The Oklahoma City Thunder thought they were catching a break at the beginning of the 2013-14 NBA season when point guard Russell Westbrook got back into action from a knee injury much sooner than expected. When it was announced a little more than a month and a half later that he would need another surgery, though, the Thunder had to make Kevin Durant Plans A and B.
Obviously Durant carrying the Thunder resulted in one of the most phenomenal seasons by an individual in recent memory and earned him the league’s MVP honors. However, that type of workload would take a toll on anyone, whether they’re a professional athlete or not. We just didn’t know how much of a toll it had taken on Durant until he announced last week that he was dropping out of Team USA for the FIBA 2014 World Cup because he needed to rest—because he’s human and was tired.
Though it’s unfortunate to not have one of the biggest stars in the league playing for the United States in Spain in a few weeks, it’s also hard to fault Durant for simply need to recuperate after what was a grueling season for him. Even if that’s the case, that doesn’t mean that the Thunder don’t need to change something.
As reported by Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman, OKC general manager Sam Presti has said that the team will need to look at Durant’s minutes and workload, citing both maximizing Durant’s effectiveness within individual games and the future of Durant and the Thunder as reasons for doing so. Not only should Presti and the Thunder think about it, they have to do it.
Of the 558 regular season games that have been played since Durant entered the league, he has played in 542 of them. In addition, the reigning MVP has also played in 73 playoff games. The staggering part, though, is that Durant has averaged 38.2 minutes per game in the regular season over his career. If you look at the six years after his rookie season, Durant has averaged 38.9 minutes per game and hasn’t played fewer than 38.5 minutes per game in a season. Like that’s not enough, he’s also played 42.3 minutes per game over his postseason appearances.
To put into perspective the amount of work that Durant is being asked to put in for the Thunder, Durant has averaged more minutes per game in the regular season than anyone in the league over the last six seasons, 0.8 more than LeBron James. Moreover, he’s played in 11 more non-playoff games and 761 more total minutes than LeBron over that span and has appeared in the second-most games of anyone in the league in the last six years. He also happens to have logged 4,728 more minutes than the leader in games played, Luis Scola, in the last six years.
Of course, Durant is only 25 years old and getting set to enter the prime of his career. That could be used as a counter-argument to giving Durant fewer minutes, but it can also be used for it. With a player that has the unbelievable gifts and skill of Durant, his team has to do whatever possible to cultivate his growth and maximize his potential for the benefit of the player and the franchise. Some of the organization’s responsibility in doing that is maximizing the time a player can stay at the peak of his powers. Part of that onus falls on the player in question by them working to widen their skill-set and adapt, but the largest part of it is making sure these players have the miles left on their legs.
It’s near undeniable that Durant could play 38+ minutes per game over the next five or six years and compete for MVP honors in almost all of those seasons. If the workload were to stay the same, though, after those five or six seasons and after his 30th birthday becomes a bit more questionable in terms of what he’ll have left to give. In the interest of keeping Durant playing at a superstar level for the Thunder and for the enjoyment of basketball fans, Oklahoma City can’t second-guess themselves here. They unequivocally have to find a way to alleviate some of the load off of Durant’s wiry shoulders.
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