Checking other blogs and fantasy sites, one thing is on people's lips when it comes to the Thunder (well, besides all the usual spew about Seattle and the name): What's the deal with Durant? Is this the beginning of a sophomore slump?
They say he's not scoring enough. He's not shooting a high enough percentage. Where's the stat stuffer we expected? Should we panic?
Answer in short: No. He is still playing relatively well (18.3 ppg, 41.4 percent from the field) but isn't popping eyes like some thought.
Keep in mind a couple things here:
1) He is only 20 years old. When Kobe Bryant was 20, he averaged 19.9 for the season. Durant already has a 20.3 average in the books. Seriously, think about it for a minute. He is only 20 years old. We are expecting quite a bit from a guy that voted for his first president and can't buy a brew. For 20, the guy is quite a stud. Heck, overall in the general sense 20 or not, he's a stud.
2) He is it. Right now, there's really not much of a Plan B for the Thunder. Jeff Green played much better last night, but he's not that second scorer yet. When Durant is on the floor, teams are locking on him. There's really no post man to dump down to that can kick out. No guy that can isolate on one side of the court and play the two-man with him. He's already got a team on his super-skinny shoulders and he needs time to progress.
3) He's only playing 34 minutes a game. Likewise, when Kobe was 20 he played almost 38 minutes a game. Why is Durant not getting 5-10 more minutes on the floor? Think about it: Five minutes is almost half a quarter. That much time Durant could easily add two more buckets and be averaging 22 ppg and no one would be saying a word right now. Maybe Coach Peej is trying to ease him into the superstar mold of 40 minutes a night (he played 34 last season) so that he doesn't wear out. Maybe there's a method to this. Who knows. I just know I get a little frustrated watching the offense completely shut down and Damien Wilkins dribble the ball of his foot while KD sits on the bench with a towel over his head. But maybe that's just me.
4) He's forcing it, but not forcing it enough. Let me explain. When Professor Chaos/Big Train/Kid Delicious is on the hardwood, you can almost read his mind: "Get me the ball. I need to score. Get me the ball. I need to score." Which in turn, when he gets it, he sometimes rushes it. He takes two dribbles and shoots with 16 on the shot clock. He needs to have the mind set of scoring, but if the shot isn't there, kick out, move around and try again. There's nothing wrong with shooting with four on the clock. I want KD taking most the shots. He's the best player. But he needs to force it in the right way, if that makes sense. Take it to the rack. Wiggle loose and get a clean look at the hoop. Last year, the complaint about him was poor shot decisions. He took too many threes. This year, he's only tried four. He hasn't made one yet, but still, only one per game.
5) He has to create his own shot way too much. There's no offensive rhythm. I'm not calling for a change yet, but it just seems there's too much jump shooting going on and not enough ball movement. Durant is getting little to no support when he's on the floor. When the ball is in his hands, everyone in the arena is thinking, "Shoot it. Shoot it. SHOOT IT!" Durant isn't getting any "flow" shots. What I mean is, he's not getting the chance to float around the perimeter and get a dish from a driving guard where defense collapses, leaving KD standing wide open to knock down a 15 footer. Most of Durant's shots are ones he creates for himself. He either is dribbling at the top of the key and Nick Collison sets an on-the-ball screen to which Durant steps over and shoots over his defender; or he curls off a screen and gets no air, but he still pulls the trigger because what else is he going to do? Kick it to Earl Watson with the shot clock running out?
Look, I'm an unabashed Russell Westbrook fan. When he's in the game, he's all I watch. I don't know why. There's just something about him. I feel like he can do something special all the time. But one thing is for sure - he adds another dimension to the offense that Earl Watson doesn't. Westbrook can penetrate and get to the rim. Watson prefers to stand and distribute. Westbrook likes to get up the floor. Watson is always the guy giving the slow-down motion with his off hand as he walks it up the court.
Ok, so maybe I do want change. I'm all Obama'd up right now and maybe a-change needs to be a-coming. Why is Westbrook only getting 21 minutes compared to Earl's 28? Like I said, I'm not saying the starting lineup needs to be changed up right now, because the worst thing we can do is get impatient and start panicking over a team no one thinks will be any good anyway. We are only four games in with 78 more to go. A lot can happen. Maybe KD goes puts up 44 for Obama and Earl has 14 assists tomorrow night. But right now, when you look at the production, it's clear Westbrook is ready for more time. Watson: 6.3 ppg, 5.3 apg, 25.7 percent from the field - Westbrook: 11.5 ppg, 2.5 apg, 38 percent. And when you look at those numbers in average per 48 minutes, it gets worse. Russell Westbrook is leading the team in most categories! He averages 26.3 points per 48 while Watson is at the bottom of the team averaging 8.0. To me, that is extremely telling.
So what I'm getting at, is maybe one thing to aid Durant is more Westbrook. I understand Russell is a rookie and there's a grooming process and there will definitely be growing pains, but he needs more time. It will help Durant and most likely, help the Thunder. Don't panic about KD. The guy is a star on the cusp and the thing is, he can get his shot anytime he wants it. He will score. Before the season is over, people will fawning over his ability and dreaming of what he may do next year. Right now, he just needs some help. Jeff Green's progression is a start. Russell Westbrook's is the big step.