On the night he achieved his first triple-double, finally reaching the elusive 10-assist plateau, Kevin Durant's best pass perhaps was one that didn't end in an assist.
Instead, it was a hockey assist, a pass that led to an assist.
It came midway through the second quarter, out of a timeout.
Going left to right, Durant took a dribble handoff from Kendrick Perkins at the top of the 3-point arc. He dribbled toward the right sideline and suddenly fired a bullet bounce pass to Kevin Martin, who set up his man beautifully with a backdoor baseline cut. Martin did the rest, hauling in the pass and tight-roping the baseline out of bounds line before dumping off a pass to Serge Ibaka for an uncontested dunk.
The sequence was one of 12 assists the Thunder had on 12 made field goals in the second quarter of Sunday's 119-109 win over Golden State. It was the prettiest display of teamwork among the 18 assists Oklahoma City had on 22 first-half baskets. That connection, more than any other on the night, characterized how the Thunder has boosted its offense this year by continuing a promising trend of improved ball movement.
“We moved the ball very well,” said Durant, who dished a game-high 10 assists to go with 25 points and 13 rebounds. “We found a good shot. Guys were taking what the defense was giving them, and once you do that everything seems a little bit easier.”
When the Thunder registered a season-high 31 assists at New Orleans on Friday, it prompted coach Scott Brooks to declare “I don't know if we've ever had that.” Brooks then watched his team go out and match that total two nights later.
Though 31 assists are five shy of the team's single-game record, set in a 41-point road win against the Los Angeles Clippers in the season finale of the 2008-09 season, the Thunder's 62 assists in the past two games are its most ever in a two-game span.
“The way we're playing basketball right now, 31 assists, that means everybody's touching the ball,” Durant said.
Before this season, Oklahoma City had tallied at least 30 assists only five times. None of those instances came last season, when the Thunder ranked last in assists at 18.5 per game.
As Durant, Russell Westbrook and James Harden monopolized possessions last year, the Thunder's offense turned into a predictable set of isolations. OKC tallied at least 18 assists in only 60.6 percent of its games last season. This year, however, with Durant, Westbrook and even Kendrick Perkins currently averaging career-highs in assists, OKC has topped 18 assists in 90.9 percent of its games.
Behind that improvement the Thunder has shot up from 30th in the league in assists a year ago to 11th at 22.4 through Sunday's games.
“Our unsung heroes are always our bigs,” Brooks said. “They make the offense go. We have some dynamic players on the wing and at point guard, but what makes it go are those big guys are setting screens every time down court.”
With better ball movement, the Thunder is now benefiting more than it ever has from nearly everyone being a threat to score. For the first time in the franchise's Oklahoma City era, four players are averaging at least 14 points. Before this year, the Thunder had never had four players average at least 10 points for a full season.
A byproduct of the ball movement has been pinpoint accuracy from 3-point range. With the ball swinging from side to side, players are getting wide open shot attempts on the perimeter as the defense is forced to rotate. It's led to a league-leading 43.5 percent clip from behind the arc.
The Thunder had never ranked in the top third in the league in 3-point shooting before this season. Last year's ranking, 11th in the league, was previously as high as OKC had been.
Martin has made opponents pay the most. He's connected on 53.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, and his 30 made 3s rank him third in the league behind Dallas guard O.J. Mayo and Portland's Nicolas Batum.
“Our team is growing up,” Brooks said. “We understand what's needed out there and how we need to play.”