Scott Brooks is well aware of the potentially telling statistic floating around the Internet, the one that warns how no player in the last nine NBA seasons has won a championship after logging at least 3,000 regular-season minutes.
The Thunder coach just doesn't care about it.
Not when it comes to Kevin Durant.
“I like to keep his in that 38 minutes,” Brooks said, “right around 38 to 40 minutes.”
Assuming Durant plays at least 79 games, he would eclipse the 3,000-minute mark for the fourth time in five seasons. He registered 2,546 in the lockout-shortened 66-game 2011-12 season.
Ben Wallace, with the Detroit Pistons in 2004, is the last player to win a title in the same year that he played at least 3,000 minutes.
An eventual Finals MVP hasn't logged that many minutes since Tim Duncan did so with San Antonio in 2002-03.
So what does all this mean?
Depending on your interpretation of the data, the Thunder could have a problem on its hands this season.
With starting point guard Russell Westbrook sidelined for at least the first month of the regular season, the Thunder has little choice other than to rely heavily upon Durant. Even if Brooks wanted to manage Durant's minutes, he couldn't.
“It's a lot on me,” Durant said of managing the anticipated heavy workload. “I just got to recover right after games, after practice. I got to eat well. Just make sure my body is right.”
It's worth noting that before the 2004-05 season, 11 of 13 NBA champions had players log at least 3,000 minutes. So reaching that mark isn't some sort of death sentence. But the current nine-year trend does suggest, among other things, that players need rest (and in many cases strong supporting casts to get it).
Limiting minutes is one way to ensure players get ample rest throughout a grueling 82-game season. Taking games off and missing contests because of injury plays a part as well. But that speaks to the larger point. Regardless of the reason, players are receiving rest.
Yet even in a season in which the Thunder won 60 games and posted an eye-popping 9.2 average point differential, the Thunder still played Durant 38.5 minutes per game last season.
In fact, Durant has averaged more regular-season minutes in each of the last three seasons than almost every eventual Finals MVP of the last nine years. Kobe Bryant averaged 38.8 minutes in 2009-10. Dwyane Wade averaged 38.6 minutes in 2005-06.
“It's not that I'm playing him more than all the other great players in this league's history,” Brooks said. “You look at all the great players and they get 40 minutes. That's what makes them good. You don't just give them minutes, they're earned. Kevin is one of the best players.”
Durant, at least once every year, jokes that he wants to play all 48 minutes every night. (He's actually reached or surpassed that mark 14 times in his career.) He's still young, he says. But as each passing season ends without the Thunder hoisting the championship Larry O'Brien trophy, the ultimate goal takes more and more precedence.
“I'm willing to do whatever coach needs me to do,” Durant insists. “It really doesn't matter what statistics say. I'm just going to go out there and if coach needs me to play 40 minutes I've got to play hard. If I only get 15 or 20 minutes one game, I got to play hard.”
But can Durant stay fresh for the playoff run?
Westbrook's injury has several tentacles. Now that Reggie Jackson is the starting point guard the Thunder's bench is extremely thin, void of a single proven scorer or shot-creator. That means Brooks is likely to rely on Durant carrying not just a patchwork starting unit but also a bench that is being revamped for the third straight season.
“He has to be able to integrate his game with the starters and the guys coming off the bench,” Brooks admits. “But he loves playing multiple positions and he loves handling the ball and he loves challenging himself to get better.”
Brooks is confident that prudently managing off days and monitoring Durant's practice time will lead to enough rest for Durant.
And Durant trusts his coaching staff more than any potentially telling data.
“Like I said, whatever is best for the team I'm willing to do,” Durant said. “I trust in all my teammates when I'm out on the floor. Whatever coach needs me to do I'm going to do it and go out there and play as best as I can.”