Kevin Durant's month of January will be remembered for what he did putting the ball in the basket.
But let's not forget the job he did putting the ball in his teammates' hands.
Durant averaged 6.1 assists in January, the most of any full month in his career.
While he was carving up opponents with his highly publicized scoring spree, Durant also was displaying his most precision yet as a passer. His scoring sparked so much fear into opponents that Durant began feasting off double teams and making everybody else more dangerous. With his ability and willingness to orchestrate the offense and create easy scoring opportunities for teammates, Durant quickly became a dual threat.
And his playmaking became perhaps the most overlooked factor in the Thunder's recent 10-game winning streak.
“It hasn't only been Durant,” said Brooklyn forward Paul Pierce of the Thunder following OKC's 25-point drubbing of the Nets. “Durant has been the guy getting the headlines, but if you look across during the winning streak, they've had a number of guys step up. (Serge) Ibaka has definitely been one of them, and so are some of their other guys. That's just a great player making his other teammates better.”
Durant dished 97 assists in January, 14 more than his previous high in any month. It's no coincidence that Ibaka, Reggie Jackson and Jeremy Lamb all enjoyed career-high scoring averages for any month in January. Derek Fisher, Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, meanwhile, all enjoyed season-high scoring averages in the month.
Certainly, some of that spike is a direct correlation to Russell Westbrook missing the entire month, as well as the natural progression of young players. But it's also a reflection of the impact Durant had on his teammates, many of whom, remember, did not step up their scoring production in the absence of Westbrook in last year's postseason.
How much better is Durant making his mates?
“It's hard to say, but I think a lot better,” said Sefolosha. “It's tough to put any type of numbers to it or anything like that. But I think we are all getting open shots because (defenders) have to double team, triple team sometimes. So it makes everybody's job a lot easier to play with a guy like Kevin.”
Before to last Monday's game against Atlanta, when Durant was coming off a triple-double at Philadelphia, Thunder coach Scott Brooks was asked what the more impressive aspect of Durant's stretch has been. Brooks pondered the question for maybe five seconds.
“Passing,” Brooks finally said.
“His playmaking ability is a big part of what we do,” Brooks said. “He helps guys get good shots, just like guys help him get good shots … He's always been about the team. Kevin can score a lot of points, but he's not a selfish player. Sometimes, it's hard not to look at a guy who led the league in three out of the last four years in scoring (like that). But he's a team guy. He's a complete basketball player.”
Durant's assist percentage, or the percentage of teammate field goals a player assisted while he was on the floor, is 25.3 percent this year, a career high. Last year, it was 21.7 percent. The year before, it was 17.5 percent.
The Thunder averaged 21 assists in January, just 1.9 fewer than December. Not the drop off you might expect from a team missing its starting point guard and his seven assists per game.
It's a credit to Durant's progression as a playmaker, something that was never more evident than in January yet greatly overshadowed by his scoring tear.
“Last year, I was thinking too much that I needed to make up for the loss of Russ (Westbrook) when we all needed to just do it together,” Durant said. “It was a great learning experience for all of us.
“I'm not looking to score a lot of points all the time. I'm just playing off how the game is going. My team may need me, for a stretch, to try to score and be aggressive. But I'm all about winning the basketball game, however it comes.”