I find myself asking a question that at times seems incredibly moronic and myopic on my part and other times perfectly debatable. The question: how good is Kevin Durant? Now, this isn’t going to solve this question as much as work through my troubles with declaring his status thus far.
I think that my own faults are on display when I question Durant’s aptitude. I liked and continue to like Durant, like any legitimate basketball fan. Perhaps its become too much of a bandwagon thing, now the thing to say about Durant is that nobody knows about him because he is in Oklahoma City and Oklahoma City doesn’t get national play. But that was truer last year than this, and most fans have known about Durant since his lone year as a Longhorn.
It is still true that the Thunder don’t get as much airtime as they deserve, especially with this surge that was unexpected by all whom live in the world besides those sandwiched between Texas and Kansas. Oklahoma City relies almost entirely on Durant for offensive production, and really protection. Protection in the sense that in some games, those where Green or Westbrook have the occasional and at times expected off game, he is their only source of reliable offense.
There was much ado about Durant’s incredible streak where he scored over 25 points for more games than anyone. Yeah, that is beyond impressive and deserves the hyperbole surrounding it. He is an offensive machine, by my count no worse than the 3rd best offensive player on any given night, at least pure offense (whatever that means). His shot combined with his height makes him impossible to block. He is nearly impossible to stop offensively.
So I still can’t understand my trepidation with crowning Durant with some sort of title. I suppose it has something to do with his skyrocketing stock in the NBA, considered by many the 2nd choice for MVP this year and the second choice in some weird fantasy draft (not actual fantasy basketball, but if the teams were to draft completely new teams he would be picked second to start a franchise) to only LeBron James.
I understand he has incredible gifts, proving he is capable of carrying a team offensively through at least the regular season. But I feel he has a lot yet to do, which could be said about any young player and isn’t directed solely at Durant. However, I don’t know if he is better than Dwyane Wade or Dwight Howard. And if he is better than those terrific young players, how much better is he?
Is it so large that the other players’ prospects are laughable at the draft? I don’t think anyone would argue that he is that much greater than Wade or Howard, or even Chris Paul or Carmelo Anthony.
He isn’t a defensive presence, or at this point even an incident defensively. Now, to be fair I haven’t examined a lot of Thunder games this season so his defense most likely has improved. But, given his history and the history of other great scorers in history, defense isn’t likely in his early repertoire at this stage of his game. He isn’t great at passing and hasn’t grasped that ability to involve all his teammates, but that isn’t exactly fair because that isn’t his job. He isn’t a point guard or even a combo guard. He is a pure forward; on the court because he can score in ways that Adam Morrison could while playing opponents in the WAC.
He doesn’t have the body yet to trade blows with bigger forwards who currently operate in the league. And he may never get that body, just as he may never discover the ability to operate an offense as a point-forward. He may never develop into a clutch if not efficient rebounder. But he is already a top scorer in the league, which has vaulted him up the NBA ladder along with his team.
Would it be surprising to anyone if Durant notched 35 PPG for an entire season? No, that’s what he does.
But that unique scoring ability doesn’t necessarily leap his name to top 3 in the league, does it? He isn’t ahead of Bryant, James, or Wade at this point. Beyond that it is between clouded and murky. How can you compare him to Dwight Howard? Howard dominates the game defensively as much as Durant does offensively. I suppose because Durant is younger than Howard (what, 3 years?) he gets the nod from some people. It is a legitimate toss-up between the two, as it is with Durant with other players like Carmelo, Nowitzki, Paul, Williams, and Roy among others.
Carmelo and Nowitzki are on the same echelon as Durant offensively, both great scorers who can also dominate the scoring for their team for entire games if needed. Nowitzki still doesn’t play defense, but he is a better rebound because of his height and learned tendencies of where he needs to be when the ball goes in the air. Carmelo can be a much better defender than either of the two, but his tendency is to not do that, as blunt as that may be.
Chris Paul, Deron Williams, and Brandon Roy play much different games than Durant. As discussed at length, Durant is primarily a scorer. These guys can score, but are much, much better distributers than KD. Paul and Williams have battled annually for the right to be called NBA’s best point guard (I can’t let go of my affection for Nash just yet). Roy is the second best combo guard in the league next to Wade.
How much does their added benefit of operating the offense and finding the right place for the ball compare to the statistical inferiority in the scoring department? These guys can also score, also capable of dominating a game through putting the ball in the basket, each plausible to put in a 40-point performance any night (Roy more than the others).
I don’t know, I feel really shallow; I pretty much just argued that Durant could easily be the 4th or 5th best player in the league. It’s really insignificant and has no real meaning other than hyping up games in the regular season or possibly the playoffs.
But still, I don’t know if Durant was really the second most valuable player in the league this year. I can make the argument that he was more critical to the performance of the Thunder than Howard was to the Magic, but I don’t know if it is completely accurate. Could Orlando survive with Gortat instead of Howard? Yeah, but they wouldn’t be the same defensive team, clearly bettered by Howard’s presence.
I could be swayed either way, sometimes feeling Durant is worthy and other times feeling Howard is the obvious and only choice for 2nd. To clarify, he isn’t one-dimensional on the court, just he is a lot more specialized in scoring than the other aspects of the game while his peers tend to incorporate slightly more balance.