After being named Rookie of the Year in 2007-08, Kevin Durant began to soften the rough edges to his expansive game last season. He improved his shooting from 43 percent to 47.6 percent and his three-point accuracy from 28.8 percent to 42.2 percent, leading to a five-point spike in his scoring average (from 20.3 to 25.3). His rebounding and assists rates also increased. Not coincidentally, a team that went 20-62 in his rookie season won 20 of its last 50 games in 2008-09.
In a recent interview with SI.com, the soon-to-be 21-year-old star discussed his development, his experience at Team USA minicamp and the growing expectations for the Thunder.
SI.com: At the end of last season, you spoke about how you needed to place an emphasis on making your teammates better. How do you plan to go about doing that?
Kevin Durant: On the court, I want to make sure to get everybody involved and keep the team calm if we start picking up a lot of touch fouls or get too emotional. There are also a variety of things I can do to help if we're not on the court [during a game], such as encouraging them to go hard in shootarounds or go hard in practices or working hard after practices
SI.com: With JeffGreen and Russell Westbrook, you seem to have the makings of a tight-knit trio. Do you try to bond off the court?
KD: Our bond off the court is like a brotherhood. Whatever city we go to, we all go to the mall and to the movies. We make sure we are around each other at all times because we're like family, so we have to watch each other's backs. That will help us out on the floor in the long run.
SI.com: It seems you were trying to extend your family this summer by attending the Thunder's summer league games. Why not take the summer off?
KD: I was just trying to help the guys out. This is going to be my third year coming up and I've been through a lot in this league so far and I wanted to share that with them. Some of these young guns now are more hip to things, but I was trying to help out where I could.
SI.com: Your new teammate James Harden impressed many observers at the summer league Las Vegas. Did he ask you for any advice?
KD: He wanted to know how it would be throughout the year as far as travel, what we have to in practice. The small things.
SI.com: You clearly have been working on a lot of those small things. How did you make such a significant jump last season in your production and efficiency?
KD: As time has gone on, I've gotten more comfortable with the game and things have started to come a little easier for me. My teammates have helped out a lot as well, encouraging me and teaching me things.
During the season, I took extra shots after practice and before the games to get in rhythm. Coach [Scott Brooks] wants whoever shoots threes to make sure we shoot 50 threes before we leave the gym each practice, and I was able to keep doing that throughout the season.
SI.com: Did Scott Brooks' decision to move you from shooting guard to small forward help, too?
KD: It made a little difference. It got me closer to the basket and got me more opportunities to rebound. I played both forward positions in college, so that helped me as far as mismatches on the offensive end.
SI.com: What have you been working on this summer?
KD: I've been trying to improve my defense. That's hard to work on in individual workouts, but when I'm playing pickup, you just try to guard the best player on the other team. Offensively, I'm trying to hone my skills as far as ball-handling and shooting and being more of a leader on the floor.
SI.com: With the numbers you put up last year, some have compared your talent with that of Kobe Bryant and LeBron James. Do you try to measure your game against theirs?
KD: They've accomplished so much in this league that it's not fair to them or me to compare myself to them. But it's a goal for me, to be one of the elite players in the league. I'm just learning how to be that.
SI.com: What sort of things do you learn from playing against them?
KD: Just what they do on the court to lead their teams. Even though I'm one of the younger guys, I want to be one of the main guys who can get everybody together. From calling plays to calming everybody down, I've been taking examples from them, and that has helped me out.
SI.com: This summer you took a big step toward joining those two on the Olympic team with your turn at the U.S. national-team camp. What did you take from the experience?
KD: It taught me there is always something more to strive for, that only elite players play for the Olympic team. In going against the best young talent in the league, it was a good opportunity to judge how hard you worked over the summer. And I think I was able to show Coach K [Mike Krzyzewski] and Mr. [Jerry] Colangelo that I worked on my game the last two years, that I could be a guy who can shoot.
SI.com: Your experience with the Thunder has been quite different. How do you judge success when you are regularly losing more than winning?
KD: For me, it was about getting better each and every day and not regressing. We may have played bad in a game or had a bad practice, but we always tried to bounce back. We always got better if we had a problem. If we took a step back, we always tried to take two steps forward.
SI.com: Has it been difficult to maintain a positive outlook amid the team's struggles?
KD: There are always some down moments when you come from programs like Georgetown, UCLA, Arizona State, Texas, Syracuse. It's always tough to lose, but I think we all know it takes time. We're all young and we have a lot of years in front of us. At the same time, we can't take losing all the time. We have to fight every night and compete. So we're learning, we're getting ready to embark on something big, and it should be fun.
SI.com: You are eligible to become a free agent in 2011. What will determine your fate in a few years?
KD: I don't think about that, man. I'm enjoying being in Oklahoma City and being around my teammates, Oklahoma City is all I've been thinking about. I never really even think about going to another team.
SI.com: What do you like about Oklahoma City so much?
KD: It fits my personality very well. It's laid back and calm, and that's the kind of person I am. The people are tremendous and very supportive of us, and that's what we need for a young team. And I love the organization and what we have in store. We're big on family and that's what we have in Oklahoma City.
SI.com: Is the notion that the nightlife in Oklahoma City is a little quiet overblown?
KD: There's enough of that for me. I'm a stay-at-home type of person. It's been pretty good for us. I'm excited to be here.
SI.com: Like many in the NBA, you've been a frequent user of Twitter. How does it help you connect with your fans?
KD: I use it to give fans some insight about what we go through as NBA players. I know I would have loved to hear about that when I was growing up, so why not give it back to a kid who wants to know? I go on it after I start the day out. I'll tell everybody what I did or if I see something funny. People want to see how you are as a person.
SI.com: You also tried your hand at rapping, filming a series of ads for Nike. How did the ads with Andre Iguodala, Rashard Lewis and Mo Williams come about?
KD: The guys at Nike wrote the rap, and DJ Quik produced it. It was pretty fun to be part of.
SI.com: Was it difficult to perform?
KD: I've messed around with the music thing before. It's a hobby I've picked up. It kind of came natural to me after a couple of takes.
SI.com: Back to the court, what are your expectations for the coming season?
KD: It's hard to judge that before the season. Of course you want to be a playoff team, but we have to be realistic in our goals. I think we can be a playoff team down the line, but we have to keep on working it by watching teams like the Lakers and San Antonio. But you never know.
SI.com: After two years in the NBA, does anything still surprise you about the league?
KD: I kind of figured things would be how they are, as far as how tough it would be every night and the travel. Still, it's the best job in America. You're doing something that you love -- playing basketball -- and dealing with a lot of great people. It takes you around the country and around the world.
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