http://nba.si.com/2012/11/12/kevin-durant-oklahoma-city-thunder-fundamentals/?sct=nba_t12_a0Kevin Durant is a scorer, and that he will always be. His jumper will always be effortless, and the backspin on his shot will always make a subtle splash in the net upon its landing. The instincts and abilities that have made Durant the most potent scorer in the league over the last few seasons won’t soon wane, and defenses will always be forced to account for his scoring potential from the moment he steps on the court.
But as Durant is proving this season, there’s a world of difference between being a scorer and being just a scorer. Though Durant may be a doctorate-level scholar in the bucket-getting arts, he’s clearly put a lot of effort into building out his game to LeBron James-like extremes. Durant is averaging a whopping 10.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists in seven games — numbers that, believe it or not, have already cooled a bit since his unbelievably hot start (through three games he was averaging 14.3 rebounds and 6.6 assists). But even as the sample size increases, Durant’s emphasis on creating shots for his teammates and cleaning the glass should yield similar returns in terms of his season-long individual production.
That’s great for Durant’s résumé, but possibly even better for the Thunder. For one, Durant’s rebounding work has already made it more palatable for coach Scott Brooks to slowly embrace the inevitable. Center Kendrick Perkins’ growing irrelevance has made the value of small-ball in Oklahoma City painfully apparent, and the Miami Heat’s title run with James as a nominal power forward gave the concept some concrete validation. Long, talented wing players are only bound by their coach’s creativity, and though Brooks had been reluctant in the past to use lineups without two true big men, he’s used Durant plenty in the LeBron mold this season.
The Thunder’s scoring efficiency in those configurations has been predictably great, but the more startling trend is OKC’s rebounding dominance with Durant as a power forward. We’re talking about shutout work on the defensive glass and a total rebound rate somewhere in the mid-60 percent range — values well above what the Thunder have done overall and what we could otherwise expect. The specific values will settle in as the season rolls on and the minutes played by those lineups tick upward, but this is a trend that could end up making a remarkable difference. Provided that Durant can continue to outrebound and defend opposing bigs, Brooks may finally be compelled into using his team’s most explosive lineup possibilities.
Even when Durant isn’t playing the 4, the Thunder are benefiting from a solid bump in overall rebounding — a margin that has little risk of sampling error. Durant is grabbing out-of-position boards and doing much better box-out work than before, and those kinds of differences in approach will help the Thunder whether Durant is used as a big man or a wing.