With NBA Sixth Man of the Year James Harden looking on, the U.S. Olympic basketball team unveiled a potent weapon off its bench in Thursday night's 113-59 exhibition victory over the Dominican Republic. Oklahoma City Thunder star Kevin Durant began the game sitting on the pine before flourishing in a reserve role and finishing with a team-high 24 points and ten rebounds.
The starting lineup sent out by Team USA head coach Mike Krzyzewski featured heralded NBA all-stars Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul, LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony and Tyson Chandler. Durant, the league's three-time scoring champ, didn't seem bothered by having to take a seat early on.
The 23-year-old forward flashed his brilliance as soon as he was summoned into the contest. Durant scored 21 first-half points, including an outside shooting exhibition that featured five three-pointers before intermission.
Olympic basketball quarters are only ten minutes, mind you.
The 6'9" scorer displayed the same off-the-charts offensive arsenal that enabled him to lead Oklahoma City to an NBA Finals appearance last month. This time around, Durant did damage as a substitute.
The swingman is part of a log jam at the small forward/shooting guard position on Team USA. Although it remains to be seen what Coach K does with this starting lineup as the London Games approach, on Thursday night he gave the nod to seasoned Olympic veterans James, Anthony and Bryant.
"With Kevin, one year in college and 18 years old and he's made giant progress and he's going to be one of the faces of the NBA and USA Basketball who will be considered next year because 10 months from now he's only going to get better," Krzyzewski told the Associated Press.
The hoops landscape has shifted quite a bit since then. Just as Krzyzewski predicted, Durant's face is at the forefront of American hoops and he has developed into one of the NBA's top two or three players.
In 2010, he led Team USA on a thrilling run to the gold medal at the 2010 FIBA World Championships.
Durant averaged nearly 23 points per game on the way to Tournament MVP honors, guiding the U.S. to it's first FIBA world title since 1994. This summer, it appears he'll be expected to supply similar production in a different role—for now.
In 2008, Miami Heat star and former NBA Finals MVP Dwyane Wade assumed the duties of Team USA's sixth man with remarkable success. Despite being accustomed playing the role of go-to-guy from tip-off during his entire basketball career, Wade wound up leading the squad in scoring during its journey to a gold medal at the Beijing Summer Games.
"In '08, Wade came off the bench,'' Coach Krzyzewski told Sports Illustrated. "But he didn't come off the bench like an off-the-bench player. He came off the bench as Dwyane Wade."
In Thursday night's game—the first of a month-long odyssey expected to end on top of the winner's podium in London—the NBA's leading scorer came off the bench as Kevin Durant.
Time will tell if he supplants one of his hoops elders and enters the starting lineup for Team USA in the future. Either way, Durant appears ready to shake off a gut-wrenching NBA finals defeat with a ferocious foray through international competition.