Kevin Durant has been a good passer for years. Everything in Oklahoma City hinged on the play of him and Russell Westbrook, so naturally, Durant needed to facilitate to keep the ball moving in the Thunder’s iso-heavy offense. In his 2013-14 MVP year when Westbrook missed almost half the season, Durant attained ridiculous levels of offensive dominance, including a career-high 5.5 assists per game.
With Golden State, things are different. Very different. Not everything is predicated on two superstars commanding the ball and carrying the team. With Golden State, the ball zings around the court to the tune of 30 or more assists per night, flying from one to another in a perfect system of high-IQ sets, cuts, screens and selfless passing.
Now that the ball isn’t in Durant’s hands the whole time, and now that he has such stellar shooters to pass to, the Warriors are bringing out the best of his ability.
Durant couldn’t look better supported and more at home as he does in the NBA Finals. The Warriors are up 2-0 over the Cleveland Cavaliers and Durant has been sensational as their best player. He has scored 38 and 33 in the opening two games, respectively, with his 38-point, nine-rebound, eight-assist Game 1 made even better by the zero in the turnover column. His follow up was a 33-point, 13-rebound, six-assist, three-steal and five-block (!) outing in Game 2.
His passing, while not the most important aspect of his spectacular Finals performance, has picked apart the Cavs. After recording 4.8 assists per game in the regular season and the third-highest assist percentage (23.1) of his career, despite not holding the ball as much as he did in Oklahoma City, it’s clear how well Durant fits the Dubs.
That’s shown not only by his own playmaking, but how the Warriors have set him up in comparison to the hefty isolation load LeBron James is carrying so fantastically: Durant has been assisted on 74.1 percent of his field goals in the Finals, while LeBron has been assisted on a mere 19 percent.
There’s no better trailer in transition to punish scrambling defenses than the best shooter in history, Stephen Curry.
Consider the play below:
Steph (like Klay Thompson) allows Durant to drive inside with full force on fast breaks, suck in defenders around him — Kyrie Irving is lost in no-man’s land here between Curry and Thompson — and then serve as the perfect option waiting behind the arc. It’s easy for Durant to wait a second, know where his teammate will be, and kick the ball back out for an open Curry 3:
Equally, Durant can thrive in the lively terror of the Warriors’ transition game. This smooth outlet pass downcourt to Draymond Green, rifling over several defenders and the desperate arms of Deron Williams, was almost “Kevin Love” good:
On this half-court play, Durant did a great job of nipping past LeBron in order to pull Tristan Thompson down the lane to help, leaving his man (Green) open at the top of the arc. Since Irving and J.R. Smith had to worry about both Thompson and Curry on the right wing, they couldn’t commit to leaving such dangerous assignments to help on Green if Durant passed out to him in space. Plus, everyone knew Green wouldn’t hesitate to lure an extra defender (Smith) and instinctively make the extra pass to the open Curry if he did get the ball:
Durant knows how to manipulate the attention he draws with such passing, and it’s easy for him when he has the right teammates and absurdly versatile power forwards/centers who can space the floor like Green. When they shift down a spot in the lineup and form the Warriors’ frontcourt, they’re a seriously fearsome duo.
The gravity of the Splash Brothers can create space for Durant, as it has done so often with a host of wide-open transition dunks in the first two games. Alternatively, Durant can flip things around, grab the focus of the defense, and do the facilitating himself. Over the last four years with OKC (since 2012 when James Harden went to Houston), the Thunder ranked only 13th in the NBA with 2,572 made 3-pointers. Now, Durant is in Golden State, the locus of amazingly modern and efficient offense… and winning.
The obvious benefit of the Warriors adding Durant was the additional shot creation he provided, a skill set like no other. He can score in any way when necessary from the post to the perimeter. The benefit overlooked by many at first was his defense, which couldn’t have blossomed any more this season. (If I had a vote for the All-NBA teams, he’d have made my All-Defensive Second Team.)
The element of his game that helped Durant fit in so easily is that he didn’t want to keep lowering his head into isolation after isolation; he wants to share the ball and be a part of the best offense we’ve seen, not be the offense that mundanely splits duties with Westbrook.
The room Durant has to operate and pass in now is light years ahead, and he couldn’t be playing any better.