Durant dodged the one question everyone is dying for him to answer.
Will he finally start shooting more in this postseason?
“I'm just going to go out there and have fun with the game,” Durant said. “Whatever the defense throws at me I'm going to try to go out there and play. If I need to make a pass, I'm going to make a pass. I know I'm going to be extra aggressive, whether it's the pass or whether it's to score. I just got to go out there and play my game.”
And with that, the mystery continues.
Even in a year in which he just missed leading the league in scoring for a fourth consecutive season, Durant seemed reluctant to do what he does best: be the coldblooded scorer fans knew and loved.
In his sixth season, Durant was hell-bent on expanding his game. Instead of more shots, he took less. Rather than apply pressure on defenses, he played possum.
The overall results were hard to argue. The Thunder finished in first place in the Western Conference, with its first 60-win season, while Durant enjoyed an efficient season of historic proportions.
But deferring wasn't always pretty.
As he attempted to become a better playmaker, Durant's passing left more to be desired. His propensity for sloppy passes and piling up turnovers suggested Durant — and the Thunder — would be best served reverting to what he does best.
Twenty one times this season Durant finished with five or more turnovers.
The Thunder went 12-9 in those games.
Now, after a season of trial and error, Durant's passing skills are about to be put to the test in the face of the win-or-go-home pressure of the playoffs. But this is the exact point in the year that Durant and the Thunder had in mind when putting up with those painful November nights, when he averaged 3.5 turnovers, and those maddening moments in March, when Durant's turnover rate skyrocketed to 4.2 per game.
All year, Durant and those responsible for his development knew his improvement wouldn't happen overnight. But the long term benefits far outweighed the short term ramifications.
With the blockbuster trade that sent James Harden to Houston, someone had to step up and be the playmaker Harden used to be. Russell Westbrook certainly did his part, averaging 1.9 assists more this season than he did a year ago. Durant, meanwhile, accepted the challenge along with everything else he was developing as part of his progression.
Durant averaged a career-high 4.3 assists this season, one per game more than last year. He notched all of his three career triple-doubles this season and had 25 games of at least six assists, up from 12 a year ago. The Thunder was 18-7 in those games.
In a candid moment inside a cramped San Francisco gym last week, Durant, for the first time, explained in detail exactly why he spent much of the season facilitating. Given the team's 28-3 record this season when five players scored in double digits, it was no surprise that Durant's logic centered on building up his teammates.
The better role players like Thabo Sefolosha, Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins are, Durant said, the better the Thunder will be.
“I could easily take 25, 30 shots, but I think I'm getting Thabo six or seven shots, Perk five or six shots, Serge six or seven,” Durant said. “So I'm kind of mixing up my shots and getting it to my teammates and their confidence is growing and growing with that. Because I know that in the playoffs, if we want to get to where we want to get to you'll need everybody to contribute. So it's a good place to start.”
Hours later, Durant then went out and finished one assist shy of recording a triple-double in the Thunder's win at Golden State. He did it while taking just 16 shots and being fully aware of the criticism that has come with such few attempts.
“They don't know the game of basketball, I don't think,” Durant said of his critics. “It is what it is. I'm going to continue to play my game. I think if you look at it, I've gotten better over every category since last season. So I don't know what else people can say. I've heard that I'm not aggressive enough. I need to shoot more. I need to take shots from Russell. I don't really get that. But I'm going to play my game. I'm not going to let the outside people dictate what I do.”
That's the only guarantee Durant will give.
“We're going to need everybody to contribute,” Durant said of the playoffs. “It's going to be nights when I have to score 30-plus for us to win. It's going to be nights when I have to take 10 shots for us to win, or get eight assists and 12 rebounds. I'm just trying to figure out ways to do it other than just scoring every game. And this year I think I've done a good job of it.”