December 3, 2008
Scottie Brooks first significant move as head coach of the Oklahoma City Thunder is looking like a good one. After starting at shooting guard for the first 92 games of his career, Brooks moved franchise cornerstone Kevin Durant to small forward.
The Durantula had been manning the off-guard slot in an effort to protect him from the more physical style of NBA forwards. It was probably a good decision last season as the rail-thin swingman had a lot of trouble banging with the bigger pros on both ends, but Durant is showing that he was ready to make the transition to his natural small forward position.
Get ready to see more of that complete player we saw in his lone season at Texas as a result.
At guard Durant had become more of a spot-up shooter than a player with his dynamic skills should be, but now he’s able to better utilize his all-around tools. The move keeps Durant more active on offense and allows him to play around the basket more on both ends of the floor.
At 6-10 it was a move that had to be made eventually as Kevin struggled to keep in front of quicker NBA shooting guards on a nightly basis. “It gives [Durant and Green] an opportunity to get in positions where they can take better shots and be able to guard guys easier,” Brooks said. “Because Kevin is basically 6-10 and it’s not an easy thing to do to guard smaller guys.”
He’s still a lanky kid, but Durant’s offensive game was ready for the adjustment.
In his debut at forward Durant dropped 30 points on 11-of-16 shooting (a season-high 68.7%). Playing closer to the basket will allow him to be more efficient and put greater pressure on defenses. For the first 12 games of the season Durant was scoring 21.2 points per game shooting 44.6% from the field and getting to the line just 4.8 time a game. In the week and a half since the change he’s upped his scoring average to 24.8 on 1.5 fewer field-goal attempts per game because his field-goal shooting has risen to 48.2% and he’s now making 7.8 trips to the line a game. He’s also approaching 1 block a night. That improvement is dramatic and should only continue as he learns to use his length and athleticism more and more.
On defense Durant still needs time to put on some bulk and learn how to handle the physicality of opposing forwards. Giving him a season of experience at the position should greatly aid that maturation process. The challenge is one Durant was ready to take on, too. “I definitely am,” Durant said. “That’s my natural position. I’ve been playing that mostly my whole life. The last game I felt a lot more comfortable at (small forward), guarding (small forwards) and just helping my team out in different areas. So I’m excited.” We are, too, Kevin.
What allowed Brooks to pull the trigger, after the jump…
What he saw from Durant wasn’t the only thing that allowed Brooks to make the move. The shift also sent second-year forward Jeff Green to big forward. It’s the forward tandem the franchise had in mind when they took Green with the fifth-overall pick they received in the Ray Allen trade last year. The 6-9 22-year-old out of Georgetown doesn’t have the offensive prowess of a Kevin Durant, but he’s already bigger, stronger and a steady defender with the range on offense to stretch opposing defenses.
As I noted in my earlier column about the Thunder, Green is a big man who may not project as a superstar but he can do so many things well that he’ll make the rest of the roster look better. He has the tools to guard most power forwards in the new-look NBA and can be a strong role player alongside the more flashy and offensive-minded Russell Westbrook and Durant. This week Brooks also decided to put Westbrook in the starting lineup, another move that was long overdue under the starched-collar P.J. Carlesimo regime. Last season’s Pac-10 Defensive Player of the Year can be their backcourt scorer and floor general with Durant at forward and his quickness will allow Westbrook to create for his talented teammates up front.
The Thunder won’t win too many games this year, and they may not make the playoffs for another season or two in the brutal West, but the future is now in Oklahoma City. Enjoy Thunder fans, these three kids are your future and now you get to see them all learn and grow together in extended minutes at their natural positions for the rest of the season. Win or lose, it’s going to be fun to watch.
Kevin Durant and Jeff Green Photo Credit: Icon SMI