Fear, as Kevin Durant has learned, can be a tremendous motivator.
The reigning Finals MVP and four-time scoring champion has become a much better defender with the Warriors over the past season-plus, than he was earlier in his career with the Thunder. Just a few weeks ago, he blocked two straight shots in a game against the Pelicans while wearing only one shoe, and for the season he's averaging a career-high 2.45 blocks -- a mark that's good for second in the league behind Rudy Gobert.
So why has Durant suddenly become a strong rim protector with the Dubs? Well, to start, it was pretty simple. He didn't want to get called out during film sessions. Via ESPN:
"I've been a scorer my whole life," Durant told ESPN this week. "I've been a one-on-one player my whole life. All I've thought about in the past was different ways to score, rather than different ways to impact the game. Since 2012-13, I've been trying to figure out ways to impact the game outside of scoring.
"Defense started to creep in there probably two years before I got to the Warriors. Defense started to become a focal point for me where I wanted to be trusted. I didn't want to be the guy where all the film clips are about how they back-doored me, or how someone drove around me or how I'm not contesting shots. I was more so just nervous about being called out during film sessions. That's why I wanted to get better."
Per Chris Haynes' story, not only is Durant a better defender, he's statistically the best defender against shots at the rim.
Opponents are shooting only 50.9 percent against Durant within 5 feet of the rim this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That is the lowest percentage in the league among players who have defended more than five shots at the rim.
Hey, whatever it takes.
The most important thing for the Warriors and their success is that Durant has completely bought into their defensive system, and is proving to be an impressive shot blocker if opponents get into the paint. It doesn't matter why he ratcheted up his defensive intensity, it just matters that he did.
With Durant's defense now nearly on par with his offense, the Warriors are looking even more likely to repeat as NBA champions this season.