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Peace, Love and Thunderstanding: The Durant Theory

Memphis Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay, left, greets injured Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant, right, prior to the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Saturday, Feb. 28, 2009, in Memphis, Tenn. Durant is injured with a grade two ankle sprain. The Thunder defeated the Grizzlies 99-92. (AP Photo/Nikki Boertman)

Thunder Grizzlies Basketball

"The Ewing Theory" is an idea created by an ESPN columnist-who-shall-not-be-named.  CWSNBN noticed that the New York Knicks relied heavily on their star center Patrick Ewing for years with little success attached to this philosophy.  Then, when Ewing went down with an injury, the team inexplicably played better with little to no star power to support them.

This theory is not isolated to the Knicks.  Other teams have felt the ripple effect when the following criteria are met:

  1. A star athlete receives an inordinate amount of media attention and fan interest, and yet his teams never win anything substantial with him (other than maybe some early-round playoff series).
  2. That same athlete leaves his team (either by injury, trade, graduation, free agency or retirement) -- and both the media and fans immediately write off the team for the following season.

Here in Oklahoma, we have recently seen the Ewing Theory in effect.  When Adrian Peterson separated his shoulder while closing out a long touchdown run for the Sooners, many fans worried the season was lost.  Instead, the opposite occurred.  For the remainder of the regular season and the Big XII Championship, the team played better using a running back by committee system.  When "A.D." returned for the Fiesta Bowl, the Sooners played flat and ended up losing to Boise State.

For the Thunder, there are the makings of "The Durant Theory."  On Friday, Kevin Durant left early in the game at the Dallas Mavericks when he suffered a Grade-II ankle sprain.  As the Thunder's leading scorer limped to the locker room, 99% of Thunder fans and 100% of other NBA fans wondered if the Thunder could score another point until Durant was allowed by the team physician (who, we've learned, is incredibly cautious) to return.

Then, something strange happened.  Without Durant to lean on, the team as a whole played better.  Jeff Green assumed the alpha scorer role, Nenad Krstic became more aggressive, and Russell Westbrook started passing the ball.  That Mavericks game was improbably pushed to overtime.

Over the next two games, the Thunder played even better.  Behind Jeff Green's 27 points, they stole a road game from the Memphis Grizzlies.  Two nights later, this time without Green also, the Thunder won a re-match against the Mavericks.  In the latter game, the nine point winning deficit was actually misleading because the Mavericks were down by twenty heading into the fourth quarter.

So, should the team look to move Durant this off-season.  Of course not.  Durant does not fit "The Ewing Theory", but I still think his short term absence will end up being a case-study.  Find out more after the jump.

Right now, "The Durant Theory" is in direct competition with another theory I am mulling.  Last week, when Blake Griffin was, literally, knocked out of two games, I surmised that it would make the Sooner basketball team better off in the long run.  Without Griffin as a the focus, the other players were forced out of their comfort zone and made to find ways to make a bigger impact.

So far, it has worked as I imagined.  Freshman Willie Warren, who has been good all season, has rocketed up in mock drafts playing as the go-to guy.  His confidence improved so much during Blake's absence that he (rumor has it) made a play for senior Austin Johnson's girlfriend.  And speaking of Johnson, he showed a pulse without Griffin around.  Of course, the real test related to whether this will become "The Griffin Theory" will be when the tournament begins and the Sooners best player gets saddled with a couple of questionable fouls early in a game.

Before that happens, though, the Thunder may have already proved the null hypothesis and saddled Durant with the philosophical title.  It will probably be a minimum of two weeks before they allow the Thunder star to play again.  At that point, expect the team to be even better now with confidence that Green can pick up the scoring load if the defense is overly focused on K.D. or if Durant has an off night.  And Westbrook, who picked up his first career triple-double against Dallas, appears to be figuring out that he's even more effective if the opposing team thinks he might actually pass the ball when driving to the basket.

For the fans, it may suck right now to be missing out on one of the top talents in the league, but next season, I think we'll see the difference.

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