By Randy Renner
The way things are going in this knock-down, drag out first round playoff series with the Memphis Grizzlies the Thunder are going to need more than mild mannered Kevin Durant. It’s become clear now they need his basketball alter-ego from earlier in the regular season.
The “Slim Reaper” has to save the day and the season.
Durant doesn’t care for the nickname, preferring mild-mannered KD instead but back during the winter when the weather was its coldest, Durant AKA Slim Reaper was his hottest.
According to statistics from BasketballReference.com, Durant shot 53.5 percent overall in December and 48.1 percent on threes that month. His total shooting percentage (which combines, twos, threes and free throws was a ridiculous 65.1 percent.
In January the numbers were 54.9 percent overall , 43.6 percent from deep and his total shooting percentage an even more ridiculous 68.5!
He scored 500 points in December and 575 in January (by far his two best months). The Player of the Month Awards were piling up and the Slim Reaper tee shirts started showing up.
In February Durant shot 49.4 percent overall and in March he was back up over 50 percent at 51.7. His total shooting percentages those months were 60.5 and 66.8.
In April the Slim Reaper went into hiding. Durant’s shooting percentages in the last month of the regular season, covering nine games, dropped off to 44.3 overall and just 25 percent from deep, his worst percentages of the season.
In the playoffs those numbers have taken an even bigger hit, especially compared to playoffs past.
Again using numbers from BasketballReference.com, Durant is shooting 40 percent overall and 28.6 percent on threes through the first five games of this first round series against Memphis. Those are worse than any of his shooting percentages during this past regular season and by far the worst he’s shot since that very first Thunder playoff series with the Lakers.
There are also some other interesting numbers. Many have wondered if Durant is simply worn out, exhausted from playing heavy minutes and taking more responsibility for team success during all the games missed by Russell Westbrook.
Durant has denied that he’s tired and so has Thunder head coach Scott Brooks and even though a first glance at the raw numbers might indicate otherwise there is an obvious explanation.
KD is averaging more playoff minutes this season than any other (47.8 per game) the big reason for that of course is that four of the five games have gone into overtime.
You take away those five minutes and Durant’s average would drop to 42.8 which is right in line with his playoff minutes per game from the last three seasons 42.5 in 2010-11, 41.9 in 2011-12 and 44.1 last season.
However, his shooting numbers and percentages and his shot selection numbers this playoff series are well outside his past numbers.
In this series with Memphis 66.4 percent of Durant’s shots are two-point attempts, that’s the lowest percentage of two-point shots he’s ever taken in the playoffs. His career average is 70 percent. In 2011-12 when the Thunder made it all the way to the NBA Finals, 71.3 percent of Durant’s shots were twos.
He’s hitting 45.8 percent of those shots, significantly below his career average of 50.9 and almost out of sight from how successful he was on 2-point shots during the NBA Finals run when he nailed 57.5 percent of them.
This season he’s taking more 3-pointers than ever before and missing more. 33.6 percent of KD’s shots against Memphis have been from deep. His career playoff average is 30 percent. He’s making just 28.6 percent of those shots, his career playoff average is 33.3 percent.
Against Memphis Durant has been his most accurate at the rim (78.9 percent) but he’s taken fewer shots down there than from anywhere else, just 15.2 percent. So where Durant is the most accurate, he’s taken the fewest shots and from where’s he’s been the least effective (3-pointers) he’s taken the most.
No where has his shooting suffered the biggest drop than in mid-range jumpers (10 to 16 feet). Durant’s playoff average is 45.6 percent from mid-range, the NBA Finals playoff run he hit 55.7 percent from there, but in this series? Just 30.8 percent, his lowest percentage from any spot inside the arc on the floor except for that original series with the Lakers when he shot 30.4 percent on mid-range jumpers.
So there are the numbers, make of them what you will.
Clearly things are different this playoff series than any other and Durant’s effectiveness is less than at almost any time in his career. Is it all Tony Allen’s fault? Is Durant tired, physically and mentally? Are his teammates not doing enough to free him up for some better looks?
It’s probably a combination of all of the above and then some and on this day of a do or die game that could either end the season or extend it there may be only one way out.
Mild mannered Kevin Durant needs to find a phone booth, change into the “Slim Reaper” and turn the Grizzlies Grindhouse into his own personal playground.