Kevin Durant will need to manage his minutes for Thunder to win


Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been well documented by now, that Kevin Durant has withdrawn from Team USA and the FIBA World Cup in Spain due to mental and physical fatigue.

Durant has played more minutes than anyone else in the NBA last season. In 81 regular season games, KD logged a total of 3122 minutes, 99 more than second place Monta Ellis who played all 82 games. When you consider the deep playoff run the Thunder undertook, making it to the Western Conference Finals and pushing the Spurs to 6 games – that’s a lot of wear and tear.

In fact, since his rookie year (when he averaged 34.6 mpg), Durant has never averaged less than 38.5 minutes per game over the course of a regular season. Add to that the All Star game, the playoff runs, the Olympics and previous FIBA tournaments and Kevin Durant truly epitomized his “Basketball Never Stops” slogan.

It has now.

Now that he will miss the FIBA tournament, Durant finally has time to stop, slow down and get some rest. When Jerry Colangelo USA Basketball Chairman noticed KD didn’t have his usual “zest”, he could understand why Durant made the decision to sit out this time around. Many Oklahoma City Thunder fans breathed a sigh of relief – not just in light of the injury to Paul George, but also because they know Durant has played a LOT of basketball during his career.

If the Thunder are serious about winning an NBA Championship, they are going to have to really learn how to manage Durant’s minutes. You can’t get into the post season with a player who has been run into the ground. Well you can, but you make it extremely difficult. The San Antonio Spurs have shown the rest of the league how to do things properly. Manage your main guys minutes and have them all fit and firing when it really matters.

Scott Brooks is going to need to work this one out sooner rather than later. With the isolation based offensive structure, it is easy to “need” Durant on the floor for most of the time. While it gets you wins, it hasn’t resulted in a ring and it hasn’t helped KD’s cause.

One of the biggest issues has always been lack of offensive support. The Thunder starting lineup used to consist of two defensive minded players in Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha, so the balance had to be struck by running a lot of minutes and offense through KD and Russell Westbrook. This season however, things might change.

Reggie Jackson has proven himself and needs to be getting 30 minutes a game. He can start in the backcourt alongside Westbrook or you can bring him off the bench in the 6th man role, but he needs plenty of burn. He is solid defensively and can explode on offense. Jeremy Lamb also needs to carve out a substantial role within this team. While all the blame can’t lay with the coaching staff, this is the season Lamb needs to show just what he can do.

During the off-season, the Thunder went out and got Anthony Morrow. While more of an outside marksman and spot up shooter, he can still put points on the board and in a small ball lineup with Russ and Reggie, he might be able to play valuable, double digit minutes. All the time these guys are filling up a spot on the floor, is time Durant is getting on the bench.

See where we are going here?

And while it has been frowned upon by the NBA and other league owners, managing your players minutes and giving players “the night off” is not such a bad idea. Sure, we want to see the best players playing each and every night, but not at the expense of missing them when it matters.

Kevin Durant is about to enter his eighth NBA season. And this Thunder team may be the deepest and most talented that he will have been a part of. For everyone’s sake, I hope that’s the case and we can finally see Durant’s minutes managed and allow us to see the very best KD come playoff time.