When Kobe Bryant sat for the final game of the season -needing 38 points to obtain a third scoring title over eventual winner, Kevin Durant- he proverbially passed the torch to the Oklahoma City Thunder’s superstar as the second best player in the league. When Durant’s squad took out the Lakers in five games, the mantle was quite literally passed.
Durant out-Kobe’d Kobe. He was devastating in clutch situations, hitting two game-winning shots in the series.
Durant has always been willing to take big shots. Luckily for the Thunder, he also has a propensity to make those shots. Durant has three buzzer-beaters this post-season in eight games. That is impressive.
Durant possesses a clutch gene that LeBron James does not. It doesn’t make him a better player; though that’s a different story.
He also led his team on the defensive end for the first time in the playoffs. He took the challenge of guarding Bryant in the fourth quarter of the close games. This was a step that Durant needed to make before thrusting his name to the top of the NBA’s individual power-rankings. LeBron James can check almost any player on the court. Durant is not at that level yet, but taking the defensive challenge that Bryant presents is a necessary step.
Durant is the best scorer in the NBA. He has garnered the NBA scoring title for three consecutive years. This year he put in 28 points per game. With his length and athleticism, Durant can get his shot off against any defender in the league. Durant’s range is unlimited. His shot is almost automatic from long range. I could continue with superlatives if necessary.
When Durant gets bigger in the weight room and fills out his 6’10 frame, he will have no weaknesses in his offensive game. He will be able to win match-ups down low. A bulkier frame will also prove useful in post-defense.
Durant has a higher ceiling than any player in the league. That includes the game’s current best player, James. Potential gets NBA GM’s fired though. Embrace Durant’s career. As a fan, you are watching a possible legendary career unfold.
All Durant’s missing is team success spawned by individual greatness. In the NBA, titles canonize great players. Winners are held in a higher regard than stat compilers. That separates basketball from baseball.
Durant seems set up to compete for titles for a long time. The team’s two superstars (Durant, Russell Westbrook) have not reached the 25 yet. OKC’s core (James Harden, Serge Ibaka and Westbrook) are locked up until at least 2013-2014. That is a scary notion for the NBA. Westbrook averaged 24 points this season. Harden can control a game with his scoring or his passing. He anchors the second unit. He would be a starter for almost every other team in the NBA.
This season the San Antonio Spurs are standing between Durant and his first NBA finals appearance. The Spurs are a very formidable opponent. Many would argue that the Western Conference Finals are the defacto NBA Finals. It sure seems that way at this point.
The Spurs are a better team but Durant is the best player in the series. If Westbrook outplays Tony Parker the Thunder can win.
If Durant can past this round, another interesting match-up may lie ahead.
A theoretical Miami vs OKC would be juicy because it settles the throne on the court. James and Durant would go heads up. The winner would be crowned as the best player in the league. The loser would slink back in second place with his tail between his legs.
The stakes are high but so is the bounty. By the end of these playoffs Durant could be the world’s best player in the league.
So whatever happens, the ascension has been fun to watch.