He flew past being ridiculously good a while ago and has moved on to toying with opponents. That was evident in the way Kevin Durant not only took on the double-team from the Hawks but practically dribbled into triple coverage before pulling up for the game-winning jumper with 1.5 seconds remaining Monday night. It was like he was trying to keep things interesting when everyone knows Durant vs. World has become a rout.
But for truly impressive, for really grinding a heel into emotions in enemy locker rooms, there is the reality that the so-called heavy lifting may not wear him down in the long run, the new best-case scenario around the league when there is little hope of containing the Slim Reaper in the moment.
All the pyrotechnics, with 11 consecutive games of at least 30 points and averaging 38.5 in that time while shooting 54.6 percent? The additional burden of keeping the Thunder in the race for home-court advantage at least through the Western Conference playoffs while an All-Star of a wingman, Russell Westbrook, is injured?
Durant is actually logging fewer minutes than before.
At 38.1 minutes the first 45 games, he is down a fraction from the previous three seasons, essentially at his career mark of 38.2 and on pace for the lowest average since the 34.6 as a SuperSonics rookie in 2007-08. Even with the unknown intangible of what life without Westbrook will mean for his body at playoff time, this is a double-win for the Thunder: Durant is at a spectacular level and coach Scott Brooks is managing the minutes in a way that won’t run KD into the ground by April.
Durant is only 25, getting better all the time, and has history on his side to show that amount of work won’t drag him under in the postseason.
In 2012-13, he averaged 38.5 minutes in 81 games and shot 51 percent. That went into 11 games – nine without Westbrook after the point guard suffered a knee injury – at 44.1 minutes per. Durant’s accuracy dropped to 45.5 in a potential sign of trouble, except that Oklahoma City didn’t have much time then to prepare for life without Westbrook, KD took more 3-pointers compared to the regular season, and 45.5 is hardly a nose dive.
In 2011-12: 38.6 minutes in all 66 games, with the same benefit as the rest of the league of more (unwanted) rest than usual in an offseason extended by the lockout, and 49.6 percent from the field. That led to a playoffs of 20 games, more than any time in his career, 41.9 minutes and 51.7 percent. The extensive time had no negative effect.
In 20101-11: 38.9 minutes, 78 games and 46.2 percent in the regular season, 42.5 minutes, 17 games and 44.9 minutes in the playoffs. A slight drop in accuracy, but not enough to be read as wearing down.
These are all encouraging benchmarks for the Thunder moving forward, well beyond the anticipated game tonight in Miami and the showdown of Durant and LeBron James as the leading MVP candidates, but nothing compares to the knowledge that KD is driving them like this without the threat of burnout from minutes. That’s a positive for Durant and Brooks, but obviously for playoff hopes in OKC more than anything.