It took the entire season, but I’ve finally realized what my take is on Kevin Durant joining the Warriors.
In a few years time, we’re going to look back at all of this as the decision that unlocked the best version of Kevin Durant.
Durant was a great player in his own regard in Oklahoma City. . But during his time with the Thunder, we’ve never seen Durant THIS good. I never realized his true potential as a player until I watched him in this year’s Finals. He’s been the best player on both teams by far.
In Oklahoma City, Durant was a killer scorer that could single-handedly win games when he caught fire on the offensive end. With the Warriors he’s scoring at such a ridiculously efficient rate. His stint in Golden State just fully highlights just how inhuman Durant can be.
Things just look too easy for Durant. He’s getting most of his shots within the flow of the offense. It’s borderline unfair to have a 6’9″ pogo stick as the corner shooter when Steph Curry and Draymond Green play the two man game. Durant can launch a jumper over recovering defenders or just blow by them for an easy shot closer to the hoop. It’s even more unfair to have him as a cutter because he’s got a range of moves that he can unleash when he gets the ball on the move.
Durant’s evolution on offense doesn’t end with his scoring. He’s also evolved into a dangerous playmaker. The Thunder ran plays for and through Durant. But he never ran the plays for the team. Russell Westbrook was the point guard and for most of the game, the plays were being run by him.
Because Durant is such a deadly scorer, he has a gravity of his own that attracts additional attention towards him. Combine that with all the off-ball action that the Warriors like to run and Durant suddenly becomes a dangerous passer. Because of his height, he can see over the defense and watch the play develop. He can loft lobs to cutters with ease or use his drive to suck up the defense and open up shooters in the wings.
His growth even extends to the defensive end. Durant is an underrated defender. In Oklahoma City, he locked on to the opposing team’s best player and used his length, strength and athleticism to limit their productivity. The Thunder’s designated help defender was Serge Ibaka who is an exceptional shot blocker.
The Warriors have shown that Durant is at his best as a defender when he’s roaming and helping. Draymond Green is a lockdown defender that can handle taking on the best players defensively. That leave’s Durant to roam free on defense playing the passing lanes and protecting the rim. Durant is a jaguar that prowls in space, hunts the ball and explodes to make the right defensive play.
This is the most complete and dominating version of Kevin Durant we’ve ever seen.
If this all seems so familiar, we just have to turn our attention to Durant’s closest contemporary, LeBron James. Not only are they similar in terms of their stature in the game. Durant followed in James’ footsteps, leaving a team on the brink of breaking through for a team loaded with other stars.
But James taking his talents to South Beach is one of the reasons why he’s so damn good now. He was already an all-around beast during his first stint with the Cavaliers. But his time prodded him to do everything he was doing but do it even better. In fact, James is the gateway drug to the small ball crack we’re all enjoying right now. When Coach Erik Spoelstra used James as a small-ball point-power forward, he was unlocked to do so many things he never was able to do before.
James also became an all-world defender in Miami. Because he wasn’t carrying so much of the load on offense, he could focus a lot more energy on defense. He accepted the role of taking on the team’s opposing defender as a wing or banging in the paint as a big man.
James got so much flak for leaving Cleveland. But he came back better than before and led the Cavaliers to a championship. He’s now a celebrated local hero and widely regarded as one of the best ever.
There are no promises that Durant will follow James’ path and go back to Oklahoma City to win a championship for the Thunder. But the fact that he’s better than he ever was is something good for the game. I’d rather have Durant fully unlocked as a player, even if it is with the Warriors, rather than forever wonder just how good he could have been.