You’ve probably read about Kevin Durant’s historic scoring streak. Twelve straight games of over thirty points, which has everyone recalling early Michael Jordan. You may know that over the last fourteen games, Durant is averaging over 37 points, over 6 rebounds, over 6 assists, and nearly 2 steals, while shooting over 53% from the field. All of this is happening without Durant’s tag-team partner, Russell Westbrook. Since Westbrook’s injury on December 25th, Durant has been flat-out unstoppable. What’s equally impressive is his passing numbers. In those 18 games, Durant has collected 5 or more assists in 13 of those contests. He’s attacked the rim with a newly found determination, with more open space as a result of the floor spacing that Ibaka, Lamb and Derek Fisher help provide, resulting is 9 or more trips to the charity strip in 12 of those 18 games. Despite an unsightly 11-turnover game against one of the NBA’s best defenses (San Antonio), he has been seeing the court well, usually limiting his turnovers to 4 or less, which is remarkable considering the fact that the ball is in his hands on practically every OKC possession.
Durant is such a focused, steady scorer. He reminds some of Alex English, the Denver Nuggets scoring artist of the 1980’s. English, who is 14th in NBA history in points, and who led the league in scoring average in 1982-83, finishing in the top five for six straight years, had a similar build to Durant: long (6’7″), lean (190 lbs), with inspector gadget arms. Instead of taking on the scoring burden on in a selfish way, Durant is the epitome of a selfless scorer. A dominant offensive player who is capable of extinguishing opponents by himself (his 4th quarter scoring binges against Golden State and Portland were ridiculous), he plays within the mindset of team-first. A flame-throwing shot artist with the mentality of a leader. Oscar Robertson had those qualities. Larry Bird had those qualities. LeBron James has those qualities. And, yes, so does perhaps the most offensively talented of all of those legends, Kevin Durant. Durant, by the way, is only twenty-five years old, the same age as Jordan when Jordan went on his scoring binge in the 1988 playoffs against Cleveland. We’re lucky to be NBA fans right now.
Durant’s ability to score so easily has been analyzed and diagnosed. His 6’9″ frame and insane 7’3″ wingspan allow him to take shots that every other NBA player not named LaMarcus Aldridge would get swatted away or deflected. Without Westbrook’s over-dribbling, we are now witnessing Durant’s intelligence with the ball in his hands, running the offense. Durant is unafraid to shoot off the dribble from 25 feet, like fellow marksman Steph Curry, yet keenly aware of swinging the ball, keeping OKC’s offense flowing and providing wide open looks for teammates Reggie Jackson and Jeremey Lamb.
Jeremy Lamb Finding His Groove
First the departure of James Harden, and now the temporary departure of Russell Westbrook, and after a brief adjustment in which they lost 4 of 6, the Thunder haven’t missed a beat. After thoroughly dispatching the Miami Heat last night, OKC is on an eight-game winning streak. Durant’s leadership and decision-making has propelled the confidence of 21 year-old lanky scorer, Jeremy Lamb. Like Durant, Lamb’s height (6’5″) is not the issue for opposing defenders. It’s Lamb’s arms. With a wingspan of 6’11”, Lamb can find space to release his corner jumper and his newly developing floater because of that extension.
In OKC’s 37 wins this year, Lamb has shot the lights out, going 55 of 135 (40.7%) from deep, and 48.5% overall, for a total of 10.7 ppg. Compare those numbers to Lamb’s performance in 10 OKC losses: 8 of 38 (21%) from deep, and 34% overall, for a total of only 8.2 ppg. When the ball is flying around the perimeter, Lamb benefits, which makes stopping Durant next to impossible. Having multiple threats on the court at one time is critical to NBA offenses. Just ask Portland and San Antonio.
From Lamb’s June 2012 DraftExpress profile:
He has a smooth first step and very good ball-handling skills, fluidly using change of speed and direction dribbles to keep his defender on his heels. At this stage, though, Lamb prefers to utilize his step-back jumper or use his dribble to create space for mid-range jump shots, often bailing out his defender, rather than attacking the rim. This is evidenced by how infrequently he gets to the free throw line, where he ranks 5th in attempts per-40 amongst the 21 shooting guards in our top 100 prospect rankings, as well as in the fact that 73% of his shots in the half-court come on jumpers.
With that said, Lamb was still a very efficient scorer inside the arc as a sophomore, able to use an array of floaters and smoothly pull up in mid-range, making things look easy at times. His 60% on 2-pointers this season was actually the highest of any shooting guard in our top 100.
As we’ve mentioned before, in addition to his talents off the dribble, Lamb is also an outstanding jump shooter. He has range well past the NBA 3-point line and can shoot the ball with his feet set, off the dribble, or running off screens. He’s shown nice footwork coming off curls and does an excellent job creating space, squaring himself, and elevating to get off his jumper.
From behind the arc this season, he shot an unimpressive 34%, taking over six attempts per game, displaying poor shot selection at times and often settling for long, difficult jumpers. He clearly has the potential to be a more efficient deep shooter, but he’ll need to do a better job of being more selective.
The Growing Prestige of Sam Presti
Oklahoma City’s GM Sam Presti was much maligned for the Harden trade. At the time, this was a reasonable criticism. However, the picks that Presti received from Houston have become essential to the current edition of the Thunder. Taking the long-view, which was difficult for many fans and NBA experts (BS especially) to keep in mind when Harden was sent packing, has started to quiet those early criticisms. Instead, the rewards of Presti and the OKC scouting staff are now on full display, especially since Westbrook’s absence. Those picks are developing nicely. Jeremy Lamb and Steven Adams have provided needed depth for this year’s Thunder. Lamb’s uneven freshman year at UConn allowed the Thunder to grab him with the 12th overall pick. A year later, Presti and company chose Adams in that same #12 slot. Adams’ size and Bogut-like physicality provides a dose of toughness that most teams lack. Adams, who hails from New Zealand, was a relative unknown to many after a moderately successful year in the NCAA at Pittsburgh, but his size (7′, 255 lbs) and once again wingspan (7’4″), when combined with his displays of speed and leaping at the draft combine, were tantalizing. Learning under the tutelage of the San Antonio Spurs front office, it is becoming clear that Presti can evaluate talent with the best of them. The pieces fit beautifully. With the deterioration of former Celtic defensive-stopper Kendrick Perkins, and the absence of Westbrook, Adams and Lamb have been crucial to Oklahoma City’s progress this year and will be even more so in the years to come.
When Russell Westbrook makes his return to the court after the All-Star game, Durant should keep the ball in his hands. Westbrook, who is a dedicated team player, despite his dribbling tendencies, should appreciate what’s going on in his absence. A Finals-run is looking inevitable in OKC. Kevin Durant has made up his mind. Jeremy Lamb is finding his groove. Sam Presti can’t keep from smiling. All those Harden trade criticisms are echoing away into nothingness. It’s getting loud in Loud City.