COMMENTARY | The spotlight on Kevin Durant isn’t bright enough.
He finished last season as the league’s second-leading scorer behind Carmelo Anthony, is regarded as the second-best player behind LeBron James, was drafted second overall in 2007 after Greg Oden, and is sometimes the second offensive option when Russell Westbrook decides to dominate the ball. After years of playing second fiddle, Kevin Durant has an opportunity to further establish himself as one of the greats and capture his first MVP Award this season.
Kevin Durant will be the go-to guy for the Oklahoma City Thunder after losing Russell Westbrook to a knee injury during last season’s playoff run against the Houston Rockets. Aside from getting a better evaluation of guard Reggie Jackson, who will temporarily move into the starting lineup, the injury allowed Kevin Durant to step in as the focal point of OKC’s offense. With Westbrook having a four- to six-week setback, and needing a few more weeks to settle himself back into the flow of the game, the added touches and responsibility will play to Durant’s advantage.
Durant’s 6’10 – 215 pound frame, 7’5 wingspan, and guard-like handles make him a defensive nightmare. He is able to score from virtually anywhere on the court and his long arms allow him to shoot over the tallest of defenders. Durant has to utilize his abilities by consistently staying aggressive on every possession and making the defenses pay for giving him the slightest of space.
With Westbrook out of the picture temporarily, opposing defenses will harness all of their energy and effort on containing Kevin Durant, sometimes even sending double and triple teams. Durant has to be aware of that and keep his eyes open, ensuring that the ball doesn’t stay in his hands too long. He posted a career high 4.6 assists per game last season. Surrounded by shooters Jeremy Lamb, Thabo Sefolosha, Ryan Gomes, and Russell Westbrook (when he recovers), Durant’s assist totals should remain fairly the same, but could decrease early-on while handling more of an offensive load.
Also, Kevin will utilize his ability to draw fouls and get to the free-throw line, averaging 9.3 shots from the charity stripe per game last season. A simple jab step and sweep-through move is sure to get the whistle blown on any defender playing too closely and get him to the free-throw line around 10 times per game a night. Durant has to have a similar mindset as Russell and attack defenders at the basket, finishing with contact and putting pressure on the referees to blow the whistle. His basketball IQ and ability to create shots will stop him from settling for perimeter based shots, although he is an elite perimeter scorer, and will demonstrate his offensive versatility. In addition, he may start to work himself into the post from time to time and play around the rim, his long reach and soft shooting touch could make him a deadly finisher from in close. Inside the paint, he has to support Serge Ibaka and Kendrick Perkins on the offensive boards, the extra hustle baskets can go a long way. On the defensive end, Durant will be around his usual one block and one steal average; greatly benefiting in transition.
The absence of Russell Westbrook will be a temporary setback for the offense of the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Thunder will compete as best as they can for the time being and their rate of success is dependent on how Kevin Durant responds to the pressure. In the moments leading to Westbrook’s return, Durant will have a better understanding of what it means to be a number one option. Although he is soft-spoken and humble, Durant will have to unleash his inner-dog and play actively aggressive on a nightly basis. His success early-on in the season should carry over after Westbrook returns and catapult OKC into a deep playoff run. Kevin Durant has the opportunity to add more hardware to his impressive collection while distinguishing himself as the go-to guy in Oklahoma City. Brighten up the spotlight because KD is ready to shine.
Projected stats: 31.6 PPG, 7.8 RPG, 4.2 APG, 49% FG, 38% 3PT, and 92% FT