Concerns about Kevin Durant’s workload have been percolating all season. With Kyrie Irving out and James Harden playing at less than his typically stellar level, there was consternation from the moment the season began about Durant playing 35 minutes per night and averaging over 18 shot attempts. Yet if anything, the Nets have doubled down on maximizing their best player.
Durant didn’t play 40 minutes in any of his first 18 games. He’s now averaging 40 minutes in his last 16. His shot attempts per game have bolted up to 23.6, and lately, this hasn’t even translated to wins for the Nets. Brooklyn is 2-5 in its last seven outings, but Durant isn’t complaining about the strain his team is putting on him. In fact, he was even willing to joke about it after Tuesday’s loss to the Portland Trail Blazers.
“No, let me die out there!” Durant said with a laugh. “Nah, I’m just playing. But no, I’m not concerned. Whenever coach wants to give me a day, I’ll support that. But I’m not looking for one. I’m just gonna play until they tell me I’m sitting out.”
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Harden missed Tuesday’s loss with a knee injury and Irving suffered a scare as well when Nassir Little nearly dove into his ankle. Irving can still only play in road games due to New York City’s vaccine mandate, and at this point in the season, it’s fair to wonder if Harden will be able to recapture his MVP form consistently. Couple those issues with the absence of Joe Harris and Brooklyn is almost entirely reliant on Durant to create offense on a night-to-night basis.
This is a dangerous place for the Nets to be considering Durant’s history of injuries, and it’s also exactly what this roster was built to avoid. The Nets have three of the best offensive players in basketball as well as an elite shooter in Harris and one of the NBA‘s best sixth men in Patty Mills. It took a series of circumstances well outside of the team’s control for the Nets to be in this position, but now they’re essentially forced to play Durant major minutes if they hope to remain competitive.
Of course, losing some regular-season games might not be the worst thing for Brooklyn. The lower their seed, the more road games they’ll play in the playoffs, and the more road games they play, the more often Irving will be available. In that sense, resting Durant might have benefits across the roster, but for now, he seems content to continue playing as much as the team needs him to.