Maybe this will hush the haters and douse some sense onto the doubters.
Kevin Durant, in his 391st NBA game Sunday night, registered his first triple-double.
He scored 25 points, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished 10 assists and looked as complete as we’ve ever seen him in the Thunder’s 119-109 victory over Golden State.
Meet the new and improved version of the league’s most skilled scoring machine.
Durant, in his sixth season, has put scoring on the backburner and become determined on being a well-rounded baller. Few have been able to stomach his new approach, as if the best scorer of this generation must be confined to pleasing us by only putting the ball in the basket.
But Durant is doing what he feels is best.
“I’m not even worried about, first off, what people got to say on the outside,” Durant said shortly after securing his milestone. “You’re going to need everybody to get to where you want to get.”
He gets it.
He knows the Thunder is at its best when the ball is popping around the perimeter and every single player on the court is a scoring threat. If anyone is in need of a reminder, just pull up Games 2 through 5 of last year’s NBA Finals.
Durant has sacrificed, both shots and scoring, for the greater good.
Through 11 games he’s averaging 16.5 shots, a career-low that is 0.6 fewer than he attempted as a 19-year-old rookie. His 24.5-point scoring average is the lowest since his rookie year.
Yet his 4.6 assists per game currently are 1.1 per game more than last year’s career best output. That effort has helped the Thunder, which finished dead last in assists per game a year ago, shoot up to the middle of the pack this year with a 22.4 average.
“Every year, for the next 100 years, he’s going to be an MVP-type caliber player,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “And this is what MVP players do. They make your team better. You win games. And you do everything. You fill the stat sheet. You don’t want to be a guy that just scores 35 and your team doesn’t have success. Nobody feels good other than the guy who’s scoring 35. And he’s not like that. He’s never been like that. But he can score 35. But he can also rebound and pass and defend and run and make free throws and shoot 3s. He’s as well-rounded a player in this league that you will see.”
Brooks has stressed to Durant to be a playmaker, not simply a passer.
There’s a difference.
“I was a passer,” Brooks said. “I couldn’t make plays. Kevin can make plays. And by doing that he helps our guys get easy shots with his passes. That’s what he’s worked on.”
Durant’s struggle is most readily seen in the turnover column of the stat sheet. Entering Sunday’s game, Durant paced all Thunder players with four turnovers per game. He was third-to-last league-wide behind Jrue Holiday and James Harden, the reason many groan when Durant defers.
Sunday’s triple-double, though, served as vindication for Durant mostly because he racked up 10 assists while turning the ball over just twice in 39 minutes. Four different players benefited from Durant’s playmaking, led by Kevin Martin, who buried five buckets while benefiting from Durant being a wizard for much of the night with the penetrate-and-pitch game.
This is what it looks when Durant is totally in sync.
“He’s always been a great passer. It’s just up to us to make the shots,” said Russell Westbrook, who scored a game-high 30 points and finished three plays off Durant passes, including a monster breakaway dunk just before halftime.
“I think we’re doing a better job of making shots for him and making sure we’re spaced out and he has space to work and he has an opportunity to make good passes.”
Perhaps is time to look elsewhere to find the player who’ll provide our points in bunches. Durant, the reigning three-time scoring champ, proved again Sunday he’s long past that.
And the Thunder doesn’t mind one bit.
“Some guys can just pass. Some guys can just shoot. Some guys can just rebound,” Brooks said. “Obviously with Kevin, he can do many things on the floor and we always have to challenge him because we don’t know how good he will end up being.”