Durant: OKC Thunder Not The Best Team
Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder is never satisfied. Despite the fact his team has the best record in the NBA – and has been stationed at the top for much of the season – he refuses to become complacent. In fact, he barely acknowledges their winning record.
“I wouldn’t say we’re the best team right now. We’ve got a lot of growing to do,” Durant told HOOPSWORLD.
With a 29-7 record, one would surmise the Thunder’s strategy is to keep doing what they’ve been doing while marching toward the postseason. However, this group doesn’t operate in that manner. Resting on their laurels is not the plan; they’re constantly looking for ways to improve.
Durant recognizes his team’s weaknesses. He knows they commit the highest number of turnovers in the league and knows offensive rebounding is a problem.
“We’ll do a better job of taking care of the basketball (and) rebounding,” said Durant about the second half of the season. “I think our defense has gotten better and better. We’re sharing the ball. We’ve just got to stick on this path, keep growing, keep getting better, and we’ll see.”
He’s also keenly aware of certain strengths of his team, namely how the offensive trio (Russell Westbrook, James Harden and Durant) are perfecting the art of cutting through the teeth of defenses and drawing fouls. The Thunder leads the NBA in both free throw shots made and free throw shooting percentage (.794).
“That’s important for us,” explained the 2012 All-Star Game MVP. “That’s where we kind of hang our hats…on driving the basketball, and not only to score (but) to pass the ball as well. We’ve got some shooters that can knock down shots in Royal (Ivey), Daequan (Cook), Reggie (Jackson), (Kendrick) Perkins hitting that small foul line jumper, (and) Serge (Ibaka).
“So we’ve got a lot of guys that can shoot the basketball. And with us three penetrating, and also can shoot as well, we’re just trying to keep putting pressure on the defense. So it’s really important for Russ to always be aggressive and always move the ball.”
With the addition of Perkins the Thunder has experienced a return to valuing defense while maintaining their signature high-level offense. It’s been an adjustment for the 27-year-old center, who is averaging 4.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 1.2 blocks this season.
“I’m still figuring things out, where I think I got things pretty packed down, as far as what my role is on the offensive end,” shared Perkins. “One thing I’m feeling guys out for is what they bring on the court offensively.
“It’s different than playing in Boston, but now I’m playing with more of a scoring point guard in Russell,” he pointed out. “In Boston, I was playing with more of an assist point guard with (Rajon) Rondo, so I had to switch over and buy into that myself. So (in Oklahoma City) I had to buy into something new also. I did that.”
True, Perkins’ role does not involve putting points on the board. With Durant averaging 28.0 points per game and Westbrook averaging 23.6 along with Harden’s 16.7, scoring points is covered. The Thunder rank third (102.4) in points per game.
“Now if we were losing and I wasn’t scoring, then you’d have a problem,” Perkins said. “But since we’re getting the job done doing it this way you, can’t complain about nothing.
“At the end of the day, I would love to score more points, without a doubt, but we’re winning. You’ve got to sacrifice in order for you to win and that includes everybody.”
With such a young and relatively inexperienced team, the addition of Perkins filled a critical need for an elder statesman-type voice who knows what it takes to win an NBA championship.
“I just wanted to bring leadership skills and a defensive presence and let the rest take care of itself,” Perkins shared with us. “I wanted to let them guys know that the little things are more important than the big things, like setting picks, defensive rotations and stuff like that. I just wanted guys to buy into the system…buy into what coach (Scott) Brooks (is) preaching… believing in what he’s preaching.
Brooks has officially grabbed hold of this team’s ear and Perkins explained why it’s working so well.
“Coach Brooks has done a lot,” he began. “I feel like he put his time in every day. He’s one of those player’s coaches. He lets us voice our opinion. He lets us play through things, but at the same time, when it’s time for him to be daddy, he’s going to be daddy and say what he’s got to say.
“I’m happy for him, because he’s really a great guy. I love him and his assistants. The way they come in, how they organize things, how our shoot-around practices are. It’s getting better, so I love it.”
Brooks won’t talk about playoffs at this juncture, but Perkins knows precisely what could give them the edge in the postseason. That would be the faithful, basketball-crazed home crowd in Oklahoma City, who seemingly push their team into wins at times.
“That’s what we keep striving for is to win the games and stay in the number one seed. So when we do get into the playoffs, I feel like home court advantage could push us through if we have to have a Game 7 or something.
“One thing about Oklahoma City (fans) is that they understand the game,” said Perkins.
The Thunder has 30 games left in this condensed NBA season. Now that the 2012 All-Star Weekend is in the books, wherein the Thunder was certainly well-represented, Durant isn’t looking back.
“All-star was fun (but) I’m done with it,” he said, calling it a “bigger lockout game.”
“I’m ready to move on from it. Glad I got the MVP, but I’m ready to just focus on how we can get better during the second half of the year.”
With their shortcomings identified – and the drive to improve – expect a wild ride to the finish.