Each and every year, Kevin Durant has honed in on an aspect of his game and worked relentlessly during the off-season to improve it. On the back of his first MVP trophy, the question needs to be asked – what will he work on next?
The Oklahoma City Thunder’s superstar small forward has worked hard, never resting on his laurels and it paid off this past season with the Most Valuable Player award. However, being a team player and a star that wants the highest achievement – and NBA Championship – Durant’ won’t be happy with just one MVP or with his game how it stands. Over the seasons he has worked on his jump shot, his range, his movement without the ball, his strength and plenty more. Last off-season he added a one legged step back, patterned on Dirk Nowitzki‘s effective offensive weapon, and he also worked to improve his ball handling.
So what is next for the MVP and league scoring champ?
As the Thunder grow as a unit, there are elements of their offensive system that can be tweaked to become more effective and efficient. There are also plenty of areas on the defensive side of the ball to focus on as well, so the never ending quest for self improvement and team success go hand in hand. This off-season, the Oklahoma City Thunder and Kevin Durant would be best served by working on a couple of key elements.
If Kevin Durant wants to complete his game, he is going to need to develop a back to the basket post game and the ability to really attack the low block. Durant can soar through the lane and he finishes with a dunk, strong layup or he gets to the foul line. All of that is terrific, but for a team that gets very little offensive production from the center position, Durant could make it a little easier by adding a couple of “go to” post moves. We often feel that the Thunder need a low post threat to allow the floor to be spaced and for open shots to occur from the perimeter. We have thought the Thunder need Ibaka to play the post more, or that OKC need a center who can score on the block – but what if the best offensive player in the game was entrusted with this role?
It’s a different way of thinking, but one that might pay dividends – especially if the Thunder plan on playing Reggie Jackson alongside Russell Westbrook more often and finally give solid minutes to Jeremy Lamb. Instead of being on the receiving end of the kick out, Durant could become a threat to score from in close, or use his exceptional length to pass out of the post and likely double-team to hit a wide open Westbrook, Jackson or Lamb. It would also give KD and the Thunder another option and flexibility in their lineup. Teams wouldn’t be able to “clog the lane” if there were open shooters on the perimeter and Durant could score even more effectively, put pressure on the defensive front line and still get to the foul line. Add in some solid cutters like Lamb, Russ and Jackson and it could just work.
Kobe Bryant and Michael Jordan are two of the best scorers in NBA history – especially in the past couple of decades, and both developed a very dangerous post game. It allowed them to be more than just a jump shooter and made them even more difficult to stop. It also kept defender guessing which would be ideal for Durant and the Thunder. Teams know that OKC love to try and shoot the long ball and even though Durant is one of the better shooters in the game, the percentages are still going to be better from 12 feet than they are from 24. KD has it iced from deep and from mid-range – a low post game could really round it out.
Durant isn’t a poor defender by any stretch, but he isn’t an elite defender either. The Thunder have tried to make up for this by playing Thabo Sefolosha and Kendrick Perkins, but those guys are offensively limited. If Durant was able to take another step forward as a defender, then perhaps Scott Brooks would be able to show more flexibility with his rotations. KD exerts a lot of energy on the offensive side of the ball and is constantly moving. He logs a heap of minutes and there is no denying that it must take its toll somewhere. It is usually on the defensive end where the shortcomings lie.
At times, Durant gets caught ball watching. He is prone to closing out in lackluster fashion and sometimes just misses defensive assignments completely. This is not a knock on Durant by any stretch – he is still an adequate defender at the NBA level and is by no means a “James Harden-esque” defender, but if he wants to be the best he can be (and you better believe he does) then this is an area for some improvement. It will also really help his team because KD is the benchmark. You could set it last season in a game against the Houston Rockets (ironically Jeremy Lamb’s best game of the season) where KD set the tone and everyone followed. The Thunder were up double digits and you had Durant diving for loose balls, shutting it down on the defensive end and players like Lamb just emulated the effort.
The Thunder go as far as Kevin Durant takes them. Yes it is a team effort and players like Serge Ibaka and Russell Westbrook are arguably as important as Durant on the floor – but this is KD’s team. The MVP award was lovely and it meant a lot to Durant. He made one of the most moving speeches we have ever seen and he meant every word. It was some reward for what he and the team have accomplished to this point.
If he wants to add to the trophy cabinet, some slight tweaking of his already incredible game could see him add another MVP, an NBA Championship and a Finals MVP to the trophy case.