What LeBron James and Kevin Durant Can Learn from Each Other
LeBron James and Kevin Durant have seen a lot of each other so far this year. Even after having a fierce faceoff in the NBA Finals, they still teamed up to win an Olympic gold medal this summer.
To further that, they most recently trained together in what James refers to as "hell week."
Give Durant some props here: More than anything, he has plenty to learn from LeBron. James has been through a lot in the past few years both on and off the court.
We all know that Durant is still a budding star, but training with a player who just bested him in the Finals shows a lot of maturity and desire to improve on his part. Perhaps this could be what is needed to elevate him to the next level.
As for James, there really isn't much he can learn from the younger Durant. We could sit here and say the long ball, but LeBron has shown vast improvement, specifically from mid range.
However, that doesn't mean he can't pick up a few new tricks along the way.
Let's check out just how these two can make each other better, maybe even on a path of meeting once again in the NBA Finals.
Durant: The Art of Passing
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LeBron is an unstoppable force while attacking the basket. Not only based on his authoritative finishes, but his ability to throw precise kick out passes when pressured.
Watching a defense trying to contain a James drive is quite frustrating. He possibly collapses defenses better than any player in NBA history.
When that happens, it leaves various options as to what he can do with the ball. James can go up strong, pull up for a jumper or perhaps hit a wide-open teammate for a spot up shot.
Averaging 6.9 assists for his career, it is obvious that James is a versatile offensive threat. Based on Durant's lackluster 2.8 for his career, we see that this should be a major focus for improvement next season.
Durant is a lengthy and quick forward who can get to the rim at ease. While he often looks to finish with a floater or layup, he is missing key opportunities to spread the production for his team.
We all know that he has a superb jumper, but adding this element to his game would allow for a more fluid offense and more team scoring opportunities.
This is the aspect of James' game that makes him so dangerous. If Durant can mimic this passing ability, he could be the most complete offensive player in the NBA.
Durant: Defense Wins Championships
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When most people look at LeBron James, they see a bruising dunker with the ability to throw some flashy passes. However, this view totally neglects the fact that he is one of the best defenders in the NBA.
James is a powerful defender who can guard any position on the floor and force turnovers. Along with that, he has virtually trademarked the come-from-behind block.
While Durant has made strides of improvement defensively, he still has ways to go to be elite on this end of the floor.
Durant has freakishly long arms that allows him to be a solid rebounder, yet doesn't possess the strength to guard stronger players at his position. He does show the knack to block shots, but suffers from below-average lateral movement.
It wouldn't necessarily be the best idea for Durant to consider putting on muscle. His lanky frame is part of what makes his offensive game as dangerous as it is.
However, that doesn't mean he can't improve on the defensive end.
Durant doesn't show a true ability to be an aggressive defender. As we saw last season, he tends to get in foul trouble while taking elite assignments.
Improvements regarding one-on-one defense are a must for his team to take the next level. In many cases, defensive stops and momentum can actually fuel scary streaks on the other end of the floor.
James: Free-Throw Shooting
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As much as LeBron gets to the free-throw line, it'd be great to see him increase his conversion percentage. While his recent 77 percent is a big improvement from the previous season, it's still not exactly as high as it should be.
Nothing is more frustrating than watching a star player trick free throws in a late-game situations. Teams often live and die on the line in crunch time, so this is an area James should really work on.
Give LeBron credit: As talented as he is, he still manages to find ways to get better. Yet the free-throw line has had the tendency to stump the hulking forward.
Perhaps the scariest aspect of his free-throw shooting is his inconsistency.
Consider the NBA playoffs of last season: James was able to convert 82 percent of his free-throw attempts in the Finals, but only 65 percent in the series against the Boston Celtics. While LeBron dominated both of these teams, missed opportunities at the stripe could've easily doomed Miami.
More consistency at the line could also further develop James' confidence. Making free throws a sure thing would increase his likelihood to penetrate the lane as time dwindles down.
On the other hand, Kevin Durant is an outstanding free-throw shooter, hitting over 87 percent for his career. Maybe it's just his routine or repetitiveness, but James should study exactly what his counterpart does at the line.
LeBron must make this a focus, as it could further improve his incredible production on the offensive end of the floor.
Durant: How to Take over
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Two years ago, you could easily question just how strong of a player James was mentally. With such great talent, it often looked like he just didn't want the ball in big situations.
After last season, that all changed. As for Durant, not so much.
Despite being the league's best scorer, Durant averaged almost four less shot attempts a game than teammate Russell Westbrook in the NBA Finals. Throw in the fact that the forward shot 55 percent from the field, and you have to question exactly why he wasn't more demanding in crunch time.
Maybe it's part of being a young team, but Oklahoma City would have stood a much better chance making Durant the main offensive focus.
We witnessed flashes of Durant's clutch ability throughout the season, yet he didn't show the same closing ability when it mattered most. Give credit for Westbrook for being willing to take over in games, but it isn't the winning formula for the Thunder.
LeBron realized what he had to do to lead the Miami Heat to victory last season. Now, it's time for Durant to learn the same thing if he wants to be a part of a championship team.
James: Being Active in the Half Court
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LeBron has shown strides of becoming a more dominant half court player. He looks less stagnant and seems to be moving a lot better without the ball.
At the same time, no player can succeed in a half court set better than Durant.
Give the Thunder role players a ton of credit. They move the ball and find plenty of opportunities to allow Durant to come off screens for open jumpers. Along with that, Oklahoma City looks to attack early in the shot clock for less forced shots.
James isn't a bad player in the half court, but he could easily be better, especially off-ball.
One thing James should do to improve in this area is stay active. With his new ability to terrorize defenders in the post, seeing him stand on the wing should be a thing of the past.
Miami should utilize players like Shane Battier and even Joel Anthony by constantly setting screens to open up easier scoring opportunities for James.
This is a dangerous team on the break. Watching James and Dwyane Wade conduct a fast break can be horrifying for opposing teams and fans. When the Heat slow things down, they tend to become less effective on the offensive side of the ball.
A lot of this is an issue with the team itself, but definitely something we would like to see more of from LeBron.
While he is ball-dominating forward, touching up his off-ball movement could open up much more for the reigning MVP.
Durant: Losing Does a Lot to Develop a Champion
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This is the most important lesson that young Kevin Durant can learn from LeBron James.
Even if James did lose in his first two NBA Finals appearances, he showed the will and ability to improve both on and off the court. While Durant may have his head down now, it certainly looks like he is in a position to contend for championships the rest of his career.
Losing is easily the hardest part of being an athlete. Especially when you have a championship in your grasp before letting it slip away.
Yet the losing efforts only means time for reflection and adjustment for a more optimal result.
James figured out how to win last season. Even if it didn't come easy, all of the loses played a huge part in shaping up his toughness and mentality.
Durant has a solid cast of players surrounding him. While a budding team, they must learn from the Finals disappointment and better themselves.
The game of basketball is more than just talent. Miami proved that in two seasons by becoming a complete well-oiled machine.
If Durant uses this setback as a learning opportunity, we should see a much improved Oklahoma City team next season.
Despite the criticism, hate and doubt LeBron faced, he used it as fuel to better himself as a player. Even if it did take him nine seasons to capture that elusive championship, it took many losses and failures to help him figure out exactly how to get the job done.
In reality, Durant will benefit from learning these lessons early in his career. It could be only a matter of time before we see him take off and lead the Thunder right back to where they left off last season.