OAKLAND -- Despite playing at a level that puts him a shade behind the one-man-gang MVP candidates that are James Harden and Russell Westbrook, Kevin Durant insists he’s seeking higher ground.
Only 35 games into his Warriors career, Durant still sees holes in his game.
“I’m trying to round my game out,” he said Tuesday. “I (take) pride in guarding every position and jumping at every guy coming to the basket. Whether I get dunked on or not or finished over the top of or not, it’s just muscle memory now to always get up there and try to protect the rim.
“And also help my team rebound. Last game I was terrible at getting on the glass, and hopefully tomorrow I may be better than I was last game.”
Durant was referring to grabbing only three rebounds in 34 minutes Monday night in a 127-119 win over Denver. Never mind that he averaged an impressive 14.3 rebounds in the three previous games.
Or maybe knowing that he can be better explains Durant’s annoyance with the low rebounding total against the Nuggets.
Though that is an example of Durant’s self-scrutiny, he also hears advice/criticism from teammates, some of which are less accomplished than he.
That Durant is a four-time scoring champion and owner of the 2014 MVP trophy does not prevent teammates from speaking up. What’s more important is that he welcomes it.
“One thing about this group is they’re never satisfied,” he said. “We always feel we want to play perfect. Even though that’s impossible, we’re striving for that. We know there are small things we just can’t do, that we have to be better at. And we try to correct them as quickly as possible.”
Understand, Durant might be the top candidate for MVP if not for the work of Harden in Houston and Westbrook in Oklahoma City. While both are stacking up triple-doubles on a regular basis as catalysts for overachieving teams, Durant has been the best player on the team with the league’s best record.
He leads the Warriors in scoring (25.7 points per game, eighth in the NBA), rebounding (8.7, 19th) and blocks (1.54, 14th). His 53.7-percent shooting from the field ranks first among the top 25 scorers in the league.
“I know our guys love having him on our team,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr said. “They love what he represents, in terms of the threat, in terms of explosiveness. And he’s a great teammate, a phenomenal teammate, fun to be around, humble and modest. It’s been an incredible addition.”
That humility, more than anything else, may be why Durant has been such a smooth fit. He has an ego, to be sure, but he doesn’t allow it to override the moment or, moreover, the common goal of the team.
Which is why he listens, even to the sometimes strident commentaries of fiery teammate Draymond Green. Getting the occasional earful of Draymond is one of the rites of passage for the Warriors.
“It’s like an 80-20 approach here; it’s 80 percent encouragement and 20 percent you might have to get on guys,” Durant said. “It may come out the wrong way. We’ve got guys on this team that . . . Draymond, his message is always good but he’s just so emotional and passionate it might come off as if he’s getting on guys. But it’s channeled in the right way. Nobody takes it personally. It’s all about getting better as a team and learning.
“There are times with Steph -- I won’t even say what he says to me coming to the bench sometimes -- but that’s what teammates do. And you enjoy someone helping you get better.”
Durant is watching and listening. He sees what he’s doing and what he’s not doing. He reminds himself to be better. And he’s not too sensitive for reminders from those around him.