A popular stat regarding winning NBA titles of late is the one where in the last nine seasons, no team with a player playing 3,000 minutes or more in a season has won the NBA title.
The idea is that resting players during the regular season is extremely beneficial for the long haul that is an NBA season.
The Thunder haven’t been one of those teams known for resting players, and have in fact done essentially the opposite.
Kevin Durant has played over 3,000 minutes in three of the last four seasons, the only exception was the lockout shortened season.
The Thunder stars are also some of the youngest so resting them hasn’t felt like a real priority yet.
Is it now though? Is this theory that you essentially can’t win a title with a player playing 3,000-plus minutes legit? Does Durant need to be on a minutes limit?
My feeling regarding the minutes thing goes like this: I don’t think the Thunder need to be concerned about it really. I think the trend with players not getting to 3,000 minutes on championship teams is simply due to them being teams capable of winning titles. When you are that, you usually have depth, get a lot of wins by a lot of points and don’t need your stars playing as much. I don’t think it’s that we see stars who reach 3,000 minutes breaking down by the playoffs.
The Thunder posted one of the highest margin of victories last season in the history of the league. Yet Durant still eclipsed 3,000 minutes.
Brooks altered the rotation early on in the year to compensate for James Harden’s absence. It resulted in Durant playing 38.5 minutes per game and he did not miss a game.
The instances when Brooks would play Durant more than usual was whenever games were close after three quarters, he’d often let Durant play the entire second half. And there were times when you could tell at the end of the game that Durant had not gotten a breather.
Brooks almost coached like he wanted to do everything possible to win every game possible, something that the Spurs don’t necessarily do. Brooks also has less trust in his bench than Popovich, but for good reason because that bench is not on the same level as San Antonio’s.
I don’t think the Thunder would be better suited to winning a title, simply by focusing on limiting Durant’s minutes. If Durant were to play less minutes because he didn’t need to, because the bench was more capable, and the Thunder weren’t really sacrificing more than 2-3 wins per regular season by not playing him quite as much, then I would be all for it.
If you think about it, the last nine years is a small sample size. This stat didn’t used to always be the case in the NBA, as many teams in the past have won it all with their star exceeding 3,000 minutes.
It does feel like the Thunder need to be a more complete team to compete more closely for a title in the near future, especially with Harden gone. If they are able to get more production from their bench and become more complete, I think it would naturally result in Durant getting less minutes, possibly less than 3,000, to fulfill the theory.
There’s no reason to think that the Thunder have no chance of winning a title and Durant playing over 3,000 minutes. Just think about how close the Thunder were to winning all four of the first four Finals games two years ago, or how close the Spurs came to upsetting the Heat. A couple breaks here and there and that may be all you need to win it all, if you are a contender, which the Thunder are.
Durant is going to play a lot of minutes this season, especially with Westbrook out the start of the year. It’s just silly to think that those first 4-6 weeks, if KD plays 41 minutes per game instead of 36, that the Thunder would in turn have less of a shot to win a title.