Although most were high on him when he was drafted by Seattle out of Texas in 2007, few could have imagined that the Washington, D.C.-native would be this good this fast. The scariest part about him is the fact that he is still years away from his prime, as are most of his young teammates.
With that young core surrounding him, the question isn’t whether Durant will ever win a title. Rather, the question has become when will he do it. Following my advice will ensure that he wins one sooner rather than later.
Here are eight things Durant must do if he wants to win an NBA title next season.
One question mark that has been attached to Durant since he was drafted out of Texas is his strength. His long, thin figure made people question whether or not he’d be able to get open and score at the rim in the NBA.
While Durant has managed to adjust to his weakness for the most part, he still needs to post up and not get pushed off his spot. He struggled greatly against LeBron James in the Finals, who dominated OKC under the post and played excellent defense during the fourth quarter
If Durant can get bulk up and get some easier shots, he’ll be even more of a terror on the offensive end.
Durant has a bad rap on the defense end. While he isn’t a defensive All-Star, he isn’t anywhere near as bad as people make him out to be. His length is a major asset on the defensive end, and he has learned to use it to make up for his other deficiencies.
However, he must improve his lateral quickness if he is to truly become the superstar he is capable of being. He had major issues staying in front of LeBron James in the Finals. While he obviously won’t be guarding James every night, that is the standard he will be judged against.
With his length and improved strength, Durant only needs better lateral quickness to be an elite defender. Not a good or even great defender, an elite one. No other perimeter player can match him length-wise.
We all saw what LeBron James was able to do in the Finals with an improved post-game. Durant has begun to develop a post-game, but he must continue to do so if he wants to win a title. His size and shooting touch makes him a matchup nightmare down low.
James was able to run the offense out of the post, essentially playing point guard from the block. Durant will probably never be able to do that, at least not as well as James does, but he can at least develop a few more moves down there.
Working on his jump hook, an up-and-under and finding the right man out of double teams will make him a better player. They will also make the Thunder a much better team.
Durant will always be a player that plays primarily on the perimeter. As a result, he must get better at handling the ball and not turning it over. He averaged 3.8 turnovers per game last season, which is absolutely unacceptable.
There were multiple times during the Finals when Durant lost the ball on a fast break while dribbling in traffic. The key to ball control is dribbling lower, which is difficult for him because of his height.
He already handles the ball pretty well for a player that is nearly seven feet tall. However, that doesn’t mean that he can afford to rest on his laurels. His ball-handling must get better.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but the truth is that when Durant dominates the ball, the Thunder aren't as good offensively.
Moving the ball keeps the defense off balance, allowing both Durant and his teammates to get better shots. Getting easier shots for Durant allows him to save energy for the grind-it-out moments where he needs to get a tough bucket.
Getting easier shots for guys like Kendrick Perkins and Thabo Sefolosha is almost the only way they can score.
Ball movement is the key to any good offense at any level of basketball, and the Oklahoma City Thunder of the NBA is no exception. If Durant can keep the ball moving, he’ll win a title much sooner than he would have otherwise.
This particular point isn’t one that I’ve seen made as much as the others, but it is something that would make Durant much tougher to stop. He must play the pick-and-roll more often, not as the ball-handler, but as the big man setting the pick.
Both Durant and Russell Westbrook are extremely skilled scorers. Putting them in a pick-and-roll situation is deadly and the Thunder should do it more often. Durant is big enough to set a decent screen, giving Westbrook an open shot or a lane to the hoop. He is also skilled enough that he’ll make a defense pay almost every time they leave him in on-on-one situations.
Either way, the defense is getting burned.
Much was made of the Thunder coaching staff not going with a zone in the Finals against Miami. Players said they didn’t have time to install one, and I believe them, especially given the lockout-shortened offseason and the lack of practice time during the season.
However, now that they have a full offseason to prepare, a zone scheme must be installed. No one on the Thunder, including Durant, can guard Lebron James one-on-one for an entire game. Playing zone might be their only way of stopping King James and winning an NBA title.
The biggest key to Durant winning a title in the near future is his teammates. Serge Ibaka and James Harden are good, young players who came up short in the Finals. Their game still has some maturing to do, and they won’t be able to do that without Durant’s support on and off the court.
The same is true of new draft pick Perry Jones III, last year’s rookie Reggie Jackson, backup point guard Eric Maynor and fellow star Russell Westbrook. All of these players must be able to count on Durant as a player who will lead them by example and spirit. They also need him, as one of the greatest players in the game, to build them up and tear them down when they need it.
Maybe this is better stated as “leadership,” but I believe it is more specific than that. Durant must become a positive force in the lives of his teammates in every facet of the game. He probably already is, but you can never be too much of a good thing.