Kevin Durant’s playmaking ability makes him even bigger X factor in Nets playoff run

Kevin Durant
Brooklyn Nets forward Kevin Durant (7) controls the ball against Cleveland Cavaliers forward Lamar Stevens (8) during the first quarter at Barclays Center.
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

It’s no secret that one of the biggest X factors for any Nets run in the playoffs will be the play of Kevin Durant. One of the best players in the NBA, Durant’s impact on Brooklyn’s season has been easy to see when he’s been in and out of the lineup.

Even when Durant hasn’t had his best shooting performances, the 12-time NBA All-Star has made the most of his other skillsets which often goes unnoticed. That would be his ability to facilitate while he’s on the court.

Durant had a career-high 16 assists in Sunday’s season finale win over the Indiana Pacers and continued the quiet, but consistently strong effort he has had this year moving the ball around. Durant averaged a career-best 6.4 assists per game and it was Durant’s fourth consecutive season where he’s averaged five or more assists in a game.

Even dating back to the 2013-14 season, Durant’s assists numbers have been high.

“There’s been  10 years of this I feel, so I feel like I’ve been an elite passer since then,” Durant said. “Some people might start recognizing it now cause I got more popular and more people know me. “It’s like last game, a few of my friends were like, ‘Yo you started shooting one-footed shots?’ I’m like, ‘Where the f— y’all been?’ So that’s how I feel about my passing, too.

“A lot of people just either focused just on my scoring or haven’t really focused on me at all as a player, so I expect to come out there and make the right reads and get my teammates some good looks. So it’s nothing new to me.”

While Durant has clearly always had the ability to be a skilled facilitator, it’s only come into focus more this season as teams have honed in on him more. Nets coach Steve Nash has noticed teams have made more of an effort to double up Durant when he’s been on the floor.

“I think the league has doubled more this year out high than perhaps in previous years it feels like,” Nash said. “We know he’s a very capable playmaker, passer and I think he’s done a great job facilitating the double teams.”

The Nets will not only need Durant’s passing but his scoring touch as well. He has been the Nets’ biggest offensive driver on most nights and has been tasked with being on the floor for most of the game.

Since his return from an injury that forced him to miss 21 games this year, Durant has averaged 38.6 minutes a game in 19 games that he has played in since. In his last six games of the year, Durant has played 40 or more minutes in six of those contests.

The high amount of playing time has been an internal struggle for Nash. However, it’s been a situation the Nets have had to deal with due to so many different circumstances.

“No one likes to play anyone 40-plus minutes a night,” Nash said. “The reality is with our team missing Ben (Simmons) and Joe (Haris) it’s really hard for us to play at a high level if he doesn’t play a lot of minutes. The same with Kyrie (Irving). It’s just the state of our season and the way we’ve been hamstrung by injuries and absences. He’s shown an ability to handle it, although it’s not ideal.”