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Kevin Durant's Alpha Dog Attitude Is What OKC Thunder Need to Thrive

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 11: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball against the Houston Rockets during an NBA game on March 11, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2014 NBAE (Photo by Layne Murdoch Jr./NBAE via Getty Images)
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images
Dan FavaleFeatured Columnist IVJune 14, 2016

Buried deep down inside Kevin Durant, there lies a harbinger of doom worthy of the "Slim Reaper" moniker involuntarily bestowed upon him.

Try as he might to distance himself from words such as "reaper," "doom" and "death," Durant's predatory side is what the Oklahoma City Thunder need to prosper.

Off the court, he can author whatever persona he likes. He can be a benevolent citizen or soft-spoken villager who allows his random acts of kindness to the do the talking. He can be the pseudo bad boy who is actually anything but. He can be whomever he wants.

But on the court, he must be only one thing: ruthless. The alpha and the omega. 

Which isn't to suggest Durant takes pity upon opponents. In many ways, he's a cold-blooded killer whose puerile smile masks the severity of his defense-throttling deeds. 

What the Thunder need is more...of everything.

More shooting than passing. More attacking than deferring.

More king-pinning, less servantry.

 

Less Isn't More

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 11, 2014:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder handles the ball against Dwight Howard #12 of the Houston Rockets at the Chesapeake Arena on March 11, 2014 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER:  User expressly acknow
Richard Rowe/Getty Images

There's a common misconception here, a tendency to take constructive remarks as unfounded criticism, when nothing could be further from true.

Durant doesn't need help understanding what's best for him and the Thunder. He already knows. And yet, he has this habit of relegating himself to a bystander, so to speak, for minutes, quarters or an entire game at a time.

That doesn't mean he's prone to lethargy or disinterest. It's just the opposite. Durant is so interested in making the right decisions, he cedes control more than he actually should.

There's no reason he should be averaging a soft 20.6 shots per game, with "soft" pointing out he frequently attempts fewer than 20 shots. There have been 26 games in which he's hoisted fewer than 20 shots, and nine in which he's attempted under 15.

Few reasons exist as to why Durant, the NBA's leading scorer, should ever be taking fewer than 15 shots. Unless he's injured or sitting out, it shouldn't happen. But it has. Nine times. And in those nine games the Thunder are a "whatever" 6-3. 

Winning 66.7 percent of games classifies as a failure for a team that has won 73.4 percent of its contests overall, especially when it's emerged victorious in 75.7 percent of games (28-9) during which Durant attempts at least 20 shots.

For the Thunder, a more aggressive Durant is a better Durant—and a better Durant culminates in a better Oklahoma City. 

Shooting in superfluous volume would indeed be uncharacteristic of Durant, who's revered for pairing volume scoring with economical shooting, but that version of him exists.

Slim Reaper exists.

 

Sidekick Problems

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 9: Kevin Durant #35 and Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at STAPLES Center on March 9, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agr
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images

Who do you think carried the Thunder in Russell Westbrook's absence and approached historical levels of scoring? It was Durant, the combative assailant. That Durant took a backseat to no one. Ever.

During the 27 consecutive games Westbrook missed while tending to another knee injury, Durant averaged 21.5 field-goal attempts a night, according to NBA.com (subscription required). The Thunder were 20-7 in that time—though Durant did miss one contest—winning 74.1 percent of their games.

In the 34 games Durant has played alongside Westbrook, however, he's attempting just 15 shots on average, a stark contrast from the 21.5 he jacked up while on his own. Oklahoma City is 25-9 in those 34 contests. 

To be sure, this doesn't mean the Thunder are better off without Westbrook, or that Durant himself is better off as Oklahoma City's lone superstar. 

Westbrook is an elite point guard. The whole "he can and will ruin Durant's MVP campaign" storyline is exaggerated and farcical. The only person who can derail Durant's MVP crusade is Durant himself.

Shots aren't as readily available for him with Westbrook in the lineup, but it's on him to ensure such drastic differences don't arise. If he's healthy and able, there's no reason he should be attempting 6.5 fewer shots alongside his sidekick. 

And there's no reason he should routinely be taking fewer shots than Westbrook.

The point guard has outshot Durant 11 times thus far, accounting for almost a third of the games they've played together. In those contests, when Westbrook takes more shots than Durant, the Thunder are an unimpressive 7-4. When Durant attempts more shots than Westbrook, though, the Thunder are 18-5. 

Curbing his shot totals isn't necessary alongside Westbrook. Not that much. It's a choice. The wrong choice.

We've seen Durant take over games with Westbrook on the floor. He did it against the Houston Rockets on Tuesday. He did it against the Charlotte Bobcats before then. He did it against the Memphis Grizzlies before then. And the Los Angeles Lakers before then. And the Portland Trail Blazers before then.  

Westbrook's presence shouldn't be a deterrent. It should be an additional weapon—one that makes the Thunder nigh unbeatable when Durant isn't making adjustments he shouldn't.

 

Recipe for Success

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MARCH 4: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dunks the ball against the Philadelphia 76ers during an NBA game on March 4, 2014 at the Chesapeake Energy Arena in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledg
Layne Murdoch Jr./Getty Images

Lobbying for the NBA's second-best player to change is cruel practice. But that's not what we're doing.

Durant is a leader, not a follower. He's a scorer, a shot-taker and net-shredder, not a point guard. Passing is a complementary aspect of his game that makes him a better scorer. There is no hard number of dimes a night he should be dropping, no amount of touches he must forfeit to someone else.

"Let's face it: If he wanted to score a bunch of points or more than he's scoring now, he really could do that," Thunder coach Scott Brooks said before they played the Lakers on Sunday, per ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin

Sometimes, he does do that—score more, shoot more. He does it because he needs to do it, because the Thunder are typically better when he does it. And though there will be times when he shoots in excess and Oklahoma City loses, the wins will invariably outweigh the foibles.

Because Durant isn't supposed to be a passive leader or modest shot compiler. He's supposed to do what the Thunder need, and on most nights they need him—not Westbrook, not Serge Ibaka, not Reggie Jackson—to be the aggressor he is.

They need him to be the uninhibited, point-lotting, maniacal-cackling alpha dog that took frenetic pleasure out of consistently torching those who tried to stop him.

"So a lot of things that he does [are] all about the team," Brooks said.

Everything he does is for the team, and the sooner he realizes the Thunder are better when he's attacking and taking over without regard for who's playing, the more dominant Oklahoma City will be.

 

*Stats via Basketball-Reference and NBA.com (subscription required).


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