The Positive Spin on Kevin Durant’s Injury


At first glance it does not seem as if there can be anything positive about the Oklahoma City Thunder losing the reigning MVP and unquestioned second-best player in the NBA to a Jones fracture in his foot. While a Jones fracture is a fairly common occurrence in the NBA and will likely only keep Kevin Durant our for about a month it is still unfortunate that this could keep the Thunder from getting a top seed in the West. However, this injury is not all bad. All great teams must go through adversity and this is exactly the kind of challenge the Thunder needs to make it a better team. In the end the Thunder will come out a better team and here’s why.

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Time for the young guys to develop

It’s not that Durant’s presence has stunted the growth of the Thunder’s young players but truth be told there hasn’t been many minutes up for grabs since he plays 40 minutes a night. Players like Jeremy Lamb, Perry Jones III, and Andre Roberson haven’t been able to get as much playing time on the wing as they could, which is crucial this year since even with Durant back they will have to play bigger roles on the team. Lamb flashed the ability to play well averaging 8.5 points, 2.4 rebounds, and 1.5 assists per game while also shooting 35.6% from 3-point range. Sadly, with the mid-season addition of Caron Butler, Lamb got phased out of the lineup and lost all the momentum and confidence he gained in the first half of the season. Roberson started 16 games in place of an injured Thabo Sefolosha where he established himself as a tenacious rebounder and excellent defender but was not part of the rotation once Sefolosha returned. Perry Jones has always been one of the most gifted athletes in the NBA but has not ever been given the opportunity to shine since he is essentially the direct backup to that Slim Reaper guy. Now these players have even more important roles than ever before and are going to have the chance to play their game with a substantial amount of minutes. If they can build experience and confidence leading up to when Durant gets back and through the playoff the team as a whole will be much more dangerous. The potential of each of these players along with second-year center Steven Adams, who seems to be developing at a meteoric pace with or without Durant, raises the ceiling of the Thunder to heights that seems impossible for any other team other than the Cleveland Cavaliers can reach. The more they play, the better they get and the better they get, the better the chances the team has of winning a title.

Jeremy Lamb is now an even more key to the Thunder’s success with Durant injured and needs to develop for the team to maintain it’s contender status.

More team oriented play

This is one area the Thunder really have to improve on but it is understandable why they have struggled so much with this aspect of basketball. When a team has two Top 5 players in the world and one that is likely Top 25, it is easy to lean heavily on those players. But the San Antonio Spurs haven’t won their titles like that and the Thunder would do well to take notice. Durant, Russell Westbrook, and Serge Ibaka alone will win the Thunder 50+ games in the regular season but come playoff time that just does not cut it. The ball has to move more, the players have to move more, and that just doesn’t happen in isolation basketball when the stars tell everyone to give them the rock and get out of the way. Westbrook said it himself after news broke that Durant would be out a month, “It’s not about me. It’s about our team. I can’t win games by myself. I can’t do anything by myself.” Russ has grown up and sees now that he can’t do it by himself and nor can Kevin. In fact, it seems that at this point, Russ resents the fact and wants to change the culture saying, “I kind of want to take the attention off me and put it more on the team. Everybody keeps asking what I’m going to do and how I’m going to change. I think it’s more about our team and what we can do.” That mentality is going to be what evolves the Thunder as a team and if Westbrook sticks to his word, help them to play at an elite level even with Durant out.

“I can’t win games by myself. I can’t do anything by myself-Russell Westbrook”

Forced improvement on the defensive end

Kevin Durant is the best scorer in the league and it is not a conversation. There isn’t anyone who scores as much, as efficiently, or easier than KD. And that’s why the shouldn’t try to fill his scoring void. Even with all the talented scorers on the Thunder, it’s impossible to replace all that Durant does on the offensive end. No one is going to average 32 PPG while shooting 50% from the floor, it’s just not going to happen. What can happen is more effort on  the defensive end. The length and athleticism of this team gives it the potential to be one of the best defensive teams the league has seen in a while. The problem so far has been consistency. They have proven that at any given time they can lock an offense down so tight it’s impossible to even get a shot off. The best way to replace Durant’s scoring is going to be by keeping the other team from scoring. As good a defender as Durant is, his defense can be replaced and bettered with Roberson and an improved defender in Westbrook. A team effort is going to be required but Oklahoma City has enough capable defenders that need to put in the effort and mentality to not let their man score.

The Bottom Line

It would be better if Durant never fractured his foot but that’s not the position the Thunder find themselves in. Now the only way to make this a positive is by maximizing the roster and using the players in a way that will maximize their potential so they can be effective role players once Durant returns. GM Sam Presti said it best in his press conference following Durant’s injury, “If you can only operate when the wind’s blowing out for you, I don’t think that’s the mark of an elite team or an elite organization.” The Thunder can and will get through this to show the league that they not only have an elite player but are an elite team.