When it comes to scoring, Kevin Durant is a machine. Drafted second overall by the Seattle SuperSonics, now the Oklahoma City Thunder in 2007, Durant has long dominated the court largely due to his incredible scoring abilities. For instance, he is one of only three players to have averaged more than 20 points per game as a teenager (the other two being Carmelo Anthony and LeBron James), and Durant has also been crowned the NBA Scoring Champion four of the past five years. In this past 2013-14 season, while teammate Russell Westbrook was absent because of knee surgery, Durant carried the Thunder in a monster scoring campaign, capping his “marvelous regular season with his first league MVP award,” as stated by Darnell Mayberry of The Oklahoman. During this time, he averaged 32 points per game and scored over 25 points for 41 consecutive games, eclipsing the record previously set by Michael Jordan.
With the MVP title under his belt, Durant now has the opportunity to help turn the Thunder into a championship team. Oklahoma City has already frequently been under the limelight and has the skill and history so crucial to success at the highest level. The Thunder has reached the Western Conference Finals each season since 2011, and in the 2012 season lost in the Finals to the Miami Heat. It is quite remarkable to consider the recent success of the Thunder given the young age of this seemingly veteran squad. Averaging 26.3 years old, the Thunder is one of the younger teams in the NBA; Durant himself is only 25. Despite its youth, the Thunder has been more than capable of holding its own in the tremendously competitive Western Conference, especially when facing long-established juggernauts such as the San Antonio Spurs. The Oklahoma City Thunder has had to grow up fast in this ruthless basketball environment, and it has certainly risen to the occasion. Now, it is essential that the team uses its rapidly gained experience so as to develop the chemistry needed to rise to the top of the NBA.
Additionally, it is important that Durant uses his considerable experience and assets so that the Thunder can embrace consistent play at the highest level. Two qualities in particular will help him lead the Thunder to become a championship team. The first is that he is a tireless worker. Following the Thunder’s loss to the Spurs in this year’s Western Conference Finals, Durant told reporters, “I know we all have to be better and I think that I have to come back and be a better player, be a better leader.” And amazingly, he does that every off-season. “Each year, Durant seemingly finds ways to add wrinkles to his offensive arsenal or devote attention to a particular aspect of his overall game like defense or rebounding,” according to Nick Gallo in an article featured on the NBA’s site. However, former NBA star and television analyst Charles Barkley noted that there are two specific areas Durant should place emphasis on this summer, his post-up game and his play-making abilities. According to Stephen Babb for Bleacher Report, the fact that Durant often keeps the ball to himself, maintaining the second-highest usage rating in the league “makes him a more one-dimensional player, a more predictable weapon,” and reveals that he can be doing a lot more to involve his teammates in his success. Moreover, making plays for the rest of the Thunder would help Durant to alleviate significant pressure and to ensure that his best plays are reserved for critical moments down the stretch. Largely due to Westbrook’s absence, Durant played 3,122 minutes during the regular season and 815 during the post-season, both league highs. In fact, “his 3,937 total minutes were one more than he could have played in a full regular season with no overtimes,” says Mayberry. By making the most effective use of his court time by diversifying his game and making more plays for others, Durant will not only ease the strain placed on his own body but also help him to become a true leader, a focal point around which the Thunder can rally. This is a lesson that LeBron James has learned well in his time with the Heat. “James prioritizes his teammates’ opportunities, making the right play every single time, doing so even if not especially at the price of his own scoring,” states Babb. While his abilities are inspirational, nothing would help the Thunder more than if Durant turns the solidarity he feels for his team into incorporative and smart play-making.
The second key quality that Durant possesses that, if polished, will propel the Thunder to the championship is his understanding of the greater purpose of his skills. “Held up as the opposite of James,” in the opinion of Dan Steinberg of DC Sports Blog, Durant is truly the consummate teammate. At the unveiling of his new KD7 Nike sneaker last Wednesday, he said, “I don’t play for individual awards. I would love to help bring a championship back [to Oklahoma City], and that’s the main goal.” He is adamant that he will not let his MVP award distract him from his bigger team goals, and remains humble even as fame and sponsorships are thrown at his feet. As Durant stated in an interview, “I’ll just work on every aspect of my game, and bringing it back to my group is what I’m most excited about.” Rather than playing for personal accolades, Durant has the ideal mindset for any team sport, to play for the team. Now, it is just up to him to take the team mentality he embraces so strongly and apply it on the court.
Beyond improving his own play to benefit Oklahoma City, Durant can bring the most to the Thunder by continuing to create a “team atmosphere.” Something that is often lacking on NBA teams is chemistry, the mutual respect and admiration teammates have for one another as players and as people. Clearly this is not the case for the Thunder. It seems as though success has only made Durant more levelheaded and appreciative of his teammates, his friends. Gallo describes Durant’s May acceptance speech: Durant “singled out each teammate and staff member who helped him” on his path to becoming the Most Valuable Player in the league, and even emotionally called his mother “the real MVP.” Likewise, Durant is a real MVP, a superstar who plays basketball just to play basketball. While some might criticize him for not exuding enough leadership material, he recognizes that it is even more important to build strength as a team, to lead together. And as Durant continues to share his MVP wealth by involving his teammates more frequently in his plays, the sky will be the limit for this Thunder team.
Babb, Stephen. “How Kevin Durant Can Get Oklahoma City Thunder Back to the NBA Finals.” Bleacher Report. Bleacher Report, 6 June 2014. Web. 28 June 2014.
Gallo, Nick. “Season in Review: #35 Kevin Durant.” Oklahoma City Thunder. NBA Media Ventures, 25 June 2014. Web. 28 June 2014.
“Kevin Durant Stats, Video, Bio, Profile.” NBA.com. NBA Media Ventures, 2014. Web.28 June 2014.
Mayberry, Darnell. “OKC Thunder: What’s next for Kevin Durant?” The Oklahoman. NewsOK.com, 17 June 2014. Web. 28 June 2014.
“NBA Team Roster Compositions Search.” Real GM Basketball. RealGM, 2014. Web. 28 June 2014.
Steinberg, Dan. “Kevin Durant Defends LeBron James, Talks about His Own Free Agency.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 25 June 2014. Web. 28 June 2014.