The Oklahoman’s staff writers discuss three topics surrounding Kevin Durant.
How much better can Kevin Durant be, given the season he assembled this year?
Darnell Mayberry, Thunder beat writer: I think he’s got plenty of room to grow, and I think he’ll be the first to admit that. Durant can be a better and more consistent defender, especially off the ball, he can develop his post-up game, rebound better, take better care of the ball, especially when driving to the basket in traffic, and he can impose his will more often. Each of those things individually could take his game to higher levels. Add them together and there’s no telling what Durant could do. But he might not beef up all those areas and blend them together for another three to four seasons. Then and only then will he truly be at his best.
Anthony Slater, Thunder beat writer: In that impressive mid-January run, when the Thunder ran roughshod on the league even without Russell Westbrook, Durant played a level of basketball we’ve rarely seen. He broke legendary scoring marks on what seemed like a nightly basis, while spraying out a career-high number of assists and also making an impact on the other end. It’s hard to imagine him much better than we saw in that stretch. So now, his goal is to find that gear and extend it for an entire season, particularly the playoffs, where we didn’t see near that level of dominance.
Berry Tramel, Columnist: Marginally better. Most players are better at 26 than at 25. Durant was better at 25 than at 24. He should peak around 27-28. So we’ve got a couple more seasons of Durant improving before he plateaus. But it won’t be remarkable gains. Guys that good don’t have huge upsides. They’re already on the upper side of upside.
What impressed you most about Durant’s MVP season?
Mayberry: The midseason stretch without Westbrook. Durant played 26 of those games and averaged 35 points, 7.5 rebounds, 6.3 assists, 0.7 blocks and had shooting percentages of 52.7 (field goal), 39.9 (3-point) and 87.8 (free throw) over that stretch. He went on an absolute tear without Westbrook and carried the Thunder to a 20-6 record in that time. He helped the Thunder stay near the top of the standings through the All-Star break, and he showed that he does indeed have another level he can always go to.
Slater: The entire thing. The dominant runs without Westbrook, the ability to adapt when he came back, the scoring records he broke, the consistency in which he got buckets (41 straight games with 25 points). Really, just the fact that, at 25, he clearly won it in a season where arguably the league’s greatest talent remained at the top of his powers. LeBron James didn’t have a bad year. The media wasn’t tired of voting for the King. Durant was just better. He did more. He demanded attention and took the award. That’s impressive.
Tramel: What impresses you most about the New York City skyline? You could start 100 different places. I guess I would say his shooting percentage even with Russell Westbrook out. Durant was remarkably efficient this season, shooting 50.3 percent. For a guy who takes shots from all over the court, that’s remarkable.
What one thing would you like to see Durant do more or better next season?
Mayberry: To me, it’s the same area as Russell Westbrook. Defense. And it’s not close. I actually thought Durant made great strides this year as an on-ball defender. But his off-ball defense continued to be spotty, and I didn’t like that he almost never took it upon himself to step up and guard the other team’s hot hand. If Durant’s defense gets better, the Thunder can trot out more offensive-minded players without worrying about defensive slippage. But the reason offensively limited players like Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins have remained fixtures in the first string is because Durant and Westbrook still haven’t committed to dominating defensively every night like they do offensively. Defense is the key.
Slater: The book is out. The best way to contain KD is to throw a quicker, stronger, peskier guard on him and force him to try to play a power game. Make him hesitant on the dribble, bait him into awkward drives, hope to get him frustrated. Tony Allen and, at times, Chris Paul and Danny Green had success in the playoffs. Durant can’t allow that moving forward. He’s got to figure out better counters and has to punish smaller guys in the post. Some of that comes from added strength, some from these learning experiences. But it’s a clear hole in an offensive game that doesn’t have many.
Tramel: Offensive rebounding. Durant could be a ferocious offensive rebounder. He’s already an excellent defensive rebounder. But Durant averaged just 0.7 offensive rebounds per game. That ranked eighth on the Thunder, even though Durant played way more minutes than anyone else. Thabo Sefolosha had more offensive rebounds per game than did Durant.