Durant Making Effort to Attack the Basket

Photo by Richard A. Rowe
Some of the game’s most grizzled, prolific scorers, players like LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Carmelo Anthony, have added different dimensions to their offensive repertoires over the years. As efficient as they are shooters, each does not rely on one singular offensive skill alone. All three have the ability to score from the perimeter, off the dribble and at the basket.

We’re seeing more of that from Kevin Durant this season, particularly the latter, as both teammates and the coaching staff have taken notice of his concerted effort to attack the basket.

He’s done so more frequently and has found more success. And the proof is in the numbers.

According to a statistical feature on NBA.com called “Player Hot Spots,” Durant has made 57 of 83 shots (68.7 percent) in the painted area this season. In turn, he’s made great strides at the free-throw line. Durant has made 107 of 126 shots from the line through 13 games this season, nearly double of what he had 13 games into last season (56-for-66).

And Durant has made gradual improvements in his free throw attempts in each of his three seasons. As a rookie, he averaged 5.6 attempts per game; last season that number rose to 7.1; this year he’s climbed to 9.7.

Durant ranks sixth in total free-throw attempts through 13 games, behind Chris Bosh, James, Wade, Anthony and Dwight Howard.

Thunder Head Coach Scott Brooks said that attacking the rim on a consistent basis is something Durant has worked on.

“His first year, he struggled, because he didn’t have the strength and then the second year he improved in that area and improved his ball-handling and now this year it’s all coming together,” Brooks said. “But he still has to get better at it. But he’s definitely looking to attack the basket. He’s not a one-dimensional scorer. He doesn’t just shoot shots from the perimeter. He mixes it up. He drives, he gets layups, he gets to the free-throw line. He’s attacking the basket. You can see the work that he’s put in the last two years is starting to come around and starting to pay off.”

Brooks credited much of Durant’s confidence to the offseason work he put in with the coaching staff both in Austin, Texas, and at home in suburban Washington, D.C. Director of Athletic Performance/Assistant Coach Dwight Daub helped Durant add more strength and weight this offseason.

As a result, Durant is settling for fewer jump shots than he would in seasons’ past. Brooks said that Durant has done a better job setting up his man; of getting layups, backdoor passes and attacking lanes to the basket off his dribble. Durant is simply becoming a smarter scorer.

“I think you’re always better off offensively when you can attack the basket first to set up your perimeter shot,” forward Nick Collison said. “If you’re trying to shoot too many perimeter shots you don’t break down the defense, you don’t move the ball enough and the defense can load up and really guard the guy. We’re better off when he’s attacking because it opens up things for other people. It causes guys to help. It opens it up. And he’s 6-11 and he’s talented. He’s a tough cover. He’s a good shooter, too. I don’t know what the percentages are but if you look at a percentage of the times he drives opposed to shooting jump shots we come out better when he’s taking the ball to the hole, for sure.”

Instead of settling for a quick turnaround jumper when curling off a high screen, Durant will consider taking two hard dribbles toward the basket for a layup or a trip to the line. Instead of settling for a long-range jumper early in the shot clock, he’ll take his man off the dribble and to the basket, where he can create for his teammates.

Attacking the basket was another challenge thrown his way from the coaching staff, and another one he’s embraced.

Durant started attacking from the season’s onset. In the season opener against Sacramento, he went 6-for-10 in the painted area. In Friday’s win over Washington he went 8-for-10 in the paint. Overall, he’s attempted 11 free throws or more in five games this season, including a perfect 18-for-18 night from the line in a Nov. 10 loss at the Kings.

“He’s obviously a focal point of every team’s defensive scheme,” Brooks said. “That’s the goal with Kevin. Make it where he scores throughout the floor and not just one area so the defense is always looking for him and they can’t set up and defend him as well. He’s getting better. He’s improving. He’s working hard. He’s coachable. He’s everything you need with a player of his ability. He’s a hard worker.”

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