It’s no secret that Kevin Durant has been playing some of the best basketball of his career over the last month.
Last night, KD went for 41 points, including a pair of jumpers in the final seconds to lift OKC past Atlanta for a 111-109 victory.
It’s the shooting of Durant that has been most impressive since Russell Westbrook was sidelined after Christmas.
With Westbrook in the lineup, Durant was still one of the best in the league averaging 28.2 points per game on 49.9/44.6/88.5 shooting splits.
But since Westbrook went out, Durant has taken his game to another level that most of us didn’t expect to see without Russ. He’s upped his field goal attempts to 22.4 from 18.3 per game, he’s getting to the line more and scoring more (36.5 PPG over the last 17 games). The shooting splits during that time are 53.7/41.3/87.4.
Durant’s three-point percentage has dipped some without Westbrook, which shouldn’t be a surprise. Westbrook draws a ton of attention and I still do feel like I saw Durant getting better looks overall with him in the lineup.
The amazing thing is that what Durant is doing more of, primarily handling the ball in the pick-and-roll, he’s improved his efficiency in.
Here is a look at Durant’s shot chart with Russ in the lineup this season:
Here it is over the last 17 games without him:
You can see that Durant seems to be working a lot more on the right side of the floor. He takes nearly twice as many three-pointers from the right side than the left. This is because typically the pick-and-roll ball handler in the Thunder’s offense starts on the right wing. When it was Westbrook, Durant would spot up a lot on the opposite side.
The two areas that really stand out are inside the arc on the right side. From the right elbow extended and the short corner, Durant was not shooting a good percentage with Westbrook in the lineup. Without Russ, that’s where he has been most deadly.
I think this is because Durant is more certain what he is going to do with Westbrook out of the lineup and that’s to shoot more. So when he’s making moves to drive right, it’s with the idea now to get his own shot almost every time.
You can see the balance with which Durant fills up this shot chart. He’s taking a good deal of shots from just about every area within the three-point line, and he’s efficient from everywhere. That’s what makes him most deadly. Durant knows he’s a good shooter from anywhere and there’s no place the defense can force him. So when the double came last night vs. Atlanta, Durant just went away from it and knew that wherever he would end up, he was going to get a good shot. He’s just that good.
One key to Durant is his ability to pull up for a jump shot. He’s in the top 10 in the NBA in pull-up jump shot attempts per game at 7.3. And among NBA players attempting at least five pull-up jump shots per game, Durant is first converting them at 45.5 percent.
That number is incredible considering that when Durant is driving to the rim, he’s shooting 57.7 percent. Only LeBron James is shooting a higher percentage (63.2) when driving to the rim among NBA players driving at least five times per game.
We really don’t even need to break down much more how Durant is shooting lights out over the last month. It just needs to be noted that this is the best, most complete offensive attack he has ever displayed. It’s why he is the most deserving of the MVP award at this point in the season.
When Westbrook gets back, I don’t think Durant will have any problem continuing what he’s doing, or at least that it won’t be Westbrook holding him back. He will get more open shots with Russ in the lineup and the lower shooting numbers he had while Russ was in this year, I’d just chalk up to a slow start for Durant.
We’ll probably start seeing Durant come back to reality some time. But even his reality has him better than anyone else.