Durant to spend more time at point guard, power forward

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At the age of 21, Kevin Durant is already one of the best small forwards in basketball and arguably the best pure scorer in the NBA. However, that’s not enough for Durant or his coaches, who are working hard to add new wrinkles to Durant’s already-superb game.

According to Darnell Mayberry of the Oklahoman, the Thunder have been using the 6′ 9 Durant, who has a 7′ 4 wingspan, at a variety of different positions throughout the preseason:

Kevin Durant is now being deployed at different positions.

In the final weeks before his fourth regular season begins, Durant is working to become more dangerous by developing his skills at multiple spots on the floor. It’s a progression that could soon make the Thunder’s offense a terror and its defense more dynamic.Against Miami on Friday, Durant played all five positions. He started at his customary small forward spot, ran point guard late in the first quarter and slid to power forward midway through the second quarter.

“Kevin’s game is evolving,” said Thunder coach Scott Brooks. “He, like a lot of our guys, is not a finished product. He’s going to keep getting better. And there’s ways that I’m going to challenge him to get better… He has the ability to do a lot of things for us and do them well.”

Durant certainly has the size and rebounding acumen to play the 4 in this league. With “stretch fours” becoming more and more common and fewer teams using two post-up threats on the court at the same time, the chances of Durant getting exploited on the low block when he plays the four are fairly slim. After all, Durant isn’t all that much smaller than Jeff Green, the Thunder’s current starter at the four.

According to 82games.com, Durant played 6% of his minutes at power forward last season. During that limited time, Durant averaged 41.0 points, 11.3 rebounds, and 3.2 assists per 48 minutes, and had a PER of 36.4 when he played at the power forward position. The sample size is far too small to be significant, but those are some promising numbers. Durant probably won’t play more than 10-15 minutes a game at power forward because of how much energy he would have to expend on the defensive end, but the Thunder will cause matchup nightmares when they set up on offense and Durant is on the low blocks or mid-post.

The Durant at point guard experiment is somewhat more unexpected, as Durant ranked 65th out of 67 qualified small forwards in “pure point” rating last season. For all Durant’s strengths as a player, he hasn’t been the best playmaker over the course of his career, and most players don’t significantly improve their playmaking skills over the course of their careers. Then again, most players aren’t Kevin Durant. We’ll see how this experiment plays out.

Report: Clippers’ management remains committed to re-signing Blake Griffin

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Maybe Friday night in Utah, maybe not for a few weeks, but the Clippers season is going to end before they reach the conference finals, and with Blake Griffin sidelined by injury. It’s an all-too-familiar scene. It will be six seasons of the Chris Paul, DeAndre Jordan, Griffin experience in Los Angeles, and they will not have gotten out of the second round (unless you think they can come back on the Jazz from down 3-2, then beat the Warriors).

That has come with a lot of talk about the Clippers breaking up the core. Jordan remains under contract, Paul would be too hard to replace, and that leads to a lot of speculation — inside and outside the league — that Griffin could be on the move this summer, when he becomes a free agent.

That’s not what the Clippers want, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports in a video essay.

Management remains committed to signing him to a long-term deal this summer, league sources tell me.

Doc Rivers has said he wants to bring back this core. Multiple times. His argument is that this is a 50+ win team that is one of the better teams in the NBA, why would you take a big step back rather than look for the tweaks that get the team to a title?

Steve Ballmer has the checkbook deep enough to pay both Paul and Griffin max money (although keeping fellow free agent J.J. Redick as well would be difficult). The Clippers will have one of the highest payrolls in the NBA, and is this team worth that? Especially in a conference where the Mount Everest of Golden State is not going anywhere for a few years, not to mention the Spurs and Rockets will remain good, Utah is on the rise, and so are teams like the Wolves. The Clippers will be a good team that needs a lot of breaks to go their way to really contend — how much would Ballmer pay for that?

The Clippers need to do some soul searching this offseason.

Just don’t be shocked if the result of that is them running this team back again.

Playing through sore knee, Jimmy Butler says “I’m good,” will go in Game 6

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At this point in the season, everyone is banged up. It’s just a matter of degree.

But with Rajon Rondo listed as out for Game 6, the Bulls’ need a big game from Jimmy Butler if they are going to extend this series to a Game 7. And he is not near 100 percent.

In Game 4, Butler banged knees with a Celtic and it impacted him during Game 5, as Vincent Goodwill detailed at CSNChicago.com.

But he could only muster two shots and barely seemed to push off on his left foot—his lead foot, and it hampered what the Bulls could do late as he was their prime fourth-quarter performer.

He couldn’t even go straight up on a jumper over the diminutive Isaiah Thomas without pump-faking, throwing off his rhythm. He wouldn’t elaborate on the injury, although he said it happened during the second half of Game 4 on Sunday night when he collided with a Celtics player.

“I’m good. Everyone’s a little nicked up; I’ll be all right,” Butler said in the locker room.

K.C. Johnson of the Chicago Tribune added this detail.

Boston has done a good job of limiting the number of times Isaiah Thomas is exposed on defense, having to cover Wade or Butler. Essentially, the Celtics switch in sort of a matchup zone to keep IT covering a shooter on the wing, even if his man goes up and sets the pick. Zone’s can be exposed (there’s a reason they’re more a change-of-pace rather than a basic set defense in the NBA), but it involves getting into the middle, getting into the paint. Which comes back to driving the ball and pushing off, things that Butler is struggling to do at his usual level.

There are a lot of other factors favoring Boston in Game 6, but if Chicago is going to force a Game 7 Sunday they need Butler to be an All-NBA level player.

Knicks’ Joakim Noah has expected shoulder surgery to repair rotator cuff

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NEW YORK (AP) — Knicks center Joakim Noah has had right shoulder surgery to repair his rotator cuff, a procedure that could sideline him until training camp.

The Knicks say Noah had the surgery Wednesday at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed by Dr. David Altchek.

The team didn’t give a timetable for Noah’s recovery, but coach Jeff Hornacek said late in the season that if Noah had the operation, the recovery time could be five months.

Noah had an injury-plagued season that ended early when he was suspended 20 games by the NBA for violating the league’s anti-drug policy. There are still 12 games remaining on the penalty that he will have to serve next season when healthy.

Noah had surgery on his other shoulder last season, limiting him to 29 games in his final season in Chicago before signing a four-year, $72 million deal with New York.

PBT Extra: Pacers offseason moves start with Paul George

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Larry Bird, when not delivering All-Star Game bids, should be spending his time lighting candles and praying in churches all over Indianapolis that Paul George makes an All-NBA team.

If PG13 makes the cut, Bird’s job this summer becomes more clear: Offer George the designated player max extension, get him to sign the deal, then get back to building a contender around him.

If George doesn’t make the cut, things get much tougher for Bird. I discuss all of it in this new PBT Extra.