For weeks and weeks, I have been watching Kobe Bryant mix videos on YouTube that were made with Kanye West’s “Amazing” playing in the background. I soaked it up as if he was the only player on the planet that would be as fun to watch despite playing the most fundamentally sound basketball that anyone has ever seen.
However, after spending some time with and watching Kevin Durant, I have realized that there might be a new guy on the block that has just as much talent as Kobe already (he’s in just his third year in the league), is fun to watch, has the desire and passion to be the best, and has a ceiling that could extend to a player that we have never seen before.
Not Kobe. Not Michael. Even Better.
Durant was in Las Vegas for the 2009 USA Basketball Showcase, a three-day program designed for the Team USA coaching staff to see the talent they would be dealing with over the course of the 2010 World Championships and 2012 Summer Olympics in London.
Entering the three day mini-camp, Kevin was the favorite for earning a spot on the Redeemed Team. He had already been close to making the 2008 Team, so a couple of solid practices would ink his name onto the roster.
Durant had been in Vegas for a week or so before the mini-camp, watching and rooting for the Oklahoma City Thunder Summer League Team while getting to know some of his soon-to-be teammates. It must have fun for Duarnt to sit and watch a team of Summer Leaguers play for a roster spot at the ages of 21 and 22, while he sat and watched as a 20-year old NBA superstar.
At 20, his time in Vegas consisted of basketball, more basketball, some UStream from his hotel room at the Wynn, and then more basketball.
On the first day of practice for Team USA, Durant entered a high school gym with a pair of headphones, flip-flops and a gym bag hanging on his shoulder. He quickly changed shoes, put his cell phone away and hit the court before anyone else finished chatting it up.
The media (me!) was allowed to approach the players for a 15-minute time frame before the actual practice began. Since Durant was already shooting around, I figured I’d catch him coming back to the bleachers. After talking to Derrick Rose, David Lee, Greg Oden, O.J. Mayo, Rudy Gay and others, I had some interesting conversations. But they were nothing compared to the four minutes I used to speak with Durant.
I walked up to him as he was shooting three’s from out of bounds and started the conversation with an icebreaker. I asked him how he felt graduating from Texas (Well, basketball wise anyways. We all know that none of the degrees from UT can actually be acknowledged by the general public.) and playing in Sooner territory.
“It’s fun,” he said with a chuckle. “The fans there are great.”
After asking him about adding James Harden in the draft, which he said helped make the roster complete and added a defensive presence on the wing that lightens the load on him when they play someone by the name of Bryant, my final question to him went something like this: “Most people think the Thunder are a team of the future. Do you think that you guys can surprise by winning this upcoming season?”
Durant smiled again and said, “We can definitely win this season. We’re hungry for it. I’m hungry.”
When Durant says “We’re,” he is referring to his team, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Looking at this group of guys, whose core consists of Durant. Russell Westbrook (age 20), and Jeff Green (age 23), you can see what the foundation of a championship franchise looks like in it’s early stages. Drafting Durant back in 2007, Thunder GM Sam Presti decided to build around Durant instead of inserting him into a situation where the talent around him was going to be in the mid-30′s by the time Durant could legally pick up an alcoholic beverage, which is the mistake the Cleveland Cavaliers made with LeBron James and have yet to realize their mistake to this day, signing 34-year Anthony Parker and a 37-year old Shaq who has more tread on his tires than Britney Spears to deals this off-season.
Instead, Presti put young players with a whole lot of potential around Durant for him to grow old with. So now, when Durant hits 27 and is in his physical peak, his teammates will also be in the prime of their careers.
Durant’s relationship with Westbrook and Green is another reason that we could see something very special out of this kid. All three guys were attended the Showcase in Vegas and all three of them were pushing themselves through every drill. Last season we saw Kobe Bryant and the Lakers win a championship playing primarily with focus and tenacity. Durant and the Thunder may open up a whole new type of winning style by doing so while having fun and playing as hard as then can.
KD seems like a kid when he is on and off the court. And heck, he is still just a kid.
Despite questions about his strength during his pre-draft workouts, Durant has the perfect body for the small forward position in basketball. He’s 6-foot-10, has a perfect shot, and can jump as high as anybody in the NBA.
He has developed an effortless stroke from beyond the arc to compensate for his lanky frame and lack of a physical post-game. Durant’s long arms will also allow him to become a premier perimeter defender in the league, so long as he improves his defensive knowledge first.
As far as numbers go, last season, Durant averaged 25.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, 2.8 assists and 1.3 steals a game. He shot 48% from the field, 42% from beyond the arc and 86% from the charity stripe. Although I’ve said it several times in this article before, I feel it needs to be said again:
He’s just 20 years old.
Durant’s national coming out party occurred twice during NBA All-Star Weekend last year. The way that he took over the H-O-R-S-E contest (heroically coming back by beating Joe Johnson who had no letters while he himself had four letters) and dominated the Rookie-Sophomore game with a record setting 46 point performance.
(Even then Durant was big on team. His quote after that game: “I had a blast,” Durant said. “I’m just happy I’m here and I’m glad I won MVP … to have Jeff [Green] and Russell [Westbrook] there to watch me hoist the trophy felt great. It shines a lot of light on the organization.”)
InFebruary of last season, Durant went of on a tear that should have ripped through the headlines. In 10 games, Durant averaged 33.1 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, and 3.9 assists. His percentages were deadly too, as he shot a 54% clip from the field, 51% from deep, and 87% from the free throw line.
The standard shooter’s formula, which is basically adding all of those figures together, denotes a player that totals 180 as “great.” Durant’s shooting number was slotted at 192 for that month and his total for the season was 176.
This is Durant without even filing out physically or learning all the little intricacies of the game that make the great ones legendary.
Durant’s impressions on me at the mini-camp allow me to imagine a player in the coming years who will put up numbers we thought were impossible. Projecting logical player progression combined with Durant’s physical skills make this line possible: 35 points a game, 58% from the field, 45% from three, and 90% from the line.
Mind you, this is what I think he will do in the next two seasons at the ages of 21 and 22, so you can only imagine what he could be doing at age 27. I know those expectations are steep, but I would be shocked if he averaged anything less this season.
Watching Kevin Durant for the next few years is truly going to be one of the best treats that the NBA can give us.
Unfortunately, the NBA really wet the bed with their national TV schedule this season, with the Thunder playing no times on standard TV (ABC), once on cable (ESPN) and twice on extended cable (NBA TV). Their one game on ESPN isn’t a huge match-up either, it’s against the Mavericks.
I can’t believe that TNT or ESPN didn’t pick up one of the four match-ups between Kevin Durant and Kobe, which occur on normal NBA broadcast days of Sunday, Tuesday and Friday.
But really folks, if you ever needed a reason to purchase NBA League Pass, Durant may be it. This kid is something special and it’s going to be a pleasure watching him play 82 games this season.