For Thursday’s Thunder Extra addition to the Oklahoman, the paper shows a large photo of Kevin Durant appearing to miss a shot against the Grizzlies. There’s a stand-alone headline above that picture that dominates he rest of the front page reading, simply: “Mr. Unreliable.” Durant will likely pick up the regular season MVP award next week, and some Thunder fans are a little pissed their paper is throwing him under the bus so soon.
Durant’s struggled in the first-round against the Grizzlies, and so have the Thunder. Despite finishing with the second-best record in the NBA and the No. 2 seed in the West, OKC is on the verge of being eliminated when they travel to Memphis for Game 6 tonight. But is the headline fair?
Berry Tramel of the Oklahoman wrote the piece accompanying the headline, and you can go read it for yourself, but Tramel appears to be saying KD has been “Mr. Unreliable” only within the context of this tough Grizzlies first-round series.
The two teams have gone to overtime in four of their first five games, all of which have come in a row. That’s never happened in NBA history before, so it’s pretty obvious a healthy Memphis is giving the dominant Thunder all sorts of problems. The biggest antagonist for Durant, has been the kinetic defense of Tony Allen.
Here’s how Tramel puts it in his article:
Allen is inside Durant’s head. Durant is dazed and confused. Hesitant and docile. The Memphis Doberman has turned Durant into mere mortal this Western Conference playoff series. The Thunder is on the brink of elimination, and if Durant doesn’t return to something approaching the Slim Reaper in Game 6 Thursday night, Grim Sleeper is going to be more like it.
Durant missed a free throw that would have tied it in overtime late in Game 5. He’s sporting a PER of 18.1 vs. his league-leading regular season rate of 29.8, per basketball-reference.com. He’s also shooting just 40 percent, 10 percentage points lower than his mark during the regular season. He shot 39 percent from deep during the regular season and is at 28 percent through five games against the Grizzlies. His true shooting percentage and effective field goal percentage have likewise dropped precipitously from his regular season production. He just hasn’t been efficient against Tony Allen’s annoying interference.
Regular Season Shot Chart:
Playoffs Shot Chart:
Despite his struggles shooting the ball, is he Mr. Unreliable? The Thunder have only logged 21 minutes in five games with Durant on the bench. Coach Scott Brooks is having him play, on average, 47.8 minutes a game. That’s asking an awful lot of your superstar; except, the Thunder are plus 9 points per 100 possessions in those 21 minutes of action! When Durant is on the floor, the Grizzlies are averaging .1 points more per 100 possessions, so they’re not getting killed (e.g. all those overtime sessions), but he hasn’t made them dominant like he did during the regular season. For comparison, the Thunder are plus 1.3 when Russell Westbrook — who hasn’t hit a field goal in any of the their overtime sessions — is on the court, and minus 2.3 when he sits. That’s better than Durant, and it’s not like Russ is exactly killing it (he’s shooting 34.4 percent from the field and 18 percent on 3-pointers).
While the sample size is way too small to make too much of the on/off numbers, it’s worth noting that Durant’s presence is, on the whole, beneficial to his team. He’s even shooting better in the fourth quarter than he did in the regular season, per basketball-reference.com.
The difference is he’s this year’s MVP, and he’s not been playing like it through the first five games of the postseason. They’ll need him to get back to his high-efficiency self if they’re gonna defeat the Grizzlies in Memphis tonight. If not, “Mr. Unreliable” might sound better than Slim Reaper to some Thunder fans.
But it’s a bit unfair of the Oklahoman to assign that designation so soon after he took the entire league by storm. He was crushing opponents during a dominant 2013-14 campaign that saw Russ miss a large swath of games while the Thunder still ended up near the top of a tough Western Conference. Mr. Unreliable is selling KD WAAAY short, but it also shows how fickle we can get when superstars no longer shine as brightly as we expect. For the humble Durant, it didn’t faze him at all, and he actually agreed with the sentiment behind the headline.
Durant on The Oklahoman's headline: "That's what they're supposed to write. I didn't come through for the team."
— Darnell Mayberry (@DarnellMayberry) May 1, 2014
While he might not have come through for the team, we blame Scott Brooks‘ unoriginal play-calling, stagnant sets and over-reliance on KD in isolation for the predicament the Thunder find themselves in facing elimination.
Mr. Unreliable doesn’t work, even if KD is too hard on himself to admit it.
Oklahoman sports editor Mike Sherman issued a statement due to the backlash over the headline:
We take great pride in our headlines about big sporting events and news in Oklahoma. Thursday’s headline in The Oklahoman on Kevin Durant’s performance in the Memphis series missed the mark.
The words were overstated and unduly harsh. The headline and presentation left the impression that we were commenting on Durant’s season, career or even character. We were not. We were referring only to the Memphis series.
The fact the headline and presentation left that impression with so many readers is proof that we failed.
At least they owned up to it.
Does Durant deserve the moniker “Mr. Unreliable” in these playoffs?
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