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.”