Kevin Durant was the undisputed NBA lockout most valuable player, taking his talents coast-to-coast to play in summer league exhibitions and celebrity charity games. He went on some incredible scoring binges, spent some time playing point guard, and rarely left fans disappointed.
Durant believes those offseason showcases helped him enhance his game and become more well-rounded. He is scoring less, but posting career-highs in shooting percentage (50.2) and assists (3.8) — and his team, the Oklahoma City Thunder, has the league’s best record (12-2).
“I’m trying a little bit more stuff now this year,” Durant said. “I’m more comfortable in my game. I’ve got some confidence as well. I’m going out there and having more fun and calming down. Sometimes, I put too much pressure on myself. I think about it too much instead of just going and play. I think those summer league games helped with my mental [game] so I feel good right now.”
Durant and John Wall both had some monster performances during the lockout and they teamed up for five exhibtion games, combining to score 420 points and going 3-2 as a pair. In the Goodman League’s 151-144 loss to the Drew League in October, Wall had 55 points and Durant had 50.
Those scoring totals were inflated because of passive, mostly apathetic defense, and Saunders said recently that he wasn’t a fan of what he saw during the lockout, with several of his players summer league regulars. “I’ve never been a proponent of all those things. I think you pick up bad habits and a lot things you think are going to be very easy. I don’t think I saw a charge taken all summer long. Things are a little bit different.”
Wall hasn’t had the best start to his second season, but he disagreed with Saunders’s assessment that players pick up too many bad habits and a false sense of confidence from success in pickup games. “No, not at all. In summer league, you get serious in the fourth quarter, other times it’s just for fun,” Wall said. “It’s basically for charity so it wasn’t — you just playing basketball, you doing the type of dunks you wouldn’t do in a game and doing things like that. I still knew how to play regular basketball. There wasn’t nothing wrong with that at all. Summer league is something you do for fun and something to do while there was a lockout.”
Durant also felt that the games didn’t have a negative influence on his game. “I think I’ve been in this league for four years. I’m going into my fifth year right now and I know how to play the game the right way,” he said. “Those games, you can pick up bad habits, but I’m past that stage, where I’m a young player and I let that affect me. I’ve grown up and I’ve learned a lot in this league. I don’t think I picked up any bad habits.”
Even Saunders couldn’t refute that Durant has improved and was effusive with his praise when asked on Tuesday about the two-time NBA scoring champion.
“If I had to pick an MVP right now he’d be the MVP of the league, based on how he’s played and how the team has played,” he said, even comparing him to the best player he’s ever coached. “I’ve said Kevin [Garnett] is probably the most versatile player to ever play the game. His overall game, as far as offense and defense, but Durant has kind of been in a league by himself. His ability to score at his size and where he scores from, he makes it pretty much unguardable. Where they are most similar is they are unbelievable competitors. They really want to win and they’ll do whatever it takes to win.”