But Brooks has defended Durant’s mounting minutes by pointing to the game’s other greats, players who history shows have had similar workloads.
With 20,717 total minutes, Durant ranks 17th in minutes played among players in their first seven seasons. He’s logged the eighth most among seven-year veterans who made their debut after 1980. The seven ahead of him are James, Larry Bird, David Robinson, Karl Malone, Michael Finley, Andre Iguodala and Antoine Walker.
In terms of average, Durant’s 38.2 minutes per game ranks 10th among players in their first seven seasons since 1980. Among that group, Allen Iverson tops the list with a 41.3-minute average over that span. James is second at 40.3 minutes per game over his first seven seasons.
But what distinguishes Durant from many in that group is postseason success. More games equal more minutes and more minutes equate to more mileage. Durant played in the second-most regular season games (542) among that group and appeared in the second-most playoff games (73) over that span. Five players ahead of Durant, by comparison, Finley, Walker, Steve Francis, Juwan Howard and Elton Brand, combined to appear in just one more playoff game than Durant over their first seven seasons.
The playing time of that bunch in their eighth, ninth and 10th seasons suggests we could begin to see a dip in Durant’s minutes starting next season. Of the nine players since 1980 who averaged more minutes than Durant over their first seven seasons only two, Iverson and Michael Jordan, saw an increase in their average in the subsequent three seasons. The other seven ranged from Tim Duncan’s 34.5 average to James’ 38.1 average.
For several years now, Brooks and his staff have made a concerted effort to closely monitor and manage practices, game day shootarounds and off days in an attempt to get Durant much-needed rest. Last season, however, Durant was thrust into more playing time when Russell Westbrook missed 36 games because of multiple knee surgeries. Still, there were times when the line between necessary and excessive was blurred.
Take for example the final three games of the regular season. Durant logged 42 minutes at Indiana, 43 minutes at New Orleans and 45 minutes against Detroit. The Thunder went 1-2 in those contests despite Durant’s heavy lifting.
Then there was the 2012-13 campaign, a season in which the Thunder won 60 games and posted a league-best 9.2 point differential. Durant still averaged 38.5 minutes. He played at least 40 minutes 35 times.
“As we go forward there’s no question that’s something we want to look at and understand,” Thunder general manager Sam Presti said about Durant’s minutes at the end of the season. “Not only for the long term, but to also make sure we are getting the most out of the minutes that are played during one particular game or another…I can’t tell you what comes of it.”
A healthy Westbrook and a startling admission of fatigue by Durant should be all the Thunder needs to start getting Durant’s minutes down next season.