Kevin Durant averaged 4.6 assists last year, nearly double what he averaged his rookie season. Part of that is natural with the trade of James Harden. Part of that is just the product of his natural progression as a player. But the fact remains that as Durant continues to evolve, his touch and basketball IQ make it very possible he can become an excellent passer as well as arguably the elite scorer in the league.
In the Thunder's last preseason game, Durant tallied 12 assists, and the Oklahoman took the opportunity to explore just what Durant's playmaking role will be next season with the Thunder. From NewsOK.com:
“Obviously we got to change some things up with how we play,” Durant said. “And I think coach is putting in some great offense for us. Everybody's touching the ball. We're moving it a little bit more. We're finding the open shot. And we're just trusting our offense.”
The coaching staff has stressed ball movement throughout training camp, and the Thunder's 52 assists on 76 field goals in the first two preseason games suggests the players are listening. It's clear that without Westbrook the Thunder will try to rely on a more balanced attack to preserve some semblance of its high-scoring attack.
It's up to Durant to lead the way.
“It's by design,” (Coach Scott) Brooks said. “We want all of our playmakers to continue to look for guys that need help scoring. We have guys that can do a lot of things offensively, but they need help. And (Durant) has the ability to get shots for Thabo (Sefolosha), get shots for Serge (Ibaka) and get shots for all of our bigs.
“Once we start knocking some of those shots in I think it's going to add to what we do offensively.”
Point guard Reggie Jackson told the paper that the attention Durant draws contributes sigificantly to creating floor space for the other scorers. That opens up the floor for other players. But the Thunder weren't a great assist team last season. Despite a noteable increase in Russell Westbrook's assist numbers, the Thunder had the third lowest percentage of field goals made that were assisted at 56.1 percent. To put that in perspective, the Bobcats' rate was at 56.2, and the Hawks lead the league at nearly 10 percentage points better.
What does this mean? The Thunder were the league's most efficient offense last year in points per possession, but one of the worst in creating points via assist. Since their system last year was so good, should they mess with it? Or is it a case of "It's not broke, don't fix it?" More passing means a higher turnover rate.
But the bottom line may related to the Thunder's performance in the playoffs. Without Russell Westbrook, the team needed Durant to do everything. He was swarmed by multiple defenders. In order to maintain his ability to score at the level OKC needs him to, he has to ake defenses pay when they over-commit. Without that, their offense gets bogged down and Durant winds up wore out, inefficient, and frustrated. Adding his playmaking skills is less a matter of augmenting their already awesome attack, as it is about surviving while Westbrook heals after knee surgery.
Either way, the 6-11 forward with ridiculous range could be much closer to an all-around forward than a pure scorer this season.