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2015-16 Thunder Player Grades: Welcome Back Kevin Durant

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Remember the days of worrying about Kevin Durant's foot? Those days are long gone, now we just get to enjoy the man doing what he does best.

He's back, he's healthy and next season he may never have been better.
He's back, he's healthy and next season he may never have been better.
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

Full Name: Kevin Wayne Durant

Nickname: KD, Slim Reaper

Contract Status: in case anybody has been living under a rock for quite a while, Durant is now a free agent. On July 1 when free agency opens, every team with cap space and a decent case will queue up to sign the biggest free agent available since LeBron James. It has been the biggest free agency story in the NBA for a very long time.

Quite simply, Durant is getting the max treatment this summer. Whether it's a five year deal to stay in Oklahoma City for $150.2 million, a one year deal with a player option ($25.3 million next season) teams will offer him maximum salary and negotiating power wherever he roams. With Durant's selflessness it's possible that he might settle for something less than the max, but he deserves every dollar he will get this summer and beyond.

Interesting Factoid: Durant is still a college student. In the offseason he spends his time finishing his degree. Despite all his on and off court success the Texas product still returns to class to finish what he started in school.

Player History

  • 2007-08 NBA Rookie of the Year.
  • Seven time All Star, and 2011-12 NBA All Star Game MVP.
  • Five time All-NBA First Team selections, One time All-NBA Second Team.
  • 4th Active MVP Award Shares (3.117), 13th in NBA History.
  • Four time NBA Scoring Champion, Five time leader in total points.
  • 1st Active PPG (27.4), 3rd in NBA History
  • 3rd Active PER (25.0), 8th in NBA History
  • 10th in NBA History in Win Shares Per 48 Minutes (.214)

Pre-Season/Early Season Expectations

Everyone just wished for good health for Durant in 2015-16. After a season where the NBA was deprived of Durant's one-of-a-kind brilliance, the NBA needed it's lanky superstar from Oklahoma City back on the court. They got just that, and despite some early moments of injury unrelated to his foot, Durant was back.

He wasn't going to rush, and always planned to ease his way back into the fold. Billy Donovan was brought in to help them take the next step, and Sam Presti's trading in 2014-15 would finally get their chance to blend with their stars. Would this finally be the year they put it all together?

Regular Season Grade: A

So how to judge Durant's season? Judge it by his own standards, which are very lofty in light of his incredible MVP campaign in 2013-14? Or by the fact he is coming back from an injury that has ended the effective careers of other stars? Fact is, it's a combination of both.

By Durant's standards, it was a quintessential outing for the star forward. His minutes dropped slightly compared to years gone by, averaging 35.8 per game. He posted regular season numbers of 28.2ppg, 8.2rpg, 5.0apg, 1.2bpg and 1.0spg. Turnovers were a problem for him though, averaging 3.5 per game and this climbed as the season progressed.

His shooting was as crisp as ever, with 51 percent from the field, 39 percent from the perimeter and 90 percent from the line. His career averages of 48-38-88 continue to climb as he chases the elusive 50-40-90 for his career, think about that. It is utterly phenomenal how efficient Durant has been not only in his prime, but his entire career.

And in his return to the fold, in only his second game, Durant played 53 minutes in an incredible game on the road against Orlando, taking a double overtime game thanks to 43 points (on 15 of 30 shooting), 12 rebounds, 2 assists, 1 steal and 2 blocks. He had announced his return early.

A hamstring sustained in Washington during a blowout win over the Wizards in the "KD2DC" game sidelined him temporarily, and the Thunder took no precautions and KD sat out six games. Additionally, Durant became the first since Michael Jordan in 1990-91 to record 64 consecutive 20 point games. The only game this season he didn't score 20 plus? When he was injured against Washington, scoring 14 points in 16 minutes.

His best month came in February, when he posted 30.6ppg, 8.5rpg, 4.8apg, 1.5bpg and 1.0spg, including his efficient 50-42-94 shooting splits. The team struggled in that time with a 6-5 win loss record, but Durant was returning to the best version of himself.

It certainly seemed like Durant was cruising at times, and perhaps that was the most impressive part of his season. To record the numbers he did without seemingly struggling too much was a credit to how good he is. There were issues with late game execution, defense, and turnovers, and these should be focus points during the summer.

Durant and Westbrook no doubt struggled with leadership during the team's struggles, but always echoed that they had faith that it would come good when it mattered. They believed in Billy Donovan, their teammates, and what they were doing, and they ultimately came within an inch of postseason vindication.

The question going into next season (beyond his contract situation), is can he continue to improve with another season of full health next season? His advanced numbers were very similar to other years in his career. Will he amaze the NBA again like he did in 2013-14? Let's hope so.

Most Notable Game/Moment

How do you pick one from such a smooth operator? His two performances against Golden State in the regular season were incredible; look at these numbers:

  • 37 points (13 of 26 shooting, 7 of 11 from three), 12 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks.
  • 40 points (12 of 25 shooting, 3 of 9 from three), 14 rebounds, 5 assists, 1 steal, 2 blocks.

He was at his best, and did just about everything he could to get them over the line. If only for two momentary lapses in judgment during the Thunder's home game vs the Warriors, OKC would have had their signature win of the season, if not a prelude for things to come.

The best individual moment though? His return to the court, and seeing him come back for the first game of the season at home against the Spurs. Basketball needs Kevin Durant.

Post Season Grade: A

Hear me out. Yes, his offensive numbers weren't great efficiency wise (43 percent from the field) and he completely lost his shot from three (28 percent), but he averaged 28.4ppg, 7.1rpg, 3.3apg, 1.0bpg and 1.0spg.

However it was his defense that stood out, which got better and better as the Playoffs continued. His defensive performance on Kawhi Leonard was superb, and he dominated their individual battle after a 50-50 split early in the series. He left no doubt who was the superior player by the time the series had ended.

In the Western Conference Finals he was even better, and his versatility is the reason they were able to be flexible defensively with lineups. This sums up that versatility better than anything else:

Watch it over and over. Durant was coming down from the first jump as Livingston goes up. That is phenomenal.

Yes, the team lost in the WCF despite being upthree games to one up against the Warriors. However this was somewhere nobody expected them to be. It was their first campaign in the postseason with Billy Donovan in charge, and with the roster pieces they've put together. They will get a year better next season and their whole roster is primed to improve cohesively and individually.

Durant and the Thunder can treat the postseason one of two ways. They can fall apart, be scarred from the loss and never return to the summit. Or they can use the motivation from their heartbreak the way the Spurs did with Ray Allen's NBA Finals miracle and come back and blow away the opposition.

That's the situation they are in now. There are harsh lessons to be learned but plenty of optimism as a result of the defensive and late game steps they took forward. Not to mention, their increasing flexibility of lineups and the versatility they displayed style wise. Next season it's sink or swim time in Oklahoma City.

Future Expectations

If Durant returns, and most indicators point to that for at least one more season, it's Championship or nothing for the Thunder. They have Durant, Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka in their primes, with the ever improving Steven Adams, Enes Kanter, Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson to help them.

With the likes of Mitch McGary, Cameron Payne and Josh Huestis waiting in the wings under Sam Presti's development system, the potential for success in Oklahoma City may never be higher than it is going into next season. This may very well be the best version of the team that anybody has ever seen.

Durant has found his way back into the role the Thunder needs from him most, as he and Westbrook learn to defer to one another when required, and they form the most uniquely talented duo the NBA has ever seen.

Next season could be the time for the Thunder, and they should expect as much. The pressure will never be greater, but the chance for victory could never be higher.