Kevin Durant’s NBA season is not playing out the way he expected. On the heels of his Most Valuable Player award and a long, restful summer to prepare for a successful 2014-15 season with the Oklahoma City Thunder, injuries have plagued him all year. It’s something he’s never encountered, having missed only 16 games in total over the span of his first seven seasons. Leading the league in total minutes played in 2009-10, 2011-12 and 2013-14, the six-time All-Star also never had to be especially mindful of his on-court playing time.
Of the 55 games the Thunder has played so far this year, Durant has been sidelined in 28 of them for various foot, ankle and toe issues. After a season of on-and-off playing, he’s currently on the DNP list again. Unfortunately – and disappointingly – he’s experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired right foot. Despite this news, the team doesn’t seem particularly worried.
“He’s not at risk, but he is sore,” said Thunder General Manager and Executive Vice President Sam Presti following Thursday’s impressive win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Durant was noticeably limping in that game – and other games as well – and was heard telling coach Scott Brooks he was having great difficulty moving at all.
“We were hopeful that the (All-Star) break would put him in better position,” noted Presti. “But we have to take a look at that, and we’ll keep looking at ways to best manage the situation. His health is more important than anything.”
Durant’s injury woes began last October when a seemingly harmless complaint of achiness in his right foot during training camp led to a surprising diagnosis of a Jones fracture. Definition of a Jones fracture? A broken bone at the base of the small toe. It’s hard to believe an ache affecting such a tiny body part of a 6’9 athlete could cause such trouble, but it did. Next thing you know, Durant was having surgery (on October 16, 2014) with a re-evaluation set for six weeks later.
The NBA season started, and Durant was spied in attendance at games wearing a walking boot. He ended up missing the first 17 games – from October 29th to November 28th – and made his season debut to appreciative fans and a welcoming team on December 2nd. During his time away, the Thunder won just five games. Keep in mind, Russell Westbrook was sidelined with injury in 14 of the 17 games Durant missed.
Things were beginning to return to normal as the team was focused on making up wins in a scarily stacked Western Conference. Nine games later, on December 18th – with the Thunder going 7-2 and Durant averaging a record low 28.04 minutes – he suffered a sprained right ankle while offensively charging into the Golden State Warrior’s Marreese Speights. The injury came late in the first half with Durant scoring 30 points already. The injury was not connected to, nor did it affect, the surgically-repaired foot fracture, and x-rays were deemed negative. However, Durant missed the next six games – December 19th to December 28th – and coach Brooks indicated his on-court minutes would be restricted upon his return.
Curiously, instead of decreased playing time, Durant averaged a hefty 36.7 minutes (Note: the previous two seasons, he averaged 38.5 minutes) until 12 games later, when Durant sprained his left big toe during a game versus the Cleveland Cavaliers. He missed two games – January 26th and January 28th – came back for one, then missed the next two games – February 2nd and February 4th – because of lingering pain. In the most recent six games played, he averaged 35.9 minutes.
With all these injuries, it was hoped by many that Durant would not participate in the All-Star Game in favor of resting at home. He did attend the festivities in New York City, but played less than ten minutes and logged just three points. Last year, Durant recorded 38 points, 10 rebounds and six assists at the All-Star Game. Clearly, this year’s KD is not the KD we’re accustomed to seeing on the floor.
The regular season stats confirm as much. He’s averaging 25.4 points (second to Westbrook’s 26.0 points), 6.6 rebounds, and 4.1 assists compared to 32 points, 7.4 rebounds and 5.5 assists last year. His current free-throw percentage of .854 is a career low and his 5.4 free throws per game average is the lowest rate since his rookie season. He’s team-ranked third in rebounds, assists and steals, whereas last year he was second. His Player Efficiency Rating (PER) of 27.8 is topped only by Westbrook (28.8) and the New Orleans Pelicans’ Anthony Davis (31.2). Last year, he led the league in PER at 29.8. Obviously, these current statistical numbers are terrific, but it reveals just how difficult this year has been for him.
And now, after a long All-Star break, it’s been confirmed that Durant is suffering from soreness in his repaired right foot. He hasn’t looked 100 percent for some time, but it came as a surprise that he was dealing with issues from the Jones fracture and related surgery.
“It’s tough, but I’ve got to figure it out,” Durant said recently. “I’ve just got to get through it and keep playing, get treatment and talk to the trainers and see what we can do to make it better. So we’ll see.”
Apparently the Thunder have been monitoring his foot carefully all season with regular imaging taking place and positive results collected thus far.
So, we’re left with questions. Did Durant come back too early after addressing the Jones fracture? Why is he playing so many minutes? Is he trying to do too much to push the Thunder into contention? Will these injuries heal in time for the playoffs?
We can only speculate as to the answer to the first question given the tight-lipped nature of this franchise. Historically, the Thunder has proven to be conservative when dealing with injuries. Since he is cleared by the medical staff each and every time he takes the floor, we have to believe it’s a well-supported decision. The lack of playing restricted minutes as indicated following the sprained ankle, and then the toe situation, is baffling. In Durant’s capacity of leader, he never slacks off in doing whatever he can to ensure wins. Whether it’s too much in light of what he’s dealing with, we don’t know. Perhaps so. And finally, only time will tell if Durant’s health can be fully restored. A period of rest might be in the cards.
One thing is for sure, help is on the way. Presti addressed the team’s need for a backup point guard, perimeter shooting and interior offense at the trade deadline by acquiring big man Enes Kanter, point guard (and Durant’s former college teammate) D.J. Augustin and shooters Kyle Singler and Steve Novak. With the Reggie Jackson distraction eliminated (he was traded to the Detroit Pistons), the team looked like they were having easy-breezy fun on the court against Dallas. It was a sight not seen in a long time. They will miss the veteran leadership and defensive presence of Kendrick Perkins, no doubt, but Durant and Westbrook understand that was a business move. Another key factor is that the toughest part of the Thunder’s schedule is behind them.
For now, Brooks says he has no plans to limit Durant’s minutes, but will he continue to miss games down the stretch? The Thunder (30-25) has finally managed to grab that eighth playoff spot. Even if they can hold on during the remaining regular season games, they will need a healthy Durant to make noise in the postseason.
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