Durant, Thunder Finding New Ways to Win
By Brian Martin
After his rookie season in 2007, Kevin Durant had never played an NBA game without Russell Westbrook. The two even teamed up with USA basketball in the summers of 2010 and 2012, winning gold together at the FIBA World Championship and Summer Olympics, respectively.
But Westbrook was lost to a meniscus tear in his right knee in Game 2 of the Thunder's first round series with the Houston Rockets and will miss the rest of the postseason. Durant led the Thunder past the Rockets in six games and hit the game-winner in Game 1 of the Western Conference Semifinal series against the Memphis Grizzlies on Sunday.
So now we have a five-game sample size of Kevin Durant without Russell Westbrook. Albeit unplanned. The Thunder have had no time to prepare to play without their All-NBA point guard. They have had to react on the fly and do so in the playoffs, where there is neither the time nor the room for error to work through the kinks like you would have in the regular season.
Let's take a look at the numbers and see what they have to say.
Kevin Durant -- Per Game Statistics
|PO (w/RW, 4/21-24)||2||39.5||26.5||5.0||6.5||1.5||1.0||1.5||+16.5|
|PO (w/o RW, 4/27-5/5)||5||44.2||35.4||10.4||5.8||4.2||1.4||1.0||-1.0|
Durant's minutes have increased dramatically since Westbrook was lost for the season, which is to be expected. His minutes would have gone up from the regular season to the playoffs anyway -- he has averaged 41.8 minutes per game in his 50 career playoff games, and averaged 41.9 a year ago with Westbrook healthy. But in the five games without Westbrook, Durant is averaging 44.2 minutes a game.
Another expected jump comes in his points per game. After finishing the regular season as the runner up his fourth straight scoring title at 28.1 points per game, Durant averaged 26.5 points in the Thunder's first two playoff games with Westbrook playing and is now up to 35.4 in the first five post-Westbrook games.
The method by which Durant has scored those points has changed as well. Rather than Westbrook initiating the offense and either creating shots for himself, Durant or other teammates, now Durant has taken over the role of the Thunder's floor general. This has meant more shots for Durant, but also more shots that he must create on his own.
Kevin Durant -- Shooting Statistics
|PO (w/RW, 4/21-24)||2||8.5||20.0||42.5%||1.5||7.0||21.4%||8.0||8.5||94.1%|
|PO (w/o RW, 4/27-5/5)||5||12.0||26.3||50.8%||1.8||6.0||30.0%||9.6||11.2||85.7%|
During the regular season, Durant averaged 17.7 field goal attempts per game, making an average of 9.0. Over the past five games, those numbers have jumped to 26.3 attempts and 12.0 makes. He's shooting nearly an identical percentage from the field -- 51.0 percent in the regular season, 50.8 percent in the last five games -- but he has regressed in two areas. He is shooting just 30 percent from 3-point range in the last five games, compared to his 41.6 percent regular season average. And while he's attempting two more free throws per game in the last five games, his success rate is down nearly five percent.
Durant's Shot Distribution -- Reg. Season (1,433 FGA)
Durant's Shot Distribution -- Last 5 Games -- (118 FGA)
A comparison of Durant's shot distribution from the regular season and the past five games shows only a few differences in the shots he's taking. His shots in the restricted area are down by 1.2 percent (24.1% to 22.9% of all attempts) and his mid-range attempts are down 1.3 percent (32.7% to 31.4%). His above the break 3-point attempts show the greatest change, up 2.7 percent (21.9% to 24.6%) and he did not attempt a corner three in the past five games, after taking 1.4% of his shots from there during the regular season.
He's been more successful on mid-range shots over the past five games, hitting 54.1 percent of his 37 attempts compared to shooting 45.3 percent on mid-range shot in the regular season. But his above the break 3-pointers have dropped dramatically -- down 10.7 percent from his regular season mark of 41.7%.
In looking for reasons why, the first thing that jumps out is that Durant is now creating more of these shots on his own -- often initiating the offense from the top for the floor and pulling up for 3-point shots, rather than a catch-and-shoot scenario. No longer is he the recipient of a Westbrook drive to the basket that collapses the defense and Westbrook finding Durant for an open look. No longer is he running off screens to get open on the perimeter, receive a pass and fire the open shot.
On Durant's above the break 3-pointers during the regular season, he was assisted on 78.6 percent of his makes. Over the past five games, that percentage has dropped to 44.4 percent. And it's not just the 3-pointers that are increasingly more difficult. Durant has been assisted on just 10.5 percent of his field goals made in the restricted area, compared to 54.5 percent during the regular season. The same goes for shots in the paint (8.3% compared to 23.1% in the regular season) and mid-range (30.0% compared to 47.6%) shots.
Kevin Durant -- Advanced Stats
|Time Period||GM||OffRtg||DefRtg||NetRtg||eFG%||USG%||PIE||FGM (%AST)||3FGM (%AST)|
|PO (w/RW, 4/21-24)||2||112.4||90.2||+22.2||46.3%||28.3%||18.4%||41.2%||33.3%|
|PO (w/o RW, 4/27-5/5)||5||105.1||105.2||0.0||54.7%||33.8%||23.3%||21.7%||44.4%|
Durant has overcome these challenges to post remarkable numbers (playoff averages of 32.9 points, 8.9 rebounds and 6.0 assists) and keep the Thunder winning. But, as expected, his efficiency is down since losing Westbrook. During the regular season, Durant posted an offensive rating of 112.1 and a defensive rating of 99.4, for a net rating of +12.7, meaning the Thunder outscored their opponents by 12.7 points per 100 possessions with Durant on the court.
In the first two games of the playoffs, with Westbrook, Durant's offensive rating held steady, while his defensive rating improved dramatically (90.2), resulting in a ridiculous net rating of +22.2. But over the past five games, the offensive and defensive efficiency have suffered, down to 105.1 and 105.2, respectively, meaning the Thunder are playing even basketball with their opponents.
When you're playing even basketball, that means tight games and clutch situations. And in those situations, Durant has been great during these playoffs.
Kevin Durant -- Clutch Stats -- Last 5 MIN, +/- 5 PTS
|PO (w/RW, 4/21-24)||1||1||1||100.0%||1||1||100.0%||4||3||+1|
|PO (w/o RW, 4/27-5/5)||3||6||8||75.0%||1||2||50.0%||15||2||+11|
In the last five minutes of the fourth quarter or overtime, ahead or behind by five points or less, Durant has gone 7-of-9 from the field (77.8%), including 2-of-3 from 3-point range (66.7%). In four games with these clutch situations, Durant has scored 19 points, dished out five assists and has a plus/minus of +12.
And it gets even better with less time on the clock. In the last minute of the fourth quarter or overtime, with the same score margin of five points or less, Durant has been a perfect 3-for-3 from the field, including one 3-pointer. In four games, he has eight points and one assist in these situations and a +6 plus/minus.
Kevin Durant -- Clutch Stats -- Last 1 MIN, +/- 5 PTS
|PO (w/RW, 4/21-24)||1||0||0||0.0%||0||0||0.0%||1||1||-1|
|PO (w/o RW, 4/27-5/5)||3||3||3||100.0%||1||1||100.0%||7||0||+7|
This includes his two jump shots in the final minute of Game 1 against Memphis -- the fadeaway to pull the Thunder within one with 37.3 left to play and the go-ahead jumper with 11.1 seconds to play that proved to be the game-winner.
As the Thunder continue to develop their game without the services of Westbrook, they have Durant doing everything in his power to will them to victory.