Top NBA Players: #2 Kevin Durant

October 12, 2012; Salt Lake City, UT, USA; Oklahoma City Thunder forward Kevin Durant (35) dribbles up court during the first half against the Utah Jazz at EnergySolutions Arena. Mandatory Credit: Russ Isabella-US PRESSWIRE

Kevin Durant
Resume: 28.0 points (1st in league), 8.0 rebounds (career best), 3.5 assists, 1.3 steals, 1.2 blocks (career best), 38.6 minutes (3rd in league), 133 threes made (3rd in league), 431 free throws made (1st in league), 501 free throw attempts (3rd in league), 50% FG (career best), 39% 3PT (career best), and 86% FT… Team record in games played: 47-19… Playoffs: 28.5 points, 7.4 rebounds, 3.7 assists (career best), 1.5 steals (career best), 1.2 blocks, 41.9 minutes, 52% FG (career best), 37% 3PT (career best), 86% FT, 13-7 record… All-Star, All-Star Game MVP, 2nd in MVP Voting, 1st Team All-NBA

It’s really, really difficult to try to pick nits with Kevin Durant. Ever since he was a freshman at the University of Texas I’ve been enamored with the guy who had the silky smooth jump shot, a ridiculous wingspan (straight out of the Jay Bilas dictionary), and the very visible desire to be the best basketball player in the world. Had I only been writing back in 2007 I would’ve looked very smart as I gushed about how great Durant was going to be in the NBA, and subsequently ripped apart Portland for taking Greg Oden ahead of him. In my opinion, Durant was the biggest “sure thing” in the NBA Draft since LeBron James. In the five seasons since Durant was drafted, he has only reinforced any and all of the beliefs I had about him when he was in the process of winning every NCAA Player of the Year Award.

After another stellar regular season and a third straight scoring title (only George Gervin and Michael have led the league in scoring three straight seasons since the NBA-ABA merger), Durant and the Thunder entered the playoffs with title expectations for the first time. To say that Durant and the Thunder came up short in the postseason probably isn’t the perfect way to put it. Oklahoma City didn’t win the title, but along the way to the NBA Finals they proved that they have the best home crowd in the league, a great young nucleus (which has since changed since Oklahoma City panic traded James Harden)… actually, before I finish that thought, let me go on a quick tangent.

I’ve been thinking about this trade for the last 24 hours and I have gone back and forth quite a few times. Ultimately, I’ve decided that Oklahoma City did indeed panic trade Harden, but what they managed to get for him—Kevin Martin, Jeremy Lamb, two 1st round picks, one second round pick— was an absolute steal. Think of it in these terms: Oklahoma City got more for James Harden than Orlando got for Dwight Howard. Ultimately, I have to trust in Sam Presti and the rest of the Oklahoma City brain trust. Even if losing Harden puts a dent into the Thunder’s chances of returning to the Finals this year, they might have somehow managed to improve long term, which is incredibly hard to believe considering five months ago as the Thunder came back from a 2-0 deficit against the Spurs in the Western Conference Finals, I was ready to give Oklahoma City the next eight NBA Titles.

Alright, tangent over. Where was I? Oh yeah, that’s right; the best home crowd, a great young nucleus, and a 24 year old super star who established himself as the 2nd best basketball player in the entire world as he was ripping through the playoffs more impressively than anyone except his Eastern Conference counterpart. What was lost in the shuffle after the 2012 Playoffs and LeBron winning his first NBA Title was how un-effing-believable Kevin Durant was. Right from jump street Durant was making it a habit to nail game winners at the buzzer, hit dagger after dagger in big moments, and lead furious late game rallies that got everyone thinking maybe we weren’t just watching a great player at work; maybe this was something of a Jordanesque transformation where Kevin Durant would run the NBA for the next decade or so.

Durant may have fallen short of that imaginary Jordanesque level that so many desire to get to and so few reach, but he did establish himself as the present and future of the NBA. In reality, and in defense of Durant, he didn’t even fall short of that level we love to try to measure every current player by. He was simply out done by someone who may have shattered that “Jordanesque” label and created something totally different in measuring basketball success in the process. But that is a different story for a different day.