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Has Kevin Durant become a better passer or have his teammates become better catchers?

Cleveland Cavaliers v Brooklyn Nets - Play-In Tournament Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Ask Kevin Durant about his “newfound” playmaking ability and he’ll correct and chastise you.

“This is about to be 10 years of this,” he responded after dropping 16 dimes in the season finale. I feel I’ve been an elite passer since then, 2013. I think people have started recognizing now because I’ve gotten more popular and more people know me.”

That said, the numbers suggest that he’s upped his passing game a bit more this season. As Brian Lewis reports, the 16 assists he tossed vs. Indiana were a career high. They were also the most by a Net this season, tying James Harden. He averaged a career-high 6.4 assists and since returning has assumed a larger part of the playmaking role.

[I]n 19 games since returning in early March from a left MCL sprain (the Nets went 5-16 in his absence), he averaged 31.1 points on .516/.400/.935 shooting against defenses designed to stop him. He punished those double teams and blitzes to dish out 7.6 assists per game (with 7.4 rebounds for good measure). In his past seven games – including Tuesday’s play-in victory over Cleveland – Durant averaged 9.1 assists and topped 11 four times.

The Nets will need more of that starting Sunday afternoon. The Celtics switch-heavy defense is the league’s best. The roster has a number of tough veterans and athletic talent who can disrupt things.

But Brooklyn’s offense, now that things are whole or close to whole, has been humming. As Lewis notes, since Kyrie Irving returned to full-time play on March 3, the Nets rank third league-wide in field-goal percentage at 50.6 percent, 3-point percentage at 39.9 and Offensive Rating at 119.9.

“Just the way he reads the game, it’s always just about making the right play,” Jayson Tatum said of KD. “Obviously he’s capable and tall enough that he can shoot every time – he can shoot over double teams. But from playing against him in the playoffs, with Team USA, he’s always willing to make the right play.”

Lewis also suggests that KD’s better numbers may be a function not of improved passing but improved catching, that targets such as Bruce Brown, Nic Claxton and Andre Drummond now know more about their sometime 6’11” point guard.

“I think both are true,” Steve Nash said. “…We’re trying to put them in positions where they understand what they’re facing, so that it’s clear, they can be decisive and they can use their skill sets to the best of their advantage and put the defense in the most difficult position.”

“I don’t know a lot of 7-footers that do what he’s doing, when he’s got the ball in his hands as a playmaker as often as he is,” said Kyrie Irving. “It’s hard to put yourself in his shoes and imagine what he sees out there. He’s seeing above the defense, he’s able to make shots, but when he’s passing the ball like that, it just brings our level up.

“When you have a guy that’s willing to sacrifice himself to get other guys shots and do it consistently and really hold everyone accountable, and you see him, he really comes to the huddle and he’s like, ‘Hey, look, they’re doubling me. I’m giving the ball up – just make plays.’ It just gives everybody confidence for our group. So he’s a special player.”