OKC Thunder: Kevin Durant has evolved into clutch player

MAIN EVENT — As part of his maturation, Kevin Durant has become a lethal scorer during crunchtime for the Thunder.
By Darnell Mayberry, Staff writer, dmayberry@opubco.com Published: February 20, 2012
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Kevin Durant doesn't care for the nickname “Kid Clutch.”

“I'm not a kid,” he said recently.

But clutch? Well, there's just no disputing that.

Not anymore.

In 4 1/2 seasons, Durant has evolved into one of the most lethal crunchtime scorers in the NBA. According to 82games.com, Durant's 53.4 points per 48 minutes of clutch time rank second behind only Philadelphia guard Louis Williams' 55.9 this season.

Clutch time is defined as the fourth quarter or overtime, with less than five minutes remaining and neither team ahead by more than five points.

“We've been in so many situations throughout the years of closing games out that he's figured out a way to find a spot on the floor where he wants to score,” said Thunder guard Russell Westbrook.

But Thunder fans, of course, know Durant wasn't always this deadly. There was a time when many questioned whether Durant was clutch. Back then, Durant misfired on many last-second shots, leading some to question if he was the team's go-to guy.

Data detailed just how much Durant struggled then and how he's developed since. In 2008-09, the Thunder's first season in Oklahoma City, Durant ranked 33rd in the NBA in points per 48 clutch-time minutes. In 135 clutch-time minutes, Durant had an overall plus-minus of minus-25. A year later, Durant improved his ranking to 14th but still had an overall plus minus of minus-23 in 185 total minutes.

Durant didn't truly arrive as a big-shot maker, according to statistical data, until last season, when he produced 44.2 points per 48 clutch-time minutes and generated a positive plus-minus for the first time at plus-20 in 211 total minutes (see chart).


WHAT THEY REMEMBER

We asked Kevin Durant's teammates and coaches to share their favorite big shot from No. 35.

Russell Westbrook: “The recent one. At home against Dallas. It was definitely the biggest shot because they just hit a big one with about one to two seconds remaining. It was a tough shot. I liked the confidence he had in taking the shot. During the timeout, he wanted the ball to close the game. And he does a good job of finishing games out.”

Royal Ivey: “Last year against the Knicks. That was the biggest one. They were struggling, and they were trying to get a win. They were up, too, at the time. He was going for the jugular. He stepped up and waited for the time to expire and pulled the trigger. It's been a few, but the Knicks was definitely my favorite. Hometown. Everybody was talking about it, and he just stepped up and hit 'em with the dagger.”

Scott Brooks: “I don't have a favorite. There are so many. I love the kid. I love what he's about. I love that he cares about doing the right things. I love that he cares about winning. I don't have a favorite moment or shot. I just know that the kid is a special kid and that he's going to keep getting better because of the time that he puts into it.”

Kendrick Perkins: “It's got to be the Dallas game. He was the guy that actually came into the huddle and called out, ‘Don't switch on the pick-and-rolls. Don't give 'em no 3s.' And then Vince Carter hit the 3. And then he came back in the huddle and said, ‘Give me the ball.' And we gave him the ball and he did something with it. So that was definitely the biggest shot, I think. And just the distance. He shot it with his normal shooting touch, and the range he had on it I thought went a long way in how it ended. And it was actually a game-winner. He left no time on the clock so it was a big-time shot.”

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