Durant Puts Together 50-40-90 Season

Texas coaches talk about Kevin Durant's great season, and his continued improvement.

When Texas assistant coach Russell Springmann went to scout an event called Slam Dunk On The Beach, it turned out unexpectedly for the Longhorns.

Springmann was there to scout another player, but couldn't take his eyes off a lanky wing for National Christian pumping in jump shots. That player? Kevin Durant.

"I'd be lying if I told you I was there to see him," Springmann said. "I ended up just watching a portion of the game and thought he looked good shooting the ball."

Springmann asked around, made contact with his coaches and wound up serving as the primary recruiter for the player that Springmann eventually named his son, Durant, after. Springmann said that while Kevin Durant's family said they would visit Texas before making a decision, and said that it was that visit that seemed to make up his mind for the Longhorns.

The first part of that successful visit saw Durant wowed by what renowned strength coach Todd Wright could do for his body, which still needed to be developed.

"And I think he hit it off with Coach [Barnes]," Springmann said. "Coach was being Coach, he was being a practical joker, getting Kevin to laugh and his father really felt comfortable with the dynamic between Coach and Kevin."

The rest, as they say is history. Durant came to Texas and set several school records before leaving and becoming the Longhorns' most famous alum in the NBA.

And this year, Durant has made history, becoming just the sixth player in league history to hit the 50-40-90 club. Since the NBA first allowed the three-point shot in the 1979-1980 season, only six players have shot 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from behind the three-point arc and 90 percent from the free throw line.

With today's emphasis on more efficient play, the 50-40-90 club stands as the pinnacle of elite shooting performance, a club inhabited by Steve Nash (four times), Larry Bird (twice), and one season apiece from Mark Price, Reggie Miller and Dirk Nowitzki.

Not only did Durant reach the benchmark at 51.0, 41.6 and 90.5 percent, respectively, he's the youngest player to do so. And his 28.15 points per game is the second-highest ever for a 50-40-90 player, meaning that Durant wasn't just consistent on a small number of attempts. Still, it bears mentioning this stat: Durant finished just shy of winning the scoring title this year — he was 0.5 points per game behind scoring leader Carmelo Anthony — despite taking nearly four fewer shots per game than Anthony did.

And then there's this: Durant didn't even take the most shots on his own team. That honor belonged to shoot-first point guard Russell Westbrook.

"I think Kevin's always been a gifted dynamic scorer," Springmann said. "I think he's more effective off the dribble now. I think he's always been able to gain an advantage because of his length. You can do a great job defensively, but when he raises up, it's difficult to challenge or affect his shots.

"But I think because he's able to get his inside shoulder down consistently, he's been able to gain an advantage more off the dribble," Springmann said. "I also think he's getting better shots. That's a credit to his team as well."

Durant has also don't a better job creating shots for his teammates. When he came into the league, Durant was a scorer first and foremost, averaging under three assists per game. This season, he bumped that number up to a career-high 4.6 assists per game, up 1.1 assists from last year's career-high of 3.5 assists per game. And his rebounding has also been solid, with Durant's 7.9 rebounds per contest this year ranking as the second-best mark of his career.

"He was a terrific offensive player when he was here," Barnes said. "But when you look at him, one, his body's improved. He was always stronger than people probably thought. But the one thing that he did … he wasn't ever satisfied, and he won't be satisfied now until his days are over because he's about getting better. He understands that every day you have a chance to improve."

An unsung part of Durant's improvement has come on the defensive side of the ball. He's improved tremendously as a positional defender, and this year, he set career-highs in steals (1.4) and blocks (1.3) per game.

That's a major shift from when Durant first arrived at Texas, Springmann said.

"We had scrimmaged, we were coming in to watch the film the next day. The year prior, Coach had told A.J. Abrams, 'You're the worst defender I've ever seen," Springmann said. So we sit down in film and there was a hush and a bit of a silence in the room. And Coach said 'A.J., I owe you an apology because I've lied to you.' We're all like what? What are you talking about? And he said 'I've told you for a year you're the worst defensive player I've ever seen, and I'm wrong. Kevin, you're awful. You're the worst defensive player ever.'

"It got Kevin a little bit riled up and he wanted to get better," Springmann said. "Coach had made it a focus for him."

Barnes said Durant's change in effort on that end was almost instant.

"From that point on, every day he asked about his defense," Barnes said. "He wanted a clip of it. He wanted to learn. He's learned to use his length and do a lot of really neat things that way. He wants to be a complete player. And I'm going to tell you the reason why, and it's simple: he wants to win a championship."

He'll get that chance when the Thunder start a projected long playoff run on Sunday, hosting the Houston Rockets. Durant led Oklahoma City to the NBA Finals a year ago, only to see the Thunder fall in five games to the Miami Heat. But rather than be satisfied with a near miss, Barnes said Durant has continued to put in the work to get better. That has also shown in the Thunder's win-loss percentage, which is 20 points higher than it was a year ago

"You know the saying: 'Hard work beats talent when talent doesn't work'? He's taken that to the next level where he has talent, and he's not going to let hard work alone beat him," Barnes said. "There's not one thing that he does on the court that surprises me.

"If you're the best player, if you're the best guy, you've got to lead by example," Barnes said. "You've got to walk it, you've got to talk it. But you've got to lead by example. He's one of the all-time great teammates."

And that also applies to Texas teammates that Durant never played a game with. Barnes lauded Durant for coming back and giving back to the young players in the Longhorn program, everything from working out and participating in pickup games to a little private instruction.

"He's always been terrific in terms of coming back and giving back," Barnes said. "When you go through the kind of year that we went through this year, you find out a lot. What we found out this year is that we do have a family here. We have a group of guys that really care about this basketball program.

"Kevin is definitely one of those guys who really cares," Barnes said.

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