Kevin Durant feels different.
It took him five years to get to this point, but now that he’s here he can’t wait to see where it takes him.
As he opens his sixth season with the Thunder’s preseason opener against Houston tonight, Durant says he’s more comfortable, more confident. He’s as relaxed as he’s ever been at the start of a new season and ready to embrace his growing role as the chief leader on an Oklahoma City squad that returns younger than last year.
“I’m just more focused and locked in on what we have to do,” Durant explained. “Me being a leader on this team — most of our veteran guys are gone and we’re adding younger guys — I know what it takes for us to be a good team in this league and I know what I have to do to help this team grow. So I’m just excited around this time.”
That hasn’t always been the case. In fact, the truth is it’s never been.
“The last few years I’ve been nervous coming into the first preseason game,” Durant said. “Just wondering how we’re going to do, how I’m going to do. But I’m more excited this time. I’m just letting it all hang out and having fun, go back to having fun and I’ll be fine.”
The soft-spoken Durant entered this season vowing to become more of a vocal leader.
So far so good.
“It’s been going well,” Durant said. “We have a lot of different personalities on this team, and you’ve got to talk to guys a certain way. I’ve known all these guys for three or four years. It’s just a matter of me speaking up and telling them what I see, and these guys listen. So it’s perfect having a great group of players that listen to each other and want to get better. So it’s making my job easier.”
As for his game, Durant wants to be even better than he was a year ago. But the evidence may not necessarily be found in his points average or his assist-to-turnover ratio. It’s the little things, Durant said, that can make a major impact if he can be better at them this year.
“I’m just going to try to up my intensity on both ends of the floor, especially defensively,” Durant said. “I know that’s going to be tough, but I just got to put my mind to it and go out there and do it. And just try to do the necessary things for us to win, diving on the floor, taking charges, making the right play and being aggressive on offense. It’s a long season for me and for us. I just got to take it slow and work as hard as I can every single day to get better.”
Durant enjoyed his most efficient season to date last year, shooting a career best 49.6 percent from the field. He also became a better rebounder, passer and shot-blocker, posting career-highs in each of those categories as well.
But the three-time scoring champ says he can be even better in all the other facets of the game.
“I just want to raise it up a little bit more,” Durant said. “I think I got another level I can go to. It’s not easy. It’s easier said than done. I just got to be well-conditioned to go out there and give it my all on both ends of the floor night in and night out, and I’ve got to be willing to sacrifice a wide open shot maybe for a better shot or maybe a dunk for my teammates. So I got to just continue to watch film and see where I can get better and continue to keep improving on the defensive end.”