When Kevin Durant turned down the NBA in mid-December for this year’s dunk contest at All-Star Weekend, observers admired the star Thunder forward’s humility and honest admission that he’s just not a flashy dunker. But what’s gone unnoticed and untold is how Durant’s bland in-game throw-downs — typically a one-handed tomahawk jam — typifies the trend of the entire Thunder team. Oklahoma City could be the most vanilla-dunking team in the league, a remarkable revelation considering the athleticism the franchise’s young core possesses. Watch a full 48 minutes of any Thunder game, and the most exciting dunk you’ll ever see is the occasional "poster” dunk over an unsuspecting defender. Thunder players fearfully avoid the gravity-defying 360 degree stuffs and reverse slams. They have yet to impress with a windmill or a between-the-legs jam. "That’s not us,” said third-year forward Jeff Green. "We just want the two points.” For the Thunder, dull dunks seemingly symbolize a more significant standard than just securing two points. In Oklahoma City, a certain culture is being constructed by general manager Sam Presti, who cut his teeth on the mundane model down in San Antonio. The Spurs’ no flash, no frills approach is playing out inside the Ford Center, and simple slams have become one small example. "I think crowds like seeing that, but they also want to see diving on the floor,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. "They want to see getting offensive rebounds, and they want to see (players) taking charges. I think our crowd appreciates effort and hard-working plays. "I’m not saying our guys have to be boring and vanilla, but there’s a time and place for it and you have to be sharp with your decisions.” Brooks, who proudly said he never dunked during a game during his 10-year playing career, instructs his players to refrain from risky highlight-reel finishes. His reasoning: the Thunder paced the league in turnovers last season with 16.2 per game. "It’s important that we keep everything simple,” Brooks said. "The more flashy things happen, the more likely you’re going to not have success. That’s why we don’t throw a lot of lobs.” Players have bought into Brooks’ belief. When asked, three of the team’s best dunkers, Green, Russell Westbrook and James Harden, said they’re not eager to exhilarate the Ford Center with a fancy flush. For Westbrook, that means post-practice throw-downs that make media members drop their jaws and shake their heads could never escape the obscurity of the team’s training facility. A shame, really, because Westbrook routinely throws down dimes off the glass, high lob bounce passes to himself from three-quarters court and two-step windmills with the greatest of ease. "You try a dunk in a game that you never tried before and you miss it, it can turn the game around,” Westbrook said. "360s and stuff like that, the defender basically has got to give up. You got to feel comfortable. You can’t try stuff like that when somebody’s chasing you.” Last season at Golden State, Westbrook slammed an off-the-backboard alley-oop pass from Earl Watson, now with Indiana. It was the flashiest the Thunder has ever been. But as the Thunder has crept closer to establishing its identity, fewer and fewer showboating plays are being seen. "I think that’s what makes us different from other teams,” said Harden. "We stick to the easy plan, and we get the job done. It’s a good thing. I guess that’s the type of players that they want here in this program.” Harden, who already has posterized Houston’s David Andersen and Memphis’ Hasheem Thabeet, has his own reasons for forgoing a freestyle dunk. "If you miss a dunk, especially for a rookie like me, you’re coming out of the game,” Harden said. "But that’s not my game anyway. My game is simple, getting the job done, going out there and making the easy play.” Brooks boasted about his players’ respect for the game, about how no one on the roster seeks to show up an opponent and how each player understands the risk and ramifications associated with showing off. "We’re a classy group of individuals,” Green said. "We like to do things the right way.”
Read about Thunder guard Russell Westbrook’s five most memorable dunks on the Thunder Rumblings blog at http://blog.newsok.com/thunderrumblings .