Kevin Durant is the Thunder's most efficient scorer, and arguably their most valuable commodity. If this were a perfect world where we all lived in bodies that never got tired, we would want Kevin Durant to be on the floor for every minute of the game. But, unfortunately, putting a player out on the floor for 48 minutes isn't generally something that's done, and when it is done the player tends to fade out due to exhaustion towards the end of the game.
But where do you draw the line of playing time for Kevin Durant? Generally, Scott Brooks has three ways in which he manages KD's minutes, all according to the situation of the game.
Mode 1: Blowout, or 35 Minutes or less. Durant will only play less than 35 minutes or so when the game simply isn't competitive. Generally, Durant will miss a good chunk of the second and simply sit out the fourth.
Mode 2: Regular, or 35 to 40 Minutes. This is the most frequently used mode. This is generally used against respectable opponents during the regular season, and will see Durant take short breaks at the start of the second and the beginning of the fourth.
Mode 3: Extreme, or 40 Minutes or more. This mode is generally used against top quality opponents, when the Thunder are down early in the fourth, or when the Thunder are in the playoffs. It's also the mode I'm most concerned with, because it has mixed results.
When Durant is in Extreme Mode, or plays more than 40 minutes, the Thunder are 16-10. In 2013, they're 5-6 when he plays more than 40 minutes. You could argue that the winning percentage is lower because he only plays that long against quality opponents. That's a totally valid point, but it's not what I'm here to argue. Instead, I'm going to take a look at how well Durant has performed in the fourth quarter in the past 10 games where he's played more than 40 minutes. The results should speak for themselves.
March 8th at New York (W): 12 PTS, 3-8 FG, 0-3 3PT, 6-6 FT, 3 REB, 1 AST, 2 TO
March 3rd at LA Clippers (W): 4 PTS, 0-5 FG, 0-2 3PT, 4-4 FT, 2 REB, 1 AST, 0 TO
February 20th at Houston (L): 5 PTS, 1-6 FG, 0-2 3PT, 3-4 FT, 4 REB, 2 AST, 2 TO
February 14th vs. Miami (L): 23 PTS, 8-10 FG, 1-1 3PT, 6-6 FT, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 TO
January 27th at LA Lakers (L): 7 PTS, 2-7 FG, 1-1 3PT, 2-2 FT, 1 REB, 0 AST, 1 TO
January 22nd at LA Clippers (W): 13 PTS, 5-6 FG, 3-3 3PT, 0-0 FT, 1 REB, 1 AST, 0 TO
January 20th at Denver (L): 10 PTS, 2-5 FG, 2-3 3PT, 4-4 FT, 2 REB, 2 AST, 0 TO
January 18th at Dallas (W): 12 PTS, 2-11 FG, 0-2 3PT, 8-8 FT, 4 REB, 0 AST, 0 TO
January 14th at Phoenix (W): 23 PTS, 8-12 FG, 2-3 3PT, 1-1 FT, 3 REB, 1 AST, 0 TO
January 7th at Washington (L): 11 PTS, 2-7 FG, 1-1 3PT, 6-6 FT, 1 REB, 3 AST, 0 TO
January 2nd vs. Brooklyn (L): 6 PTS, 2-5 FG, 1-1 3PT, 1-2 FT, 1 REB, 1 AST, 1 TO
There are some good performances in there, for sure. His game against Phoenix was the best of all, because he was able to single-handedly put the Suns away in the fourth. But his Miami and New York games look better than they are, because the Thunder were down handily in the Heat game and Durant missed two key shots down the stretch against the Knicks.
But among the good performances are the real stinkers. There's no one performance that stands below the rest as totally terrible, but there are definitely some instances where you can say that his missed shots nearly (or did) cost the Thunder a win. Overall, he shot 42.7% from the field in these ten games, compared to a normal percentage of 50.5 for the season. His ridiculously good free throw percentage is his saving grace in almost every instance, but it doesn't cancel out the overall decrease in production.
What's the verdict? Well, playing Kevin Durant for a long time is a huge roll of the dice. Sometimes, he can really play spot-on and carry the team to victory, but other times he can really hit the crapper and hurt the team's performance. It goes without saying that he's a ridiculously consistent player when you look at all of the minutes he logged in other quarters in all of those games, but he's generally only consistent in the fourth when he's well rested.
But before you proclaim that we shouldn't sit KD during the fourth, consider this. When KD sat out the first three minutes of the fourth quarter in San Antonio last night, the Spurs went on a 9-0 run. By the time KD came back into the game, it was too late for the Thunder to recover from the mighty 18 point deficit they had built. Whether the Thunder would have won had they kept Durant in is debatable, but it's undeniable that his absence had a negative effect on the team.
So, how long do you play Kevin Durant? Well, you've just got to play it by ear. My best rule of thumb is to consider 6 minutes left to go in the fourth quarter as a "point of no return". Rest or no rest, there's no real use in taking KD out of the game that late. But I do think that in most instances, there's definitely a point at which you have to rest Durant in the second half. I understand that it's crunch time and that you want your best players out on the floor. But if KD's hurting the team as much as helping them, then why not give a backup some burn?
You've also got to consider that KD rarely gets time to drift while in the game. He's nearly always guarding a tough matchup, he handles the ball on offense half of the time, and he's the Thunder's best rebounder. When compared to some of the other guys that are logging such heavy minutes, he's definitely feeling more of a grind. If you don't believe me, look at some of the body language he shows in the fourth, putting his hands on his knees and taking a lot of jumpers. The dude is just gassed.
In the end, this somewhat minor problem ties back to a much more major problem that the Thunder have. They need a difference maker on their bench. Kevin Martin has experienced a huge dip in his performance since the start of February, and he doesn't get fed the ball nearly as much as he needs to. Reggie Jackson is evolving as a scorer, but he's just not there yet. Ronnie Brewer could be a help, but he's stuck behind Derek Fisher. Issues abound, but their solutions aren't so apparent. If there is truly no answer to the bench problem, the Thunder just may just continue rolling Kevin Durant's fatigue dice, hoping that snake eyes don't appear.
What do you think about how long Scott Brooks plays Kevin Durant? Let us know in the comments!