Kevin Durant's expanding role as a playmaker this season was not a result of reserve guard James Harden being traded to Houston on Oct. 27.
Durant handling the ball more frequently has evolved a bit each season, particularly during last year's run to the NBA Finals.
The primary objective is for OKC to get into transition more quickly when Durant gets a defensive rebound. This has happened more frequently so far this season with Durant averaging 12.7 defensive rebounds per game (14.3 total).
The usual sequence was for Durant to get the ball quickly to point guard Russell Westbrook, who would then have to hesitate a bit to give Durant some time to fill a lane on a fast break. Now Westbrook fills the lane immediately and the entire break already is positioned in front of Durant as he brings the ball up court.
“That was always in the mix,” Thunder coach Scott Brooks said of Durant's increased role. “That was always in the plan. I think it's in more now because he's rebounding a lot more. Russell has to make an adjustment and I think he's running the lane much better.
“Kevin with the ball in the middle of the floor is a good offensive set for us, because he demands so much attention and he can see over the defense and he's passing the ball so much better.”
This season is an extremely small sample from which to gauge, but the Thunder has struggled statistically on defense so far.
And because defense is Brooks' constant point of emphasis, it's troubling to see OKC ranked dead last in steals this season at just 4.0 per game.
Brooks said what concerns him most defensive, however, is giving up too many points in a quarter. In its 104-95 loss at home to Atlanta on Sunday night, OKC trailed the Hawks 30-22 after the first quarter and allowed 29 and 28 points in two other periods.
“We have to address that issue. That's the No. 1 issue,” Brooks said. “It's a mindset. We have to have that defensive mindset every night. Teams come in and obviously they know what we've done in the past and we have to be ready for that.”
The Thunder studied film before taking the court at Monday's practice, which Brooks labeled “a good session.”
The early stats aren't all that good for OKC.
“It is early,” Brooks said. “We have to put everything into perspective. After three games, it's not panic button or anything.”
Where the 1-2 Thunder ranks in various statistical categories out of 30 NBA teams:
*30th in steals (4.0 per game; 2.0 behind closest team)
*29th in opponent turnovers (12.0)
*27th in turnover differential (plus-5.0)
*T20th in turnovers (17.0)
*19th in assist-to-turnover (1.24)
*T18th in scoring (95.0)
*17th in assists (21.0)
*T16th in opponent assists (21.3)
*T16th in opponent steals (8.3)
On the positive side:
*First in opponents' blocks (1.7)
*Fourth in blocks (8.0)
*Fourth in 3-point field goal percentage (. 438)
*Sixth in opponent 3-point field goal percentage (. 314)
*Eighth in free-throw percentage (. 805)
*Ninth in opponent field-goal percentage (. 430)
*10th in points allowed (94.0)
QUOTABLEDurant on teammate Serge Ibaka: “He's the funniest guy off the court and in the locker room. He's learning how to speak English, so I think that makes it a little bit funnier. He's just a joy to have. He lives right next door to me. He's always bugging me, coming in my house, just walking into my house and eating my food. All my snacks and all my Pop Tarts, chips and all that. I've grown to really get close to Serge as a brother, man. It's somebody I enjoy having around.”