Don't mess with Kevin Durant's style
Rule No. 1: You would never expect a Wusthof Ikon Damascus Chef knife to act in the capacity of a Swiss Army knife.
Rule No. 2: You would never expect a Vieuxtemps Guarneri del Jesu violin to play in the capacity of a fiddle.
A $3,000 knife, one that is used by some of the finest chefs in the world, is neither crafted nor created to do multiple, ancillary things like pick locks, uncork wine in brown paper bags, carve initials inside of hearts on tree bark or dissect frogs in science classes. And a musical instrument once played by Itzhak Perlman and Yehudi Menuhin with an estimated value of $18 million is neither meant to be played at a county fair nor even by the great Charlie Daniels in a showdown with the devil.
Rule No. 3: You would never ask Kevin Durant to be a facilitator, playmaker or make the shift to point guard.
See, Durant is a shooting specialist. A rare instrument of skill and precision. Like the chef's knife and the violin mentioned above, he was created by a higher power to serve a purpose far beyond that of just cutting food or making music.
"He shoots, he scores!" He is the post-Kobe generation's greatest scorer. On average over the past 6 years, only 3.3 players per season scored more than 26 points per game (4.2 over the past 10 seasons). Over his six-year career, which included three scoring titles, Durant's scoring average is 26.6 points. His ability to execute that particular skill exceeds any perceived notion that anything different is for the betterment of either team or player.
When Russell Westbrook did not fully recover from the meniscus tear that took him out of last season's playoff run, the Oklahoma City Thunder came out with the plan that Durant would be more of a playmaker and takeover more point guard duties. Not many seemed to mind.
I simply shook my head in disgust and bereavement.
It's a philosophy thing more than anything. If someone can do something better than anyone else in the world -- milk that until it turns to powder.
KD gets buckets. Pure, simple, at will. He scores more and easier (and in more ways) than some of the greatest the game has ever seen. George Gervin on a normal day. Dirk Nowitzki when he's on fire. He's the black Oscar Schmidt, just taller and calmer. The Tracy McGrady remix, just understated with more range.
But the Thunder want a different version of Durant. Due to circumstances within their control, they feel they need more. They need their specialist to do more than just specialize. They need him to be more like LeBron James, less like Carmelo Anthony In a five-star restaurant, they are in the kitchen looking for a Swiss Army knife.
In fairness, Oklahoma City had the third-lowest percentage of field goals made that were assisted, at 56 percent, yet were the league's most efficient offense last season in points per possession. But in the playoffs, when Westbrook unexpectedly went down, all of that changed.
In a panic move, the Thunder put the ball in KD's hands to run the show and the show was cut down in five games by Memphis. Has the Thunder administration forgotten how that played out?
Durant had nine assists versus Memphis in Game 2 of that series. A loss. He led them with five assists in Game 3. Another loss. He led them again with seven assists in Game 4. Third loss. In Game 5, he had six assists, but because he handled the ball so much, he had seven turnovers. Which, of course, led to the final loss.
Durant's +/- in those game was as follows: -4 (Game 5), -7 (Game 4), -2 (Game 3), 0 (Game 2). It was only in the Game 1 win, the only win Oklahoma City got in the series, that Durant's +/- was a +2. And that was the game the Grizzlies had yet to figure out how to defend Durant.
Yet, there seems to be those who feel because Durant has the ability to handle the ball and orchestrate an offense, he should. It's tough to read much into preseason games, but let's look at the only loss the Thunder had when Durant played. In his role as part-time facilitator, Durant gave up six turnovers in three quarters -- and made one assist.
Oklahoma City is suffering from self-inflicted wounds. No more James Harden. No more Jeff Greene. No more Kevin Martin. They probably gave up on Eric Maynor too soon. And when they lost Westbrook, the front office did nothing to take some of the weight and responsibility off their best player to make part of this season easier for Durant.
Their solution: Give Durant more to do.
There were other options. When the clock struck midnight on July 1, Oklahoma City had opportunities to make runs at one of the guards on the free-agent market who could have filled the void until Westbrook came back. That player then could have come off of the bench to fill some of the sixth-man void left when Harden was traded to Houston and the part Martin never fulfilled.
Anyone to stop them from going into this season with the plan they have in place for Durant. But no. Here we are, one week away from the season opener, and it's as if nothing was learned from the end of last season.
It's not Durant's responsibility to be the floor general until Westbrook comes back; it was the front office's job to find one. Reggie Jackson is doing a respectable job so far holding down the point guard spot. He is averaging more than 16 points per game and almost 5.8 assists during the preseason. Yet something must not be right because there's still talk of running the offense through Durant.
One theory is that Oklahoma City wanted to give Jackson a fair chance to hold down point position while Westbrook was out. Maybe they felt he was thrown into the situation unprepared last season in the middle of the playoffs and never got a chance to get settled in. Maybe, with a full training camp and preseason, they feel Jackson will be good to go. One problem: Why then are they still looking into KD being more of a distributor?
"It's by design," Thunder coach Scott Brooks told The Oklahoman after the team's preseason opener. "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."
Just because Durant "has the ability" to get shots for other players does not mean he should, not while he still has to be the one to score in order for the team contend for a title. KD can never develop that cutthroat, "Assassin's Creed," merciless instinct that he's still lacking if the Thunder are going to force him to take a more passive approach to scoring.
Then, once Westbrook returns, are they going to ask Durant to go back into "KD mode" and take more shots? How counter-productive can it get?
Durant's greatness is not predicated on how a team "programs" him to play. He's a specialist, not a one-dimensional player. There is a difference. Durant can do more than one thing on the court, but asking him to be something that he's not doesn't solve the problem. Past results have shown that to be true. In the long run, it will only make it worse for Durant and the team.
Look, Ashton Kutcher can make people laugh, that doesn't mean he should replace Charlie Sheen in sitcoms. Miley Cyrus can sing but that doesn't mean … you get the point.
That point being neither Kutcher nor Cyrus can do in their profession what Kevin Durant can do in his. Just because someone has the capability to do something doesn't always mean they need to be asked or forced to do it. Versatility has nothing to do with it. It's about realizing someone's gift and doing whatever is necessary to get the most out of that gift every time that gift is on display.
By the time you read this ESPN's ranking of the top players in the NBA will have been released and you'll know that Mr. Durant came in at No.2. The second-best basketball player alive.
Reason No. 1: He has a gift that maybe only one other player in the NBA (or world) has right now.
Reason No. 2: He does one thing with a basketball better than probably anyone alive. (And we all know what that is.)
Sometimes assists are overrated. Let's hope Oklahoma City figures it out before it's too late.
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