Kevin Durant was asked Monday what he likes most about how he's performed lately.
He could have chosen anything.
He went with it all.
“I'm being more comfortable,” he said. “Trying to do different things; whether it's scoring, whether it's rebounding, being a facilitator. I'm just going out there and really just having fun, to be honest.”
Within that, Durant's ability to keep Serge Ibaka involved offensively could be the most significant. It's emerged as a primary key to survival for the Oklahoma City Thunder in the absence of Russell Westbrook.
After sputtering to a 5-5 record after Westbrook was lost two days after Christmas, the Thunder has won three straight entering Tuesday's game against Portland. The winning streak has coincided with a spike in scoring by Ibaka and, to a degree, better overall balance by OKC.
For the first time in his career, Ibaka has topped 20 points in three straight games. Over that span, he's averaging 20.7 points on an eye-popping 73 percent shooting, while adding 9.7 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots.
It's largely been a credit to the rapidly improving two-man game with Durant, who has become much more of a willing and effecting passer.
Durant has taking control by orchestrating the offense and making plays out of pick-and-rolls. He's set up Ibaka for midrange jumpers, uncontested looks at the rim, as well as opportunities in transition.
“He's one of the guys you really need to make a decision (on),” Ibaka said of Durant. “Are you going help, or are you going to stay with him. I just read the game. He's been doing a great job this year trying to find the (open) guy and passing the ball.”
Durant is averaging 7.3 assists in the past three games, and Ibaka has benefited most. Fifteen of Ibaka's 27 assists have come off feeds from Durant.
The chemistry between the two is starting to resemble that of the Westbrook-Ibaka two-man game. And at the very least, it's serving as a suitable temporary replacement until Westbrook returns.
“It's always been there, I think, with us,” Durant said. “Me and Serge, I know his game. He knows mine. I think it's just a matter of us making shots. Once you start making shots, then of course people start to recognize. But I think we've had that chemistry for two or three years now. It's just a matter of us being consistent.
“Of course with Russell there, our two-man game possessions when we play together go down a little bit. But now when he's out, I'm being more of a facilitator for everybody. And me and Serge (are) doing it the most.”
The strategy has kept Ibaka productive as the necessary second scoring option without Westbrook, a player Ibaka has been largely dependent on for generating offense.
Already, Durant has assisted Ibaka on 73 field goals this season. Last season, Durant tallied just 80 assists to Ibaka.
“I like the fact that we can have two-man games with multiple players in it,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “And then obviously with Kevin, he demands a lot of attention. So if you run it with a lot of force, he has to have an extra man guarding, otherwise a (dribble-handoff) or a screen allows him to get by his man.”