The Oklahoma City Thunder have found life without one of their two All-NBA talents to be quite difficult. Since point guard Russell Westbrook underwent his third surgery in eight months on his right knee, the Thunder have gone a respectable but decidedly not-elite 5-4, with two of those losses coming against teams currently under .500. At 27-9, OKC remains near the top of the West, but they are in for a lengthy period of adjustment with Westbrook out until after the All-Star Break.
In that absence, Kevin Durant has taken on even more responsibility than usual for his team. In 12 games without Westbrook this season Durant has boosted his shots-per-game average from 18 to 20.2, including 22.1 since the latest injury. While those numbers might seem sensible given how much the offense revolves around the two stars when both are healthy, Durant himself thinks he needs to shoot less. From Darnell Mayberry for The Oklahoman:
“The first few games without Russell, we did a great job moving the ball,” Durant said. “I think now I'm just flat out shooting too much. I have to find a way to get my teammates easier shots. I've been thinking these last few games in order for us to get it going I have to do it all offensively. But, nah, we have to do it together. It's a great learning experience for me. It's the first time I've really been in that type of position. But I just have to get everybody involved. I may have to pass up a few to find a better shot.” [...]
In the last nine games, Reggie Jackson, Jeremy Lamb, Thabo Sefolosha, Derek Fisher and Kendrick Perkins — five players that make up more than a third of the Thunder's offense — are all shooting below 42 percent.
Durant, meanwhile, has been blazing, with averages of 31.8 points, 11 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 45.6 percent over that same span.
“He cares about his teammates,” Brooks said. “He wants to make sure everybody is involved and everybody is having success. Shooting too much? I wouldn't label him as a guy that's taking too many shots.
“I like him taking shots if they're good shots. But I like him taking 3s if they're off the pass, unless we're in a situation where it's a two-for-one then I like that pull-up 3. I think he's taken maybe too many 3s that are not from a pass … If I want to criticize one area of his shot selection it's probably that.”
Mayberry points to Durant changing his approach against the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday as evidence that he's serious about the change, but it may be prudent not to take too much from one game against one of the NBA's worst teams and defenses. Plus, while Durant did only attempt 18 field goals in the Thunder's 101-85, he added 17 free-throw tries, which suggests he was looking to score about as much as usual.
Regardless, we can be sure that Durant at least feels as if he's shooting too much. But this likely says more about his desire to win than any deficiencies on his part. In a system dependent on the individual brilliance of stars, Durant must take on an outsized role as scorer and facilitator in order for the Thunder to succeed. If the team isn't winning as much as he'd like, then it makes sense that he'd see his current form (shooting significantly more than with Westbrook in the lineup) as not enough. Durant's approach only seems off if you assume that his performance is the only one that matters, but that's only a passable view for the man himself (who must focus on what he can control) or the sport's more ridiculous analysts.
The sad fact for OKC is that, as currently constructed and strategically oriented, they're just not going to be an elite team without Westbrook. As Durant's stats show, he's doing more than enough. It might be up to Scott Brooks and his coaching staff to recalibrate the Thunder attack. Otherwise, they'll just have to wait until their mercurial star returns.
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