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State of the Thunder: Is Kevin Durant the Clutch Scorer Oklahoma City Needs?

Ricky FrechCorrespondent IJanuary 24, 2011

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 17:  Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder dribbles to the basket around Ron Artest #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center on January 17, 2011 in Los Angeles, California.   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.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

After yesterday's game-winning shot against the New York Knicks, I decided to do some research into whether or not Kevin Durant is statistically and logically the guy the Oklahoma City Thunder should be looking for in the last minutes of a close game. The results may surprise some and, agree or disagree, here are the cold hard facts.

Before we go any further let's take a quick look at Durant's current "clutch" statistics as recorded by 82games.com. During the last five minutes and overtime of a game in which neither team is ahead by more than five points, Durant is averaging 45.9 points per 48 minutes, .415 FG percentage, and .111 3PT percentage.

Now obviously when you're going by points per 48 minutes it's going to come out a lot higher than his current per game average of 28.5 ppg, but it's in the percentages that we can begin to really get a good look at how "clutch" Durant really is. His field goal percentage doesn't drop too far from his season average of .471, but his three point percentage drops drastically. It goes from a very respectable .328 all the way down to Glen Davis territory. Before we really get into what all this means let's take a quick look at some of his teammates numbers in the same areas.

Jeff Green

"Clutch" Stats: 22.2 pp48m, .500 FG%, 500 3PT%,

Regular Season Average: 15.1 ppg, .418 FG%, .285 3PT%

Russell Westbrook

"Clutch" Stats: 46.9 pp48m, .443 FG%, .250 3PT%

Regular Season Average: 22.4 ppg, .435 FG%, .244 3PT%

James Harden

"Clutch" Stats: 12.9 pp48m, .375 FG%, .400 3PT%

Regular Season Average: 10.6 ppg, .417 FG%, .380 3PT%

Now that we have a full look at the four biggest offensive threats the Thunder have, we can get a good look at the validity of Durant being a clutch scorer. The first thing you might notice is that Westbrook actually scores more points than Durant while in clutch situations. You might think that since he only averages one more point per 48 minutes it's not a big deal, but that's where you would be wrong.

Notice that Westbrook's average goes up by 24.5 when he is in close games, while Durant's only goes up by by 17.5. So while they produce about the same, Westbrook's production improves much more dramatically than Durant's.

The second thing I notice is Green's huge increase in three-point percentage in clutch situations. Before we say that this is all because of Green we have to remember that in the closing moments teams are looking for the star player and not the third option. We'll call Green's improvement the "Horry Effect" because he gets better shots during close games since Durant and Westbrook are usually double-teamed. However, I would still argue that Green gets the same open shots during the rest of the game so his improvement must have something to do with his ability to perform in the clutch.

The final major thing I see from these stats is that Durant actually has the worst shooting percentage among the big three. What this leads me to believe is that Durant is forcing too many bad shots at the end of the game. For evidence of this we only need to look back to Wednesdays game against the Denver Nuggets, in which he went 1-8 from the field in the second half.

In that half he put up far too many contested jumpers when he had players open. Now, we can't just base our thoughts on one game, but with a team that doesn't have a good half court offense, Durant jacking up contested jumpers is something that is becoming way too common for a team with championship aspirations.

After looking at the hard facts I'm forced to say that the jury is probably still out on whether or not Durant is the clutch scorer the Thunder need. For the present I would say that I would rather have the ball in Westbrook's hands in a tight game just because he doesn't put up nearly as many contested jumpers as Durant. If I needed someone to take the last shot, I want Westbrook to drive and kick it out to an open Green, with Durant as the second option. Hopefully, the buzzer beater against the Knicks can light a fire under Durant and turn him into the clutch scorer OKC needs, but until then Westbrook and Green can handle it just fine.

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