Durant Makes History — Good and Bad
Kevin Durant is about to make history. Unless he goes 0 for 5 from the free-throw line in Wednesday’s season finale against Milwaukee (or 0 for 14 from 3-point range), Durant will become the sixth player in history to shoot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from 3-point range, and 90 percent from the line in a single NBA season.
So, yeah, the guy is a basketball savant. But that’s not the most important history that Durant is about to make.
Durant is about to become the third player in history to lead the league in points but not lead his team in field-goal attempts. He’s not going to win his fourth straight scoring title (highest average); Carmelo Anthony is going to capture that crown, unless Durant can manage 46 points while Anthony goes scoreless on the final day of the season. But Durant is going to lead the league in points, because Anthony has missed 14 games.
And he’s going to do that despite having taken 1,433 field-goal attempts. That’s a lot of shots; it’s the fourth-most in the league. Yet teammate Russell Westbrook has taken 1,530 shots, the second-most in the league.
Hey, when you’re making 44 percent of them, why not? Seriously. Why not shoot instead of passing to the most gifted scorer of his generation? Consider this: Per 36 minutes, Westbrook is averaging 19.3 shots; Durant is averaging 16.5 shots.
That should never, ever, ever happen if Kevin Durant is on your team. If LeBron James was on Durant’s team, James would be the best player, but he would use his talents to set up Durant and Durant would take the most shots. There’s no question about this.
But, hey, when you’re making 44 percent . . .
All of that is important. It’s not important that Durant is or isn’t going to win the scoring title. It’s important that he has a point guard who is a wondrous athlete and a terrific basketball player yet has no idea about what a point guard is supposed to do.
I haven’t seen any statistics on this, but I’m guessing that Westbrook leads the league in no-pass possessions. The guy has made an art form out of taking the inbounds pass, dribbling down the floor, and creating and taking his own shot. And he makes 44 percent of them.
The Thunder are the defending Western Conference champions; they have wrapped up the No. 1 seed in the West for this year’s playoffs; they have legitimate title aspirations. But they’re never going to get there as long as Russell Westbrook plays as if he’s the Alpha Dog on the team.
Right before the start of the season, OKC traded James Harden, a gifted scorer and the smartest player in the league. Harden routinely good smart decisions on the court, and he is a lethal fourth-quarter player. He knows when to pass; he makes the pass that leads to the pass; he gets to the line; and he knows when to shoot. He understands that championship basketball requires selflessness, but the Thunder had to trade him because of a salary crunch created, in part, because they locked up Westbrook with a huge five-year deal that kicked in this year.
But if Westbrook keeps jacking up shots and being the master of the no-pass possession during the playoffs, OKC is going to come to the realization it signed the wrong guard. The Thunder would be better off with Harden instead of Westbrook.
— By the way, the players to shoot 50-40-90 for a season: Reggie Miller, Mark Price, Steve Nash, Dirk Nowitzki, and Larry Bird (the NBA instituted the 3-point shot for the 1979-80 season). And the only players to lead the league in points but not lead their team in field-goal attempts are Paul Pierce in 2001-02 and Neil Johnston in 1954-55.