The biggest growth in Kevin Durant’s game over the past season has without question been his passing.
Durant averaged a career-high 4.3 assists per game last season, and posted a career-high assist percentage of 21.7, up from 17.5 in 2011-12 and 13.2 the season before. Last year was also the first in Durant’s career that he had more assists than turnovers.
Durant becoming more of a playmaker has been an emphasis for him personally. Now, with Russell Westbrook expected to miss the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season, the Thunder offense will be more designed for Durant to distribute.
“It’s by design,” Brooks told The Oklahoman. “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.”
This is no surprise at all, and Durant taking the next step in his playmaking will be of huge importance for the Thunder early on in the season.
We saw how no Russ affected players like Serge Ibaka in the playoffs. Westbrook isn’t a pure point guard by any means but he does attract a lot of attention and create opportunities for teammates better than anyone else on the OKC roster.
Durant will have an even greater opportunity to distribute without Russ. There should be no questioning that Durant will be looking to do so. He had 12 assists in the Thunder’s preseason win over the 76ers, which would have been one more than his career-high.
My only fear is that Durant will try and force being a distributor at times when it would be better for the Thunder if he looks to shoot, even if that’s sometimes over two defenders. I understand that an open shot is almost always better than a contested one, but that is less likely the case when you’re comparing KD taking a contested shot and Perkins trying to catch and finish an open look.
It’s not about simply getting more assists for Durant. It’s about doing so at the right time. I have yet to see Durant show that he has that instinct that player’s like LeBron have. Durant is still learning to distribute and at times it feels like he has predetermined what he is going to do.
That was last year and I think it’s safe to bet Durant will be noticeably improved as a passer this season. In the long run, given the current makeup of the Thunder roster, it will be for the best.